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This studio recording follows stage and concert performances of Carmen by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Simon Rattle (in Salzburg and Berlin respectively). Using the Oeser edition, Rattle states his aim as being a return to the opéra comique roots of the work rather than the overblown piece we often encounter. In this he largely succeeds, as the performance is certainly fleet – it is a buoyant and often elegant reading of Carmen, and yet Rattle doesn’t shy away from the large-scale ensembles or indeed the more languorous moments of the score, to which he brings an almost Massenet-like sensuality.

His cast is uneven; they are all excellent performers, but from different vocal worlds. Magdalena Kožená’s Carmen is beautifully sung and pays fine attention to detail, but the tone is cool and ultimately Carmen’s allure escapes her.I realise that she is aiming to move away from the skirt-swishing, booming chest voice Carmens of yore (and she is not the first), but I don’t feel she’s moved to a new interpretation – perhaps it’s a performance better seen than listened to. Genia Kühmeier sings with clean and unforced tone as Micaëla; along with Kožená, it led me to feeling that perhaps a rather nice and decent Fiordiligi and Dorabella had fallen in with some genuinely dodgy Albanians.

Jonas Kaufmann’s Don José is more of a known quantity, and he ramps up the drama.Baritonal though his tone may be, he doesn’t shirk the delicate moments, and by the end he sounds so tense that he could wipe out the entire cast and orchestra with one blow.Kostas Smoriginas offers a well sung but slightly anonymous Escamillo, a role that few conquer. The supporting cast is good, but Rattle and Kaufmann apart, there’s an air of efficient anonymity about the whole affair.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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