Solange Michel (Carmen); Raoul Jobin (Don JosÈ); Michel Dens (Escamillo); Martha Angelici (Micaela); Germaine Chellet (Frasquita); Raymonde Notti (MercÈdËs); Xavier Smati (Zuniga); Julien Thirache (MoralËs); Paris OpÈra-Comique Chorus and Orchestra/AndrÈ Cluytens, cond.
NAXOS 8.110238-39 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT: 78:17 & 51:46
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WAGNER: Die Meistersinger
Here are two more remarkable budget bargains from Naxos! This Carmen, recorded in September 1950 at the Champs-ÉlysÈe Theatre in Paris, is considered by some to be the definitive recording. The all-French cast is headed by Solange Michel, one of the finest French contraltos of her time, who sang the role of Carmen more than 700 times. Raoul Jobin, a leading French-Canadian tenor of the time (he was born in Quebec) might not have the refinement of Nicolai Gedda, but he has everything else required for Don JosË. Lyric baritone Michel Dens is a fine Escamillo, soprano Martha Angelici was known for her Micaëla which she sang at La Scala with Karajan. AndrÈ Cluytens leads a brisk performance, and a major plus is original dialogue effectively - and perfectly - spoken by the singers. The engineers have provided well-balanced monophonic sound and, in an intriguing attempt at realism, have captured the sound of Carmen dancing in "Danse bohÈmienne" (CD 1 track 14). Mark Obert-Thorn made the exemplary transfers, superior to any previous issue of this important performance. No texts are provided but there is a track-by-track description of the proceedings. If you enjoy historic recordings of Carmen you also should investigate two releases on Ward Marston's label, both from acoustic originals. One is the first complete recording of the opera, sung in German, with Emmy Destinn in the title role, Karl Jorn as Don JosÈ and Hermann Bachmann as Escamillo, recorded in Berlin in 1908 with Bruno Seidler-Winkler conducting (Marston 52022). The other is the OpÈra-Comique version recorded in 1911 featuring Marguerite MÈrentiÈ in the title role - a strange choice as Emma CalvÈ was the leading Carmen of the time. Both sets are of supreme interest to collectors. Ward Marston's marvelous transfers bring out all the music on these very old recordings.
The Meistersinger was recorded on tape in July and August 1951 during a rehearsal and five performances and issued on 68 78rpm sides (!), the largest set of such disks ever devoted to a single work. It also was issued on LP and it is from this source the present transfer was made. Mark Obert-Thorn explains the many audio problems and his quite successful attempts to correct them. At the same time this was recorded, Decca's engineers were recording Knappertsbusch's performances of Parsifal, just issued on Naxos (see REVIEW). The Culshaw-Wilkinson team did far better sonically, but this Meistersinger, the first of Karajan's two recordings of the work, is well worth owning, highlighted by the radiant Eva of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. All of these historic performances are essential for the historic-minded opera collector. Thank you, Naxos! Unfortunately neither of these sets is sold in the U.S.
R.E.B. (April 2003)