High Notes

Six Sopranos Who Recorded Or Performed ‘Carmen’

On Sept. 9, 2017, the LA Opera opens its 2017-18 season with a repertory staple, Bizet’s “Carmen.” However, what makes this revival so appealing is the addition of a soprano in the title role instead of a mezzo-soprano. Ana María Martínez takes on the iconic role for the second time after receiving raves at the Houston Grand Opera.

With the assumption of the role, Martinez continues to join a select few sopranos who either recorded the role or sang it live on the stage. As a result, OperaWire takes a look at some of the most famous soprano interpreters in the title role.

Victoria de Los Angeles

The Spanish soprano was known for her interpretation as it was one of her favorite roles. She interpreted the iconic gypsy over many years and recorded it for Warner Classics. She was also among the first Spanish-born operatic singers to record the complete opera, having done so in 1958 in a recording conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. That recording used the recitatives added by Ernest Guiraud after Bizet’s death and also starred Nicolai Gedda.

Maria Callas

La Divina never sang the role on stage but she did sing many of Carmen’s songs in concerts and most famously recorded the work alongside Nicolai Gedda. The recording is one of the definitive versions for its upbeat tempi and, of course, for the dramatic insight Callas brings to the famous heroine. The final scene with Gedda is visceral and among the best in recorded history.

Anna Moffo

One forgets the versatility of Moffo as she was well known for her work in many bel canto and lyric roles. However, she experimented many times in the recording studio with roles like “Luisa Miller” and in her late career, she tried numerous roles like “Tosca.” “Carmen” was among the late career experiments and while it may not be the best fit for her beautiful lyric voice, her chemistry with Franco Corelli is clearly there. While this is a recording that is rarely remembered, it is nevertheless a fascinating listening experience.

Leontyne Price

There is no definitive recording of the opera but Price made a staple of the title role when she recorded it with Franco Corelli and Herbert Von Karajan. The RCA recording is regarded as one of the best as it also stars Mirella Freni and Robert Merrill. It’s shame that Price never actually sang the role on stage, but this recording shows what a fiery Carmen she would have been on stage.

Jessye Norman

Yet another singer who did not perform the role live, Norman joined Seiji Ozawa in 1989 with Neil Shicoff to record a legendary CD. The recording session was filmed in a documentary that is still available on Medici and showcases the extraordinary personality and sensitivity of the great American soprano.

Angela Gheorghiu

The Romanian soprano is famous for having withdrawn from the Metropolitan Opera’s 2009 production tailored for her. The occasion was to mark her stage role debut but unfortunately, she withdrew, never performing the role on stage. However, before that, Gheorghiu recorded the role with Antonio Pappano and Roberto Alagna. The recording showcased Gheorghiu’s flirtatious qualities as well as her virtuosic powers and, of course, the chemistry with her then-husband Alagna.

Did We Miss Any? Let us know in the comments below. 

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4 Responses

  1. I think this is the first time I’ve ever read the Jessye Norman “Carmen” described as “legendary”. Usually a more pejorative word is used.

    The two omissions that first popped in my mind are Geraldine Farrar, who sang the role 65 times at the Met, and Rosa Ponselle.

  2. Rosa Ponselle successfully performed Carmen with the Metropolitan Opera back in the 1930’s. Apparently it was quite a controversial interpretation of the role at the time.

  3. Beverly Sills sang it very early in her career, and ‘took all the top endings Bizet originally intended.”

  4. I heard Kiri Te Kanawa sing the role with New Zealand Opera in (I think) 1971. (Was she still a student then, in London?) Her lack of stage experience showed, at the time, but the velvet lustre of her tone still remains with me.

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