Before I do anything else, I must say thankyou to all my Wagnerian 'aunts and uncles' for their responses to my Walküre induced epiphany. Your comments and advice have been beyond fascinating; I shall try to absorb all you've told me and apply it to whatever Wagnerian purchases I make. Though it might have to wait a little while - but I'll be in Wellington in a month and will no doubt be unable to resist the siren song of Parsons' classical section. Although to be honest, I probably shouldn't be spending money on anything - I've just forked out more than I care to think about to get myself to Auckland - yes, Auckland - for a third Don Giovanni.
That said, however, I've been shopping this afternoon. I didn't particularly intend to, I just went into Disk Den to fill in time. I looked at their CDs - nothing new - and was ready to go, when I turned towards the DVDs. And saw this:
The Gracious One herself. In Carmen. In 1967. With Mirella. I had no idea this was on DVD; I had no idea this existed, full stop. There was, naturally, no way I was leaving the shop without it.
I've just now finished watching and it is a work of art. Quite incredible. Grace is just out of this world, sounding (and looking) fatally beautiful. She's an utterly convincing Carmen, and sings with such fire that she makes even the most over-familiar parts of the opera seem new. I tell you, the way that velvet voice wraps around you - she's a dangerous girl. In Mirella Freni she has the loveliest imaginable Betty to her Veronica. Such a powerful performance as Grace's could easily mean she was the star even in her absence; but the fact is that Mirella's Micaela makes one forget Carmen - and everybody else - entirely. On paper, I think Micaela reads like a bit of a boring goody two shoes, but in Mirella's hands she's sweet and passionate - and not very nicely treated either. Nevertheless, she's better off without Don José. What a whinger. No, I'm afraid I really had no sympathy for him. Partly because the character doesn't appeal to me. Partly because Jon Vickers irritates me. I've no rational, justifiable explanation for this - he just does. He annoys me as himself, speaking about Maria Callas on the Golden Voices of the Century video; he annoys me in his photo in this year's Met Diary; and he annoys me as Don José. And sadly, while he sings very well, it's not enough to win me over, even temporarily. It can be done - Thomas Hampson's Macbeth convinced me to try and be kinder to him - but not in this case. I much prefered Justino Diaz as Escamillo, and I don't blame Carmen for doing the same.
The film itself is excellent too. It's not quite a cinematic treatment, not quite a filmed stage performance - somewhere in the middle. There's no audience, but we see the orchestra - under Maestro Karajan - for all the preludes and entr'actes. Anyway, it's beautifully and inventively filmed, and in 38 years it hasn't dated one little bit - quite an achievement. There's only one tiny little issue. I don't think much of the opera itself. Odd, perhaps, but true. This is not, incidentally, a side effect of my developing Wagnerian leanings - it's just never appealed to me. One of the very first operatic purchases I ever made was a $3 Carmen highlights disc with Jennifer Larmore in the title role (and Angela Gheorghiu as Micaela, now that I think about it). It was worth having for Jennifer, with whom I was besotted at the time, but the rest did nothing for me, and that doesn't look like changing anytime soon. I can honestly say that when it comes to Bizet, I far prefer his Orientalist one-acter Djamileh to anything else, Carmen included. I may just be the only person ever to claim such a preference. Tant mieux.
This Carmen wasn't my only discovery today either. Browsing at the library, I looked to see which other Don Giovanni sets they had - and lo and behold, I found this! Véronique Gens sings Donna Elvira - that's all I needed to know. It's at home with me now. Even if it's terrible - and I doubt it will be - Véronique will be Véronique, and all will be well. I also borrowed Angela Gheorghiu's new Puccini CD. It's so beautifully packaged that I'm tempted by it every time I see it at Real Groovy... but packaging is (mostly) not the best basis for choosing a CD, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to listen to it without buying it. Will it be the enchanting Angela of La Rondine? Or the near-unlistenable Angela of her first solo CD? Or something else entirely. We shall see.