CD review: Decca's 'Carmen,' featuring Andrea Bocelli

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bizet: "Carmen." Domashenko, Bocelli, Terfel, et al. Myung-Whun Chung conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (Decca, 2 CDs)

It's hard to choose what's most irritating about Decca's new recording of Bizet's "Carmen." Is it the fact that, at a time when the major labels have deemed studio recordings of operas unaffordable luxuries, Decca has lavished production money on this eighth complete opera set built around crossover crooner Andrea Bocelli? Is it the realization that the significant singers Decca has assembled around him would probably not be recording these roles without his bankable participation? Or is it simply the dispiriting mediocrity pervading the performance?

Bocelli, to be fair, possesses an essentially lovely tenor and knows his stuff when it comes to selling a pop ballad. And Decca's close miking of his puny voice inflates his sound to near-Franco Corelli-like dimensions. But his short-breathed, clumsily phrased, interpretively blank and often pinched and strained singing makes his Don Jose a tough listen. The rest of the cast also seems below its appreciable best, with Marina Domashenko a robustly delivered but anonymous Carmen, Eva Mei a breathy and unevenly sung Micaela and Bryn Terfel tending to bellow his way through the role of Escamillo.

The presence of solid, Francophone singers in supporting roles and the sensitively delivered spoken dialogue provide only slight compensations, and the usually perceptive conductor Myung-Whun Chung whips through the score with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France like he's running late for a flight out of Orly. But if even a few of Bocelli's fans discover opera through this misbegotten recording, it might all have been worth it.

-- Joe Banno

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