Bizets original Carmen with a stellar cast. Simon Rattle leads the Berliner Philharmoniker in Bizet’s Carmen with Magdalena Kožená in the title role and Jonas Kaufmann as her doomed lover Don José. This much-anticipated studio opera recording – and the first studio recording of an opera for Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker on EMI – returns to the original opéra comique version as recreated in the 1964 Fritz Oeser edition. The recording follows a new production at the 2012 Salzburg Easter Festival and concert performances at Berlin’s Philharmonie in April 2012 and will be released to coincide with staged performances of Carmen at the Salzburg Festival in August.

“It’s not often that the words ‘the most popular’ and ‘the greatest’ ever appear together
in classical music, but this is one of those cases where Bizet did something that nobody
had done before and nobody else has done anything like it – let alone better – since.”
(Sir Simon Rattle)

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In 1964 the musicologist Fritz Oeser reconstructed an “original version, critically revised after the sources”, which forms the basis for the current recording. Another distinction of this production and recording is that it goes back to the original chamber feeling of the opera. As Magdalena Kožená says, “In the last 50 years, Carmen has become like a big, heavy, Italian opera. Carmen is often cast as a woman with a big chest voice. …But the role was not written for a heavy voice. It was written for the Opéra-Comique, so you don’t have to push through a huge orchestra.” Sir Simon agrees: “It is taken from the French tradition, which includes dancing and speaking. We have tried to do an opéra comique version, not a “grand” opera.”

Jonas Kaufmann described his feelings about playing Don José: “He is one of the most interesting characters that I know in opera, especially because he has such a huge development. He starts the opera as the brave handsome young guy, following all the rules and all the orders, and he ends up as a murderer, having done many terrible things in between. There’s so much to play as an actor on top of all this beautiful music, so rich with melodies […] One of the magic things in Carmen is that, even though the music is very beautiful and folkloristic, we’re talking about real persons, real characters and most of all real feelings.” He added, “The possibility to do this role with Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker is probably the dream-come-true, the climax of the productions and performances that one has done before.”

Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharminoker

Magdalena Kozena said, “of course it was a challenge for me [to sing the role of Carmen]. I am not exactly the type of character that she is. I had to explore within myself a lot […] She is like a female Don Giovanni in that she is not afraid of death. She is not afraid of anything actually. But the fact that even death does not bother her very much is psychologically very interesting. There is a lot of passion, a lot of living in the moment. She does not think about the past or the future, what other people think about her, or if what she is doing is good or bad. And there is this instant greed for life and to have it right now. It is a very exciting role.”

Kozena

2012 marks the 10th anniversary of Simon Rattle‘s association with the Berliner Philharmoniker as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director. During this period, he has brought to the orchestra a combination of exuberance, expansion of repertoire and emphasis on work with young people. Their concerts and projects have combined works by Bach and Rameau with those of Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart and Brahms and such contemporary composers as Adès, Berio, Boulez, Gubaidulina and Lindberg. Their partnership has also resulted in many award-winning and already classic recordings on EMI.

As Artistic Director of the Salzburg Easter Festival for ten years, Rattle led the Berliner Philharmoniker in staged productions of Fidelio, Così fan tutte, Peter Grimes and Pélléas et Mélisande, as well as in numerous concert programmes. They also took part in a five-year Wagner Ring Cycle at the Aix en Provence and Salzburg Easter Festivals that concluded in 2010. In March 2013, Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker will initiate an Easter Festival at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden. While the principal focus will be on opera productions, the programme will include concerts, chamber music and education projects at the Festspielhaus and at other venues in the city.

Simon Rattle became an exclusive EMI artist in 1980, two years after the release of his initial recording for the label. More than 32 years – and 250 works – later, Sir Simon remains under exclusive contract to EMI and many of his recordings, principally with the Berliner Philharmoniker, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Wiener Philharmoniker, have been ground-breaking and award-winning. His recorded collaborations with the Berliner Philharmoniker have explored works by Bruckner, Brahms, Debussy, Holst, Mahler, Prokofiev, Ravel, Schoenberg, Schubert, Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky. They have received three Grammy Awards in the United States, Three Classical Brit and Gramophone Awards in the UK and two Echo Klassik Awards in Germany to date.

Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker open their 2012-2013 season in August with works by Brahms and Lutosławski, followed by appearances at the Salzburg and Lucerne festivals and at the BBC Proms. Their Berlin season resumes in September with a concert performance of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.

“The orchestra glistened in Carmen … There is no denying the thrill of hearing these players in music that is too often taken for granted, and Rattle gets them to deliver all the dark melancholy of the score.”
(The Daily Telegraph on the Salzburg Easter Festival staged production, March 2012).