Carmen is not only the eponymous heroine of what is probably the most popular opera in the world, she is also a myth: the epitome of beauty, seduction and the freedom from all social fetters. In their New Year’s Eve Gala from 1997, the Berliner Philharmoniker and Claudio Abbado take on this myth with a top-class ensemble of singers and instrumental soloists.
The concert opens of course with excerpts from Bizet’s opera. The Swedish singer Anne Sofie von Otter in the title role never comes across as a cool Scandinavian, but enchants the whole hall with her sometimes alluring, sometimes scornful mezzo-soprano. Bryn Terfel, the vigorous Welsh baritone is a self-confident Escamillo, while the tenor Roberto Alagna embodies the hopelessly in love Don José with gently melodiousness.
Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations – played crisply and with fullness of tone by Mikhail Plentnev – convey a very similar tonal and expressive world to Bizet’s opera. This musical world is then seen again from a violinist’s perspective with Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy. The soloist is Gil Shaham, mastering the breath-taking technical difficulties as a matter of course. Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole shows that the Spanish spirit is not only bathed in sunlight, but also has its dark side, before the Berliner Philharmoniker once again demonstrate their brilliance in two short final pieces.