International Record Review

Possibly the most famous, or infamous, operatic lovers from Spain are Carmen and José. In Merimeé’s book, José was nastier than in Bizet’s opera. The recording of Carmen to hand is the Columbia abridgement of 1928, issued by the worthy little company Divine Art, whose booklet even provides words and translations. Between 1928 and 1933, four ‘complete’ recordings of Carmen were issued, two in French and two in Italian, with this Columbia set the earliest, though still preceded by three more from earlier decades. Its leading quartet consists of Raymonde Visconti, Georges Thill, Marthe Nespoulous and Louis Guénot. This last sings Escamilo but also contributes the few lines of Moralès and Zuniga, unlisted. He has an open sound, not orotund but not wooffy, and manages to sing both top and bottom notes in ‘Votre Toast’, which not all who take Escamillo can do. Nespoulous is a bright-voiced Micaëla, neat and accurate. To José, Thill brings stylish vocalising (a pity the B Flat in the Flower Song is not sung quietly) and without ranting and raving is intense in the final scene. If Thill does not rant, Visconti is not a Carmen who chews the scenery. In the booklet she is listed as a mezzo, and sounds like one, but apparently Manon and Mimi were in her repertoire. Some will find her too placid. Divine Art’s transfer is very clear, with no ‘overcooking’ of the original.

—John T. Hughes