Sunday Classics: All the major players in "Carmen" gather outside the bullfighting arena in Seville
The Entr'acte to Act III is played by the Berlin Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel, with Emmanuel Pahud as flute soloist, at the orchestra's 2010 Silvesterkonzert (i.e., New Year's Eve concert)
As I explained in Friday night's preview ("Enter the Toreador"), we're picking up on our look at the unfolding of the romantic obsession of the Army sergeant Don José, a Basque who has left his home in Navarre for the southerly latitudes of Seville, for the free-spirited gypsy Carmen, whose original interest in José was the very fact that he was one of the rare man who shows absolutely no interest in her. However, by the end of Act II, where we left the couple in part 1 of this series ("'And long live the music that falls on us from heaven' (Carmen)"), he was thoroughly under her spell.
We're going to move pretty quickly through Act III to get to the climactic meeting of the now-former lovers in Act IV.
BIZET: Carmen: Entr'acte to Act III
We already did the Act III Entr'acte pretty thoroughly in a February 2012 flute-and-harp post,and we just heard (and saw) it again at the top of the post. Well, here it is again.
Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra de Paris, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, cond. EMI, recorded 1969-70
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, Sir Thomas Beecham, cond. EMI, recorded 1958-59
WE'RE IN THE MOUNTAINS NOW, IN "A PICTURESQUE
AND WILD SITE" WHERE CARMEN & CO. HAVE GONE . . .
. . . as planned after we left them in Lillas Pastia's tavern at the end of Act II. For Don José, having been present during the gypsies' capture and disarming of his lieutenant, Zuniga, his bridges are burneds, and he has followed them into the mountains, where it will become clear that Carmen hasn't much use for a slobberingly infatuated army sergeant. His original appeal to her, after all, was that he didn't show any interest in her.
We're just going to listen to one snatch from Act III, picking up in a trio in which Carmen's pals Frasquita and Mercédès friskily play with their fortune-telling cards, and we get a glimpse of Carmen very different from the blithe, carefree spirit of Acts I and II.
We have three very lovely but very different performances, coincidentally by three sopranos, though by this point Maria Callas is functioning essentially as a mezzo. I don't think you need any comment from me about the brooding, grim intensity of her performance, but Victoria de los Angeles in her patrician way seems to me quite as intense and perhaps even more touching, while the weight and creamy beauty of Jessye Norman's powerful soprano does the music proud.
Carmen: Act III: Card Scene, Carmen, "Carreau, pique . . . la mort!" ("Diamond, spade . . . death!") . . . "En vain, pour éviter"
CARMEN [turning over cards]: Diamond, spade . . . death!
I've read it clearly . . . me first,
then him . . . for both of us death!
[In a low voice, all the while continuing to shuffle the cards]
In vain, to avoid bitter answers,
in vain you'll continue to shuffle;
that serves no no point, the cars
are sincere and won't lie!
In the book on high,
if your page is happy,
shuffle and cut without fear,
the card under your fingers will turn out joyous,
announcing good fortune for you.
But if you are supposed to die,
if the terrible word
is written by fate,
begin again twenty times, the pitiless card
will repeat: death!
[Turning the cards]
Again! again! always death!
FRASQUITA and MERCÉDÈS: Speak, speak, my beauties,
of the future give us news;
tell us wo will betray us,
tell us who will love us!
CARMEN: Again! Despair!
Maria Callas (s), Carmen; Nadine Sautereau (s), Frasquita; Jane Berbié (ms), Mercédès; Orchestra of the Théâtre National de l'Opéra, Georges Prêtre, cond. EMI, recorded July 6-20, 1964
Victoria de los Angeles (s), Carmen; Denise Monteil (s), Frasquita; Marcelle Croisier or Monique Linval (ms), Mercédès; Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, Sir Thomas Beecham, cond. EMI, recorded 1958-59
Jessye Norman (s), Carmen; Ghylaine Raphanel (s), Frasquita; Jean Rigby (ms), Mercédès; Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. Philips, recorded July 13-22, 1988
AS WE MOVE ON TO ACT IV,
A SMALL TECHNICAL POINT
As far as a lot of newerfangled, textually informed people are concerned, there isn't any Act IV. What some of us still think of as Act IV, much the shortest of the four acts, which have followed a pattern of steadily dminishing length, is thought of as Scene 2 of Act III.
Of course nowadays, when intermissions are thought to be a drain on society, nobody is likely to plunk one in between Acts III and IV. But I'm going to stick to the old nomenclature, if only because otherwise the last of the three Carmen entr'actes isn't an entr'acte at all, but an intermezzo.
Let's listen then to the Entr'acte to Act IV, and then go directly into the act, which is set back in Seville, in a square outside the arena where a large crowd, out of its mind with excitement, is gathered for -- what else? -- bullfighting. (Sorry, I'm not going to bother with texts. I think you'll get the general idea.)
Entr'acte to Act IV and Opening Chorus
Frank Schooten (bs), Zuniga; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. RCA, recorded November 1963
Jean-Philippe Courtis (bs), Zuniga; Chorus of Radio France, Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. Philips, recorded July 13-22, 1988
Now one thing that's curious about all this wonderfully festive music is that, pretty unusually, it's all in triple meter: 3/8 for the entr'acte, 3/4 for the opening chorus. It sure sounds as if Bizet has deliberately avoided even meters -- you know, the sort of thing you can march to, in order to save his march meters for the next great development, the entrance of the bullfighting cuadrilla. Note particularly the thrill level of the children in the crowd. (Again, I'm not going to bother with texts. I don't think you'll have any trouble spotting the grand entrance of the idolized toreador himself.)
Act IV, March and Chorus, "Les voici! Voici la quadrille!" ("Here they are! Here's the cuadrilla!"
Vienna Boys Choir, Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. RCA, recorded November 1963
Soloists; Maîtrise and Chorus of Radio France, Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. Philips, recorded July 13-22, 1988
WHICH I'M AFRAID IS AS FAR AS
WE'RE GOING TO GET THIS WEEK
Notice that above I made mention of getting to the climactic meeting of the now-former lovers in Act IV. Well, we've just about gotten to it. (Not quite, though: There's a tender but manly exchange between Escamillo and Carmen after he's made his grand entrance, which we'll be skipping over.) And even though there will be only about ten minutes' worth of music when we resume next week, that's still a lot of important ground to cover.