Friday, November 23, 2012

Preview: Enter the Toreador

By the time Don José arrives at Lillas Pastia's joint in Act II of Carmen, we have a new player. Enter the Toreador. (Above: Aris Agiris as Escamillo at Covent Garden, 2010.)
ESCAMILLO: Let's go! On guard! Let's go! On guard!
Ah! Toreador, on guard! Toreador! Toreador!
And surely think, yes think while fighting
that a dark eye is watching you,
and that love awaits you!
Toreador! Love awaits you!
ALL: Toreador, on guard! Toreador! Toreador!
And surely think, yes think while fighting
that a dark eye is watching you,
and that love awaits you!
Toreador! Love awaits you!


The high-flying French baritone Ernest Blanc sings the refrain of the first stanza of the Toreador Song, with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting Radiodiffusion Française forces in his 1958-59 EMI recording of Carmen. (Don't worry, we're going to hear the complete Toreador Song.)

by Ken

Even though in this Carmen series (begun two weeks ago, "'And long live the music that falls on us from heaven' (Carmen)") we're trying to focus on the romantic obsession of Don José, we can't ignore the other characters who intersect with the poor fellow's existence at this crucial moment -- most obviously Carmen herself, of course, but also the bullfighter Escamillo. For him Bizet happens to have concocted one of the most famous tunes in the history of tunedom.

In Part 1 of this series we had taken José up to the point of being the recipient of a special dance from the object of his infatuation when he meets her at Carmen's friend Lillas Pastia's joint on the outskirts of Seville -- just as soon as the young sergeant has been released from the brig for allowing Carmen to escape from his custody in connection with her stabbing of a fellow cigarette-factory worker. However, by the time José shows up at Lillas Pastia's, the dashing toreador has made an appearance, followed by his adoring throng. As it happens, the final stage of the relationship between José and Carmen is going to play out in front of the arena where Escamillo is toreadoring.

SO LET'S HEAR ESCAMILLO MAKE HIS ENTRANCE

BIZET: Carmen: Act II, Entrance of the Toreador and Toreador Song
VOICES OUTSIDE: Long live, long live the toréro!
Long live, long live Escamillo!
[In the original version, with spoken dialogue, characters in the tavern take note of the approaching hubbub over the approaching chorus.]
[ESCAMILLO enters.]
[In the version with Guiraud's recitatives:
ZUNIGA: A torchlight parade!
It's the winner of the bullfights in Granada.
Will you drink with us, my comrade?
To your old triumphs, to our new triumphs!]
[In the original version with spoken dialogue:
ZUNIGA [spoken]: These ladies and we thank you for having accepted our invitation. We didn't want to let you pass without drinking with you to the great art of bullfighting . . .
ESCAMILLO: My dear officers, I thank you.]
ALL: Long live, long live the toréro!
Long live, long live Escamillo! Long live!
ESCAMILLO [blunt and very rhythmic]: Your toast -- I can return it to you,
señors, señors, for with soldiers,
yes, the toréros can understand each other:
For pleasures, they have combats!
The ring is full, it's a festival day,
the ring is full from top to bottom.
The spectators losing their heads,
the spectators inject themselves in a great fracas!
Exclamations, cries, and uproar
pushed to the point of frenzy!
For it's the festival of people with courage!
It's the festival of people with with heart!
Let's go! On guard! Let's go! On guard!
Ah! Toreador, on guard! Toreador! Toreador!
And surely think, yes think while fighting
that a dark eye is watching you,
and that love awaits you!
Toreador! Love awaits you!
ALL: Toreador, on guard! Toreador! Toreador!
And surely think, yes think while fighting
that a dark eye is watching you,
and that love awaits you!
Toreador! Love awaits you!
ESCAMILLO: Suddenly everyone is silent,
everyone is silent, an what's happening?
No more cries, it's the moment!
The bull bursts forth,
bounding out of the toril!
He bursts forth! He enters, he strikes!
A horse rolls over, dragging down a picador!
"Ah! bravo, bull!" shouts the crowd.
The bull goes, it comes,
it comes and strikes again!
Shaking his bandilleras,
fully of fury, he runs!
The ring is covered with blood!
People jump clear, people leap the barriers!
It's your turn now!
Let's go! On guard! Let's go! On guard!
Ah! Toreador, on guard! Toreador! Toreador! &c.
ALL: Toreador, on guard! Toreador! Toreador! &c.
In turn FRASQUITA, MERCÉDÈS, and CARMEN echo ESCAMILLO's "Love."

ERNEST BLANC
Blanc brings some important strengths to the music: a really beautiful baritone with some exciting ring on top and some genuine grace in his manner, not to mention authentic French. He was hardly a vocal lightweight (he managed the punishing role of Telramund in Lohengrin at Bayreuth), but there's still a want of heft in the sound.


[version with recitatives by Ernest Guiraud] Ernest Blanc (b), Escamillo; Xavier Depraz (bs), Zuniga; Denise Monteil (s), Frasquita; Marcelle Croisier or Monique Linval (ms), Mercédès; Victoria de los Angeles (s), Carmen; Chorus of the Radiodiffusion Française, Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française, Sir Thomas Beecham, cond. EMI, recorded 1958-59

ROBERT MERRILL
There's nothing subtle about Merrill's 1963 performance, and consequently not an abundance of elegance or grace, but it's still big-league vocalizing. One might wonder how this performance sounds alongside the one he gave at age 37 in the 1951 RCA recording with Risë Stevens and Jan Peerce conducted by Fritz Reiner. There's only one way to find out. (Apologies for the LP swish.) Well, it's not much subtler, but the voice sure sounded shinier, and the upper range was strikingly free and resonant.


[version with recitatives by Ernest Guiraud] Robert Merrill (b), Escamillo; Frank Schooten (bs), Zuniga; Monique Linval (s), Frasquita; Geneviève Macaux (ms), Mercédès; Leontyne Price (s), Carmen; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded November 1963

[version with recitatives by Ernest Guiraud] Robert Merrill (b), Escamillo; Osie Hawkins (bs), Zuniga; Paula Lenchner (s), Frasquita; Margaret Roggero (ms), Mercédès; Risë Stevens (ms), Carmen; Robert Shaw Chorale, RCA Victor Orchestra, Fritz Reiner, cond. RCA, recorded May-June 1951

JOSÉ VAN DAM
Van Dam was such an admirable singer in so many ways that it's rather surprising to hear him In the 1970 recording with Maazel seeming to hope that shouting will get him through lines he's having a tough time filling out. By 1975 with Solti he has worked the music into his voice a whole lot more successfully, and again there's the large advantage of a native singer of French -- it's not an account that will knock your socks off, but it makes sense of the piece.


José van Dam (bs-b), Escamillo; Arleen Augér (s), Frasquita; Jane Berbié (ms), Mercédès; Anna Moffo (s), Carmen; Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Lorin Maazel, cond. Eurodisc/BMG, recorded 1970

José van Dam (bs-b); Norma Burrowes (s), Frasquita; Jane Berbié (ms), Mercédès; Tatiana Troyanos (ms), Carmen; London Philarmonic Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti, cond.
 Decca, recorded July 1975

SIMON ESTES
Finally we have a voice that seems close to the size and weight we've been hoping for, and while it may not be handled as effectively as we might wish, Estes's performance delivers some vocal pow.


Simon Estes (bs-b), Escamillo; Ghylaine Raphanel (s), Frasquita; Jean Rigby (ms), Mercédès; Jessye Norman (s), Carmen; Chorus of Radio France, Orchestre National de France, Seiji Ozawa, cond. Philips, recorded July 13-22, 1988


IN THIS WEEK'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

A show of hands: Who thinks that l'affaire Carmen-Don José will end well?
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