WHY?

Bizet's tale of the fiery gypsy and her naive, ultimately murderous lover, is an operatic staple but few versions boast such well-acted, brilliantly sung leading roles. Grace Bumbry's Carmen is a beautiful, witty temptress, amused at the deliriums she induces. Bumbry's facial expressions and body movements help create a nuanced character, and her singing is compelling, especially effective in the big moments; the Habanera done with languorous flirtatiousness, the Seguedilla entrancing.

One of opera's greatest singing actors, Vickers portrays the unworldly soldier of Act One before morphing into the tortured hero torn between love and duty of Act Two and finally, the insane outlaw of the finale. He and Bumbry strike sparks in the tavern scene and his "Flower" aria is the vocal and emotional highlight, begun in a throaty half-voice and building into an overwhelmingly intense cri de coeur. Mirelli Freni's Micaela, the village girl Don Jose abandons for Carmen, acts and sings her arias with vocal beauty and charm to burn. Justino Diaz is a straightforward Escamillo in a part that wants more flair and self-centered smugness. Smaller roles are adequately done.

Herbert Von Karajan directed and conducts. He's seen during the Prelude and the entr'actes in his closed-eyes mode of conducting. This Munich-made film is based on 1967 Salzburg Festival performances. It's without obvious lip-synch problems, but busy camera work indulges in many meaningless close-ups, including a shoe-top view of von Karajan's hands. Not as cohesive as Kleiber's DVD or Levine's MET production, but a must-have for Bumbry and Vickers. --Dan Davis

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