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Bizet's Carmen may contain more universally known melodies than any other 19th-century opera, from the raucous Overture to the fiery Habanera, the beguiling Seguidilla to the tantalizing "Gypsy Song." If the incomparable score, so unusual for its time, continues to thrill audiences a century and a half later, it is thanks to the music itself—but also to the ensembles and singers who continue to find the electricity within and transmit its spark to us, which is exactly what happens in this impeccable 2009 production from Milan's La Scala!
This season opener features the earth-shaking debut of Anita Rachvelishvili, at 25 the youngest performer to open a season at the world's most storied opera venue—a gamble by Music Director Daniel Barenboim that pays off richly, thanks to the Georgian mezzo-soprano's "velvety and agile" voice and "natural, easy lyricism" (The New York Times). Her smitten and spurned Don José is played by a "superb, heartbreaking" Jonas Kaufmann, a singer of "exquisite taste and complete control," with excellent turns by the rest of the cast including Erwin Schrott as Escamillo and Adriana Damato as Micaëla. Under Maestro Barenboim, La Scala's esteemed orchestra delivers an unimpeachable, irresistible rendition of the timeless classic.