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Classical 101

Marilyn Horne in Carmen, 1973

TWO AUDIO PIECES   The Metropolitan Opera opens tonight with a new staging of an old favorite, Puccini's Tosca, complete with sex, love, more sex, attempted rape and three violent deaths, very theatrical music and a short score that will have you ready for the opening night parties with Mr.  Trump and Mrs. Bass and their friends. Karita Mattila and Marcel Alvarez star in a new staging by Luc Bondy. The production is touted as being "spare and dynamic" meaning cheap, and won't begin to replace the gaudy Franco Zeffirelli oooh and ahhh fest I've always loved. Listen, the Met didn't ask my opinion. Are you going to Opening night? I can't make it. So let me take you to a performance of Carmen at the Met given on March 10, 1973. This was the broadcast run of a new staging inspired by the Swedish producer Goran Gentele. Gentele had been named General Manager of the venerable Met in April 1972, following the retirement of Rudolf Bing. Five days after taking office Gentele and his two daughters were killed in an auto crash on Sardinia. He was going to stage a new production of Carmen to open his first season in September 1972. The new production happened without Mr. Gentele. It created a lot of press and a lot of ruckus. You loved it or hated it. I loved it. Marilyn Horne was Carmen.  Today in her 70s Miss Marilyn Horne is the great lady of opera and vocal music, a muse, a teacher, a mentor and a very, very, (I said very) great artist. (And a hoot). Luscious in her 30s back in '72,  she might not have been everybody's idea of Bizet's tantalizing gypsy girl. (She was mine, and she was still hot when I heard her do the role again in the late 1980s). But that voice. Did we forget you have to have a voice to succeed in opera? You can be cover girl gorgeous or the world's foremost barihunk but if you can't put out the sound, you can't put out the sound and you should stick to modeling. Horne could put out the sound. Among the many astonishing moments she had in Carmen was the Act II finale. Carmen has seduced Don Jose...again...The hunky bull fighter Escamillo will have to wait. Don Jose's Sergeant comes to ogle the gypsy girls and is good-naturedly taken prisoner by Carmen and her den of smugglers and petty thieves. Bel officier, l'amour vous joue en ce moment un assez vilain tour: My fine officer, love has played a rather dirty joke on you... And Carmen ends this scene with her credo: la liberte! Listen to Marilyn Horne in this fragment. Listen to what she could do with her voice on la liberte - Freedom! That huge octave and a half leap. NOBODY does that today. [audio:bel-oficier-fragment] And now here's the whole number so you can hear the leap in context, the gleaming secure top, and Miss Horne's magnificent chest. [audio:bel-oficier] I hope the Met has a great night tonight with Tosca.  I'm glad I was around to hear Marilyn Horne sing Carmen back in 1973.  Stick with me kids, now you can hear it too!