Herbert von Karajan conducts his 1966 Salzburg Festival production of Bizet's immortal "Carmen".
The beautiful gypsy Carmen, who works in a cigarette factory, is the center of male attention. Only Don José, the sergeant, shows no interest in her, since he loves Micaela. After Carmen injures another girl with a knife, Lieutenant Zuniga orders José to take her to prison. She bewitches him into letting her escape, after which he must take her place in jail. In a smugglers' tavern, the bullfighter Escamillo is greeted with enthusiasm. Trumpets sound to recall the soldiers - including Don José, who has been set free - to the barracks. José deserts because of his love for Carmen and joins the smugglers. Carmen's feelings for José quickly wane. The smugglers flee as customs officers arrive. José, who has remained, shoots at someone he takes for a customs officer and, when he realizes it is Escamillo, leaps at his rival, mad with jealousy. Carmen manages to separate the two. Escamillo appears at the bullfighting arena accompanied by Carmen and is greeted by the frantically cheering crowd. José waits nearby. When she sees him, Carmen throws the ring he gave her at his feet. Humiliated and desperate, he stabs Carmen to death.
If Herbert von Karajan continues to be a looming presence in today's classical music world, then it is not only because of his more than 800 records and CDs, but also because of the many hours of video recordings which he produced over the course of many years, many of them with Unitel. He began preserving his performances on film back in 1965 with "La Bohème". His "Carmen" is based on his 1966 production for the Salzburg Festival with Grace Bumbry - one of the greatest interpreters of the title role in our time - , Jon Vickers, Mirella Freni and Justino Diaz in the lead roles. Perhaps the most popular opera in the world today, "Carmen" began its life as a failure when it was premiered in Paris in 1875. Tchaikovsky, however, who was in Paris at the time, prophesied that the opera would be a global success in only ten years. It took a little longer, but his prophecy did come true. And with numbers such as the "Habanera", the "Toreador Song", the "Seguidilla" and the "Flower Song", how could the prophecy not come true?