THE NAKED CARMEN
Various artists
Mercury SRM 1-604, 1970

It wasn't yet the end of the Sixties, but already the powers that be were lamenting the decade that was. Some of the loudest laments came from the minions of the classical-music business, which was worried that rock and roll was in fact here to stay, and how are we going to stay in business if Chuck Berry, or for that matter the Beatles, keep telling Beethoven to roll over? Not even Tchaikovsky was prepared for news like that.

LP sleeveThis is not to say that the young people of the era had no interest in the music of the ages. Wendy Carlos had issued a collection of Bach pieces played on a modified Moog synthesizer, which sold well to classicists and rockers alike, and occasionally some poor shlub might stumble across something from the standard repertoire, but the trend seemed irreversibly downward. Music magazines deplored the situation, editorials denounced it, and Mercury Records decided to do something about it. Two composers with connections to Mercury — John Corigliano, representing the classical idiom, and David A. Hess, from the folk/pop side — took hold of Bizet's 1875 opera Carmen, ostensibly updated the story by a century or so, boiled it down to fifty minutes, and managed to work in an amazing number of musical styles, few of which were likely to remind anyone of Bizet.

Needless to say, it was deemed necessary to make this hodgepodge appeal to the counterculture. The last two pages of the liner notes juxtapose Carmen and a mushroom cloud, and the jacket back is full of pictures of cigar bands — which prove to be, upon closer observation, bands for a different sort of smoke altogether. The Children's Chorus is driven by a kazoo; the March of the Toreadors dissolves into a montage that rivals John and Yoko's "Revolution 9" for sheer indigestibility, punctuated with references to the likes of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and a voiceover by Spiro Agnew; instructions are provided for turning the jacket itself into a "Cigar-Box Guitar, Light Show and Sound Sculpture". To be honest, I loved almost every over-the-top minute of it. Melba Moore drew the assignments for the Habanera, Micaela's Air, and the Card Song, and she did them with considerable verve. The Detroit Symphony, perhaps with teeth quietly gritted, performs the orchestral bits as well as you'd expect. David Hess himself sings the plaintive entr'acte. I doubt seriously The Naked Carmen did anything to reverse the decline in classical sales, but once you get past "What were they thinking?" you may actually find some of this worthwhile.

Further exploration: John Corigliano continues to compose for the concert hall and for the movie house, and David A. Hess has sustained dual careers as actor and composer. They're not working on a sequel to The Naked Carmen, though. And if you'd like to read the complete liner notes — and they are a hoot — WFMU's webmaster Henry Lowengard has kindly posted them.

Track listing:
   (All compositions by Corigliano-Hess, adapted from the work of Georges Bizet, except as noted)

  • Odyssey (Prelude)
       Moog Synthesizer; Detroit Symphony/Paul Paray
  • The Faces Are The Same, I (Entr'Acte)
       David Hess
  • When Love Is Free (Habanera)
       Melba Moore
  • The Faces Are The Same, II (Entr'Acte)
       David Hess
  • The Flowurie Song (The Flower Song)
       Robert White and Anita Darian
  • The Universal Military Bubblegum Band (The Children's Chorus)
       Anita Darian, kazoo; Detroit Symphony/Paul Paray
  • The Faces Are The Same, III (Entr'Acte)
       David Hess
  • Playin' the Game (The Toreador Song)
       William Walker
  • Time (Micaela's Air)
       Melba Moore
  • Paper Hero/The Darkness (March of the Toreadors)
       Pig Iron; Detroit Symphony/Paul Paray; voices
  • Somewhere To Go (Seguidilla)
       George Turner
  • The Faces Are The Same, IV (Entr'Acte)
       David Hess
  • This Sick And Hungry World (The Gypsy Song)
       Mary Bruce and Her Starbuds
  • Carmen Fantasette (Bizet-Atkins)
       John Atkins, piano
  • The Tarot Dealer (The Card Song)
       Melba Moore
  • Requiem
       montage
  • The Faces Are The Same, V (Entr'Acte)
       David Hess

Created, written, produced and arranged by John Corigliano and David A. Hess
Orchestrations by John Corigliano
Executive A&R director: Joseph R. Bott
Production supervisor: M. Scott Mampe
Production coordinator: Melissa Bryan
Recording supervisor: Edward Van Niel
Recording engineers: Neal Ceppos, Bob Fava
Mixing engineer: Neal Ceppos

Updated 6 February 2000


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Copyright © 1998-2000 by Charles G. Hill
Artwork copyright © 1970 by Mercury Records
Cover scan courtesy of World Wide Wax

Thanks to David Hess for dropping by and saying hello