Robert B. Frederick in Variety:

“Carmen” is not exactly a role reserved for Negro mezzo sopranos, but there’s a small trend that way at the Met, the latest to take over being Shirley Verrett. She came close to scoring on her first try and with further performances could make the role her own. . . .

The silky-toned Miss Verrett makes the most of the situation, however, and only occasionally sounds winded by her travels. She does display one red herring of her own, however, by frequently taking the stance of a gypsy dancer on a table top and then doing nothing more than clicking her castanets.

Jon Vickers’ Don Jose, if not the epitome of the Spanish soldier, is at least honey-voiced and his Flower Song is on the spectacular (or Jussi Bjoerling) side. Possibly the chief delight of the evening is Mirella Freni’s Micaela (despite an unattractive hairdo) and she dominates even Vickers in all their scenes. Justino Diaz, the most athletic and character-correct Escamillo in the history of the Met, is also extremely effective in his arias, as are Morley Meredith’s Zuniga, Russell Christopher’s Morales (substituting at [first night] for the ailing Ron Bottcher), Lilian Sukis’ Frasquita and Marcia Baldwin’s Mercedes.

The staging follows Jean-Louis Barrault (who might well have come back to check on his conception), but the conducting of Zubin Mehta seems adequately Hispanic, redolent with held-in passions, and exploding at the proper moments. It was too bad that the rhythms didn’t inspire Alicia Markova’s dancers to something a bit closer to the flamenco feeling, but that may be the Barrault staging. While handsome, they move like a debuting group at the Delacorte Theatre.

The singers are certain to improve with further exposure in their roles, and particularly Miss Verrett, but the present set will not.

Happy 78th birthday soprano Jill Gomez.

Happy 77th birthday tenor Werner Krenn.

Happy 70th birthday mezzo-soprano Gail V Gilmore.

Happy 68th birthday baritone Alessandro Corbelli.

Happy 63rd birthday soprano Nina Rautio.

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