DVD Opera Review
Chorus and Orchestra of the San Francisco Opera
conducted by Tiziano Severini
Recorded at the San Francisco Opera in 1988.
ARTHAUS 1000 046 [116
in languages: D, GB, F, I Sp,NL, S
It is suggested that this review is read in conjunction with that of the
1973 DECCA (421 049-2) recording of La Bohème, with Freni and
Pavarotti, which I rated highly. That review is part of
a large file that covers the background
of Puccini's opera and embraces reviews of four more rival
Although this recording was made some 15 years later, Freni and Pavarotti
were still in fine voice. (I remember, with great pleasure, seeing them in
the Covent Garden production of the early 1980s). The supporting cast is
different of course. Immediately, I missed the ravishing singing of Elizabeth
Harwood. Her coquettish yet very sympathetic Musetta was a highlight of that
Decca set. Making up for it is the splendidly oaken tones of Nicolai Ghiarov
as Colline who gets a warm ovation for his Act IV aria in which he is prepared
to sacrifice his overcoat to provide warmth for the sinking Mimi. Stephen
Dickson makes an amiable and carefree Schaunard, the musician. Gino Quilico
also shines as a sympathetic if hot-headed Marcello. Sandra Pacetti as Musetta
is rather OTT in Act II (with a wig that makes her look like a standard lamp)
but she is more restrained and consequently warmer and more sympathetic in
Acts III and IV.
For the purpose of this review I will concentrate more on the production.
Thankfully it is set in the proper period (Paris, 1830) with the right costumes.
The sets are lavish (very similar to the Covent Garden production) especially
for the Café Momus setting that is Act II. Here, the crowd scenes
are very well managed. The chorus throughout is lusty and colourful. I have
made the point elsewhere that Puccini wanted the meeting of Mimi and Rodolfo
in Act I to be spontaneous. A draft should blow out the candle. Here Pavarotti
blows out the candle himself; his seduction is too calculated. Act III's
set at the toll gate in winter is another plus, with the crowd scenes giving
a sense of the poverty and hopelessness of the period. The artists' garret
is if anything a tad too tidy and spacious, a cleverer set would have given
a sense of clutter and smallness.
In short, a splendid production which in this DVD format is a feast for the
ear and the eye.