Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

La bohème
Andrea Boccelli Rodolfo, Barbara Frittoli Mimi, Paolo Gavanelli Marcello, Eva Mei Musetta, Natale de Carolis Schaunard, Mario Luperi Colline
Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra Zubin Mehta
Decca 464 060 2 (2 discs, 113.36 minutes)
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There is no question that this recording of La bohème will be regarded as Bocelli's recording. He has become hugely popular with the general public, his profile projected - like those of Lesley Garrett and Charlotte Church - by a powerful and sophisticated marketing machine, a process of which genuine and informed music lovers are quite rightly suspicious. So there is every possibility that this - Bocelli's first recording of a complete opera - will be received with suspicion in some quarters, with enthusiasm elsewhere.

The results, howevere, are quite pleasing. Bocelli has sung Bohème on the stage, and he plays his full part in this performance of on opera which we need to remember is above all an ensemble piece. In that sense he is not the star of the show, and nor is his appealing Mimi, Barbara Frittoli; that accolade should be directed towards the experienced conductor Zubin Mehta. For the singers and orchestra and chorus do pull together with a well directed ensemble, with a keen sense of pace and with an attention to detail that does justice to Puccini's supremely effective score. Of course the finely balanced detail of Decca's sophisticated recorded sound plays its part too.

So the judgement that Bocelli is merely a singer of popular titbits who has strayed into opera, a kind of modern-day Mario Lanza, is not altogether fair. He sings with a good sense of line and he is balanced by the recording as a member of the cast, in terms which are true to the drama. This is real Puccini, not hackneyed Puccini. And the cast is an effective unit, allowing the performance to flow with in a manner determined determined by the developing drama. The ultimate purpose of all this, as Puccini explained, is 'Mimi dead'. And when she does die, the effect is felt as movingly as ever. The composer's priority, 'to make people weep', is achieved. That has to be the ultimate test of any performance of La bohème, either live of recorded, and this one passes that test.

Terry Barfoot

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