Any recording of this ever-popular opera, stands or
falls on its lead soprano and tenor; so it does here. The Mimi, Renata
Scotto, (b 1934), achieved fame at an early age, substituting for Callas
at the 1957 Edinburgh Festival. A lyric soprano, and considerable actress,
she first recorded Mimi in 1962, but after a Butterfly a couple of years
later (under Barbirolli) she was largely forgotten by the record companies
until a mid-1970s Verdi recital on the Sony label re-launched her studio
career. By then however, heavier roles had taken some toll on her vocal
resources, if not on her musicality. Here, she adopts an appropriately
girlish tone and the listener gets a real sense of Mimi's many emotions.
"Si. Mi chiamano" (tr 6) illustrates her strengths and weaknesses,
as she phrases and varies the colour of the voice but struggles to maintain
the legato line at Levine's somewhat languid tempo; she also shows signs
of a wobble, evident elsewhere, as pressure is put on the voice. Nonetheless,
Scotto and her Rodolfo, Alfredo Kraus, give an effective and emotionally
taught performance. Kraus, as always, phrases with elegance and his
plangent tone and well-supported voice lie easily on my ear. He also
knows how, and when, to sing softly - his portrayal benefits greatly
as a result. The Act 1 love duet (tr 8) is particularly enjoyable.
Carol Neblett and Sherrill Milnes give very strong
performances as the other, often warring, couple, whilst Plishka is
heard to good effect as he bades farewell to his coat (tr 20).
The recording is clear with the voices well forward.
Levine, a renowned speed merchant in Verdi, is brisk in the comic introduction,
but too variable elsewhere. The leaflet has a brief, track-related,
synopsis, and biographies of the two lead singers. At this price there
isn't much competition. Enjoy!
Robert J Farr