> PUCCINI Boheme Levine [RF]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Boheme (highlights).
Mimi, Renato Scotto (sop). Rodolfo, Alfredo Kraus (ten). Musetta, Carol Neblett (sop). Marcello, Sherrill Milnes (bar). Colline, Paul Plishka (bass).
Trinity Boys Choir. Ambrosian Opera Chorus. National Philharmonic Orchestra. Cond. James Levine.
Recorded August 1979. Walthamstow Town Hall, London. Budget Price.
EMI Encore Series 574985 [64.46]


Crotchet Superbudget


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


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