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La Bohème/ Madama Butterfly - 2DVD Opera Review (Double Pack)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Bohème (1896)

Mimi...............Mirella Freni (sop)
Rodolfo...........Luciano Pavarotti (ten)
Musetta...........Sandra Pacetti (sop)
Marcello..........Gino Quilico (bar)
Colline.............Nicolai Ghiaurov (bass
Schaunard.........Stephen Dickson (bar)
Benoit .............Italo Tajo (bass)
Alcindoro.........Italo Tajo (bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the San Francisco Opera/Tiziano Severini
Recorded San Francisco, 1988.
ARTHAUS 1000 046 [116 mins] with subtitles
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Madama Butterfly (1904)

Cio-Cio San................Yasuko Hayashi (sop)
Suzuki..........................Hak-Nam Kim (mezzo-sop)
Lieutenant Pinkerton...Peter Dvorsky (Ten)
Kate Pinkerton............Anna Caterina Antonacci (mezzo-sop)
Sharpless.....................Giorgio Zancanaro (Bar)
Goro............................Ernesto Gavazzi (Ten)
Yamadori....................Arturo Testa (Bar)
Bonzo..........................Sergio Fontana Bass)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatro Alla Scala, Milan/Lorin Maazel
Recorded Milan, 1986
ARTHAUS 1000 110 [144 mins] with subtitles


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Anyone with a nose for a bargain should soon sniff this one out. Here we have two complete opera DVDs each in the covers in which they were originally marketed and put into one box. Pity those who have bought them separately already because there are internet sites now selling the double pack at about the same price that other sites are still advertising each single DVD. The fact that as I write Amazon is out of stock suggests it is doing well.

These two performances date from the later 1980s. Of the two, the San Francisco, Pavarotti/Freni La Bohème is the finer. The La Scala Butterfly under Maazel, aiming at a form of authenticity by fielding a Japanese cast in the two lead female roles as well as having Japanese in charge of sets, costumes and direction, has not received the

same degree of acclaim. Cynics might believe Arthaus to be using the double-pack ploy to shift copies of the Milan DVD on the back of the San Francisco production with its Pavarotti brand name. Whatever the case, the consumer wins.

How much you like the Butterfly is a matter of taste rather than quality. All round it is a very fine production but those who like their Cio-Cio San portrayed with meekness and sentimentality will not find that in Yasuko Hayashi’s rendering. Her interpretation is matched up to a point, with the kind of extrovert conducting that you might expect from Lorin Maazel. This seems to me to be quite legitimate but there are bound to be those who would prefer, for example, Mirella Freni both interpretatively and vocally. However, all the cast sing well and Peter Dvorsky is a magnetic Pinkerton. For me, the performance particularly scores on the sets and production. There are some scrumptious colours and I particularly loved the display of a series of pastel shades. There is some very effective use of figure silhouetting, something that can often be a gratuitous stage ploy but the Japanese team here clearly know how to do it properly. The picture quality is good, better than that in the Bohème production, as is the recorded sound.

As for La Bohème, even if the production were not a fine all-rounder, it would still be worth having just for the Pavarotti/ Freni Partnership. The two singers were already veteran interpreters of the roles of Rodolfo and Mimi, both separately and together (it was 26 years since Freni first wowed Rome with her Mimi) and are vocally magnificent. There are those who think that Pavarotti’s Rodolfo for Karajan on Decca was the finest role he ever recorded. But on the DVD we can see that Rodolfo’s role must have meant something special to him because he makes a well above average effort with his acting. This is not your stand and deliver Pavarotti but someone who can approach Mirella Freni in his power to move the audience. With the two of them combining committed interpretative powers with supreme vocal excellence, I defy anyone not to have their spines well and truly tingled, especially throughout their sustained double act in the last quarter of an hour of Act One.

The rest of the cast act and sing well, Sandra Pacetti making a particularly extrovert and voluptuous Musetta. Sets and costumes are splendid and very much in the verismo spirit. Act Two provides one of the most effective street scenes I have seen on stage. Even the snow in Act Three looks pretty authentic and Freni’s Mimi really does look cold.

Both DVDs have booklets with decent articles (although La Bohème does not include a synopsis and all its 30 cues are one out of sync throughout).

So if you do not own videos/DVDs of these two operas you really cannot go wrong with a bargain like this. If you entertain doubts about the Madama Butterfly and would prefer to see and hear Mirella Freni in the eponymous role as well as Mimi in La Bohème, then you could splash out on the Decca DVD of her 1974 performance with Karajan. You would still get three DVDs for the price of two!

John Leeman

see also review by Tony Haywood



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