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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Bohème (1894-95) - Opera in Four Acts
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
Mimi…….Renata Tebaldi (soprano)
Rodolfo….Giacinto Prandelli (tenor)
Musetta….Hilde Gueden (soprano)
Marcello .Giovanni Inghilleri (baritone)
Schaunard.Fernando Corena (baritone)
Colline… Raphaël Arie (bass)
Parpignol Piero de Palma (tenor)
Benoit/Alcindoro. Melchiorre Luise
Sergeant….Ildebrando Santafé
Chorus and Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome/Alberto Erede
recorded in Rome, July 1951
Highlights of La Bohème

Mimi .Licia Albanese (soprano)
Rodolfo…Giuseppe di Stefano (tenor)
Musetta…Patrice Munsel (soprano)
Marcello… Leonard Warren (baritone)
Schaunard…George Cehanovsky (baritone)
CollineNicola Moscona (bass)
RCA Victor Orchestra/Renato Celllini and Victor Trucco
Rec. 31st March 1949 - 24th March 1951, Manhattan Center, New York City
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110252-53 [2 CDs: 143:08]


What a wonderful bargain this is, two La Bohème’s for the price of one (well almost). But if only Tebaldi could have been teamed with di Stefano in one glorious recording?

Alberto Erede’s concept of Puccini’s masterpiece is robustly romantic and gloriously atmospheric (listen to his striking interpretation of the music as the stove’s flames lick Rodolfo’s manuscript and then die as the pages are consumed). Erede’s pacing is energetic in keeping with this youthful story. In his faster tempi, he emulates Toscanini (as heard in his 1946 broadcast performance) but there is also sensitivity and deeply felt emotion as in the Act III quartet ‘Dunque è proprio finite?’ and in Act IV’s death scene

By the time of this recording, Renata Tebaldi had an exclusive contract with Decca and she would go on to record for another 23 years. She was a respected and much-loved lyric soprano. As Malcolm Walker, in his well-observed notes for this album, remarks, "[this] first recording of La Bohème (she would record the same work in stereo eight years later) is notable for the freshness and richness of her voice. She also conveys much delicacy in her interpretation of Mimi especially in the first act." Yes, indeed, you believe implicitly that this is a young frail, innocent girl (just listen to those plaintive sighs, for instance – just the right amount of pathos). And her death scene in Act IV is so moving. Opposite her as Rodolfo, the light-voiced tenor, Giacinto Prandelli is equally refined with clarity and affecting rubato, a performance of distinction and sincerity if without the glorious distinctive timbre of di Stefano.

Young and up-and-coming, at the time of this recording, Hilde Gueden is inspired casting as Musetta, tauntingly coquettish without being strident, secure in her high notes and strong but subtle in her silky middle and upper registers. Giovanni Inghilleri is a staunch but world-weary and long-suffering Marcello and bass Raphaël Arie as Colline is affecting in his self-sacrificing aria ‘Vecchia zimarra’ singing farewell to the comfort of his overcoat so that medicine can be purchased for the dying Mimi.

CD2 comprises eight La Bohème excerpts recorded at various times in between 1949 and 1951 featuring the glorious tenor tones of Giuseppe di Stefano one of the mightiest Puccini heroes. Again quoting Malcolm Walker, "His top register was exciting, his mezza-voce velvety in texture and his diction perfect". So true, just listen to his thrillingly passionate ‘Che gelida manina’ that opens these excerpts and his rapturous Act I duet with Mimi (a sympathetic Licia Albanese). Perfection. In support, Patrice Munsel is a rather lightweight and rather too pure-sounding Musette here but Leonard Warren is splendidly virile and self-righteous as Marcello. And Nicola Moscona’s staunch bass voice makes is ideal for the magnanimous Colline.

Truly golden voices in glorious productions of La Bohème – what a pity that Tebaldi (in a full production of the opera here) could not have been teamed with di Stefano (in excerpts as an appendix filler on CD2) in one outstanding production.

'The Decca ffrr sound of the 1950s, even for their early '50s Mono recordings, has always been admired. The sound quality of this opera recording is no exception.'

Ian Lace


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