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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Boheme - Opera in four acts (1869)
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica based on ‘Scènes de la vie de Bohème’ by Henry Murger.
First performed at the Teatro Regio, Turin, 1st February 1869
Rodolfo, Luciano Pavarotti, (ten); Mimi, Renata Scotto (sop); Marcello, Ingvar Wixell (bar); Musetta, Maralin Niska (sop); Schaunard, Alan Monk (bar); Colline, Paul Plishka (bass); Alcindoro, Andrea Veris (ten); Benoit, Italo Tajo (bass)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/James Levine.
Recorded live at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, 15 March 1977
Production for the Lyric Opera of Chicago by Fabrizio Melano, 1972.
Designs by Pier Luigi Pizzi
Picture format: NTSC/Colour/4:3
Sound formats: PCM Stereo. DTS 5.1. Dolby digital 5.1
Menu language English. Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese.
Director, Kirk Browning. Audio Producer, John F. Pfeiffer
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD VIDEO 000440 073 4025 GH [123:00]

 

 

This performance of a production first seen at the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1972 has the dubious distinction of being the first live telecast recording from the Metropolitan Opera. I use the word dubious because whatever the virtues, or otherwise of the performance, the limitations of the contemporary camera technology restricts, in a fundamental manner, what detail can be seen of the stage and any interplay between the singers in their portrayal. Also, the film director was inevitably learning as he went along. Later Brian Large was to bring his vast experience to filming the Met productions which benefit can be seen and enjoyed on so many later video recordings from that theatre.

As always at the Met the first line principals are just that, among the best singers in the business. They are supported by company artists of individual character and skill but who did not enjoy the same international reputation. The Rodolfo of Luciano Pavarotti, the Mimi of Renata Scotto, the Marcello of Ingvar Wixell and the Colline of Paul Plishka were not only seen widely but also got to make studio recordings although never together. Likewise James Levine recorded the work (EMI).

Luciano Pavarotti, and Renata Scotto sang together from time to time. She was scathing about his lackadaisical preparation for a new role when he turned up for a production of Verdi’s I Lombardi where the tenor role of Oronte dies in the third act not knowing that he had a major aria as a voice from heaven in the fourth act. Scotto took her art very seriously and prided herself as being a singing actress whilst Pavarotti didn’t really do much acting, the odd wave of the arm excepted. Also unless the conductor took a firm line with him did he attempt much vocal characterisation. Compare his Rodolfo here with the sensitive singing he produces for Karajan on the famous 1970s recording for Decca. His Che gelida manina has the clear open-throated ringing tone that was his hallmark, but he sings to the auditorium not to Mimi as he tells her he has been robbed by her two lovely eyes (Ch. 8). He does however sing the concluding phrase with a melting diminuendo that the audience appreciate to the full. The difference in vocal acting as well as body language is immediately obvious as Scotto replies in Si Mi chiamano Mimi (Ch. 9). There are however drawbacks to her portrayal in this act. First the close-ups reveal she is no youthful ingénue. At the time of this recording Scotto was in her 43rd year and it shows. She also lightens her tone to sound more girlish, much as she does as Butterfly in her recording under Barbirolli (EMI GROC) and the loss of colour and vocal allure detracts considerably (see review). In the following love duet (Ch.10) she opens the voice more and melts well as she takes Rodolfo’s hand managing a ravishing mezza voce as she does so. Scotto’s great strengths come with her singing and acting in acts three and four. She is superbly vocally expressive as she tells Marcello of her worries about Rodolfo’s jealousy and then collapses in a coughing spate (Ch. 19). When she later returns to their shared apartment, after collapsing into his arms, she reprises his phrases from Che gelida manina with great vocal poignancy (Ch. 28). Her sotto voce singing is delicate and the dramatic situation as she receives the muff from Musetta is appropriately tear-jerking. Needless to say Scotto’s portrayal of Mimi’s dying moments is memorable as well as emotional (Ch. 29).

Of the others in the cast some of the best singing and acting comes from Paul Plishka as Colline, who makes a suitably sonorous farewell to his coat (Ch. 27). Maralin Niska excels as a coquettish Musetta who sings a finely shaped waltz song in the Café Momus scene (Chs. 11-16) which is scenically impressive. Musetta’s interaction with the Marcello of Ingvar Wixell is somewhat restricted by his rather wooden animus which added to his lack of vocal Italianata is a serious drawback. On the rostrum James Levine hasn’t the feel for Puccinian rubato and dynamics which at his best he has for Verdian cantilena.

This provides a fascinating historical perspective but does not cut the mustard as sole representative of Boheme in anyone’s collection.

Robert Farr

 

 

 



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