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).
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.