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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
La bohème (1896)
Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor) – Rodolfo; Maria Callas (soprano) – Mini; Rolando Panerai (baritone) – Marcello; Manuel Spatafora (baritone) – Schaunard; Nicola Zaccaria (bass) – Colline; Carlo Badioli (bass) – Benoit; Alcindoro; Anna Moffo (soprano) – Musetta; Franco Ricciardi (tenor) – Parpignol; Eraldo Coda (bass) – Customs Officer; Carlo Forti (bass) – Sergenat
Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Antonino Votto
rec. 20-25 August and 3, 4 and 12 September 1956, Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Appendix:
Giuseppe Di Stefano and Rosanna Carteri: Love Duets
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
Otello: Già nella notte densa [10:47]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 – 1945)
Iris: Oh, come al tuo sottile [14:19]
Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875)
Carmen: Parlez-moi de ma mère* [5:59]
Les pêcheurs de perles: Leila! Leila!...Dieu puissant, le voila!* [8:19]
Charles GOUNOD (1818 – 1893)
Faust: Il se fait tard, adieu!* [9:34]
Rosanna Carteri (soprano), Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor)
Milan Symphony Orchestra/Antonio Tonini
rec. 5 June 1957, Milan
* Sung in Italian
NAXOS 8.111332-33 [79:02 + 76:23]
Experience Classicsonline

Mimi was a role that Callas never essayed on stage - probably with good reason. This benign and humble creature hardly corresponded with Callas’s character. On the other hand she did sing the bloodless Amina in La sonnambula but there at least she had some stunning coloratura to let rip. On the face of it the two sopranos on this Bohème should have reversed their roles. Anna Moffo, the Musetta here, recorded Mimi a few years later – and with great success too (see review). As Musetta Moffo is also very attractive, singing with purity and creamy tone. Though others have made more of the comic and tragic moments it is still a fine performance. Callas did nothing half-heartedly and while she lacks the warmth of Victoria de los Angeles or Mirella Freni she draws a nuanced and human portrait of the little seamstress. Her scaled down Mi chiamano Mimi is delivered with perfect legato and the intensity of her singing in act III is truly heartrending. In the last act – from Sono andati – some glaring fortissimo notes stick out like sore thumbs but her soft intimate singing is marvellous and throughout she employs her ‘little’ voice. A memorable portrait to set beside her Butterfly for instance.
 
Giuseppe Di Stefano should nominally have been a superb Rodolfo and there is a lot to admire in his reading. He is sensitive and caring in the first meeting with Mimi and in the third act confrontation there is a lot of sensitive singing. The honeyed final notes of Che gelida manina are ravishing and the duet has some beautiful soft singing. Against this can be said that he often is rather coarse and his top notes are invariably strained. Michael Scott in his liner-notes puts the blame on the Trovatore recording (review) – also with Callas – which he took part in only a month before this Bohème. There Manrico was too strenuous for him. Generally speaking he had been taking on too many heavy roles too early from the very beginning. His wholehearted involvement paired with insufficient technique took its toll. There is no denying his engagement and intensity and few Rodolfos have appeared as ardent as Di Stefano – but there is a price to pay. The opposite pole, careful blandness, is no less desirable but singers like Gigli, Tagliavini, Björling, Bergonzi, Tucker, Gedda and Pavarotti have shown that intensity doesn’t exclude polish. He is at his best though in the beginning of the act IV, the duet with Marcello and the dancing scene where all four Bohemians are markedly exhilarated.
Rolando Panerai is an excellent Marcello, expressive, sonorous, nuanced and easily recognizable. He repeated the role sixteen years later for Karajan. He was just as good there, though unavoidably somewhat more elderly sounding. His duet scenes with Mimi and Rodolfo in act III are superb.

Manuel Spatafora is not a particularly memorable Schaunard but it is also an ungrateful role. The reliable Nicola Zaccaria is on the other hand a good Colline, crowning his achievement with a moving ‘Coat aria’.
 
Antonino Votto has always been looked down upon as a capable second-rater. He leads the proceedings in a … well, middle-of-the-road manner: sensible tempos, no eccentricities, just good unobtrusive music-making. I can’t understand why this shouldn’t be applauded.

When it comes to the crunch the competition is too stiff to give this set a wholehearted recommendation. With a Rodolfo who only intermittently fulfils expectations and a Mimi who, for all her accomplishment, isn’t a natural for the role, it has to yield to several other sets of roughly the same vintage: Carteri/Tagliavini/Santini; de los Angeles/Björling/Beecham; Tebaldi/Bergonzi/Serafin; Moffo/Tucker/Leinsdorf; Freni/Gedda/Schippers and the sonically and musically stupendous Freni/Pavarotti/Karajan. Callas fans will want it anyway and I don’t think people who buy it on impulse will be seriously disappointed.

Through squeezing the first three acts onto CD 1 room was found on CD 2 for a substantial filler: a 49-minute-long recital LP with duets sung by Rosanna Carteri and Giuseppe Di Stefano. When the same recital was issued just a few months ago on a three-disc EMI box with Di Stefano recordings, I wrote: ‘For some reason I didn’t warm especially to either of them (the duets from Les Pêcheurs de perles) but with the big love duet that concludes the first act of Otello it was another matter. Carteri seemed moderately involved, even though she has the right voice for Desdemona, but Di Stefano surprises greatly, opening the duet with restraint and singing throughout sensitively and with ‘face’, obviously fascinated by a role that he shouldn’t have essayed on stage – but in fact did. Once! I wouldn’t have liked to hear his Esultate! or the big outbursts in the following acts but this duet finds Otello for once in lyrical mood and doesn’t put too much pressure on the voice.

If Carteri seemed rather uninterested in Otello’s declaration of love she is really lovely and subtle in the long duet from Iris. This opera has never been very successful on stage but there is a lot of fine music in it and it is very grateful for the soprano. Di Stefano is involved of course – he rarely sang a dull note – but hardly subtle. His Don José – a role that he excelled in during the late 1950s – is strong and reliable but even here it is Carteri’s Micaela that steals the show. The garden scene from Faust, sung in Italian as all the French excerpts, is glowing…’
 
In other words: Swings and roundabouts here as well as in the complete opera.
 
Göran Forsling

see also review by Ralph Moore
  
 

 


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