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
there at least she had some stunning coloratura to let
rip. On the face of it the two sopranos on this Bohème
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
– 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.
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
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
) – also
with Callas – which he took part in only a month before
. 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
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.
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’.
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
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.
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
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.
Carteri seemed rather uninterested in Otello’s declaration
of love she is really lovely and subtle in the long duet
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,
in Italian as all the French excerpts, is glowing…’
other words: Swings and roundabouts here as well as in
the complete opera.
see also review by Ralph Moore