Sir Colin Davis’s forays on record into the standard Italian
repertoire were not that numerous: Il trovatore, Un ballo
in maschera, this La bohème and Tosca for
Philips and Falstaff for RCA as far as I can recall.
Of these Tosca was an almost unqualified success while
the others, though far from negligible, were not quite in the
In this Bohème, excellently recorded, one can admire
Sir Colin’s care for orchestral detail and forward thrust but
at the same time there is a certain lack of individuality. Where
he ‘opens his soul’, if that is what he does, is in the last
act, where the Rodolfo-Marcello duet O Mimi, tu più non torni
is lovingly moulded and at Mimi’s Sono andati there is
an atmosphere of hopefulness in the midst of the despair and
the knowledge that there is really no hope. Elsewhere he is
efficient and flexible to the needs of the singers and in act
II, notoriously difficult to keep together convincingly, there
is a clarity that far from all recorded performances can display.
The excellence of the recording no doubt helps him in this respect.
The playing – and in act II singing – of the Covent Garden forces
is uniformly first class.
Of the soloists Katia Ricciarelli is undoubtedly the star, singing,
mostly, with great sensitivity. In the first meeting with Rodolfo
she catches the intimacy of the situation admirably, her aria
delivered in a conversing manner. Donde lieta usci is
vulnerable and loving and Sono andati almost tangibly
emotional. José Carreras is in superb vocal shape, singing throughout
with his Di Stefano-like intensity but one lacks the poetry
in Che gelida manina. He digs much deeper into the character
in the third act where he is audibly inspired by Ricciarelli’s
commitment. The quartet that ends the act shows him at his best.
Ingvar Wixell is, as always, deeply involved, actually a little
too much, at least in the first act, where he twist and turns
almost every phrase and disrupts the musical line in the bargain.
Håkan Hagegård is a good Schaunard and Robert Lloyd, jovial
and worldly-wise in the first act, fines down his black bass
and sings a warm and sensitive coat aria in the final act. Ashley
Putnam, here at the beginning of her long career, is a Musetta
full of character. I wonder why she recorded so little. This
seems to be her only recording for a major company.
Though not a top contender this is still a set worth hearing,
especially for the lovely Mimi of Ricciarelli and Carreras’s
ardent singing has its thrill even though it is short on poetry.
In a crowded field Sir Thomas Beecham (EMI, with Victoria de
los Angeles and Jussi Björling) and Herbert von Karajan (Decca,
with Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti) are the front-runners,
closely followed by Bertrand de Billy (DG, with Anna Netrebko
and Rolando Villazon) and there are several other versions worth
attention, including the old Cetra set with Santini at the helm
and Carteri, Tagliavini, Taddei and Siepi and an EMI set from
the 1960s, conducted by Thomas Schippers with Mirella Freni
and Nicolai Gedda in the leading roles. Leinsdorf’s RCA set
with Moffo and Tucker is also worth anyone’s money and the Decca
recording under Serafin with Tebaldi, Bergonzi, Bastianini and