Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924)
La Bohème (1896)
Katia Ricciarelli (soprano) – Mimi; José Carreras (tenor) – Rodolfo; Ingvar Wixell (baritone) – Marcello; Håkan Hagegård (baritone) – Schaunard; Robert Lloyd (bass) – Colline; Ashley Putnam (soprano) – Musetta; Francis Egerton (tenor) – Parpignol; Giovanni de Angelis (bass) – Benoit; William Elvin (bass) –Alcindoro; Richard Hazell (bass) – Sergente dei doganieri; David Whelan (bass) – Un doganiere
Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Sir Colin Davis
rec. London, February 1979
no texts but a synopsis enclosed
DECCA 00289 478 2494 [52:34 + 53:16]
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 top-drawer category.
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 Siepi.
Not a top contender but well worth hearing, especially for the lovely Mimi of Ricciarelli and Carreras’s ardent singing has its thrill.