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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Pavarotti’s debut
La bohème (1893-5, rev. 1896)
Opera in four quadri (scenes)
Rodolfo – Luciano Pavarotti (tenor)
Mimi – Alberta Pellegrini (soprano)
Musetta – Bianca Bellesia (mezzo-soprano)
Marcello – Vito Mattioli (baritone)
Colline – Dmitri Nabokov (bass)
Schaunard – Walter de Ambrosis (baritone)
Benoit and Alcindoro – Guido Pasella (bass)
Orchestra & Chorus of the Teatro Municipale di Reggio Emilia/Francesco Molinari-Pradelli
rec. live 29 April 1961
Reviewed as Download 320 kbps MP3
REVITALIZED CLASSICS [105.00]

La bohème is said to have been born in litigation, as both Puccini and his contemporary Ruggiero Leoncavallo decided to compose operas on the theme of Parisian starving artists. The first we hear of Puccini’s interest in the subject is in March 1893 when he and Leoncavallo engaged in a public quarrel over the rights to Murger’s work. At this time the team of librettists of Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica (who had collaborated with Puccini previously for Manon Lescaut) had already been engaged and worked had started in earnest. Puccini’s La bohème was premiered on 1st February 1896 at the Teatro Regio in Turin, conducted by no less than Arturo Toscanini. It was received in a cool manner and not very successful to start with, however it soon entered the international repertoire. Today, it is one of the top three or four works most frequently performed in the great opera houses of the world. In the meantime, as Giacosa and Illica began to work with Puccini, Leoncavallo insisted in continuing working on his own Bohème. He wrote the libretto himself, based on the same source as Puccini’s. Leoncavallo’s opera was eventually premiered, later than Puccini’s, at La Fenice, in Venice, on 6th May 1897. Although there are unavoidable similarities, there are also many differences in the music and voice allocation of the roles – for example, Leoncavallo makes Marcello the leading tenor and Rodolfo the baritone. His work was never as successful as Puccini’s and although unfairly, it has been neglected and totally eclipsed by Puccini’s La bohème.

Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) was the son of Fernando Pavarotti, a baker and amateur tenor, and of Adele Venturi, a cigar factory worker. Luciano’s father, Fernando, possessed a beautiful tenor voice but apparently never pursued a singing career due to nervousness. Nevertheless his son did and became one of the greatest tenors of the 20th Century, often called the King among tenors, and one of the most admired, celebrated and successful opera singers of all times. His voice instantly identifiable by almost everyone even if not an opera fan, was noticeable for its exciting upper register, sparkling, youthful tone and as if tailor-made for the operas of Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti. Additionally later, as it darkened slightly through age, his voice became also ideal for Puccini and the Verismo composers.

Readers may remember I recently reviewed a Revitalized Classics remastering of Nellie Melba’s farewell concert at Covent Garden in 1926. The present recording is another initiative from Revitalized Classics and not just another recounting of the countless existing versions of Puccini’s La bohème. It is actually Luciano Pavarotti’s original opera début, which was in La bohème on 29th April 1961 at the Teatro Municipale di Reggio Emilia, a town in Northern Italy. The remastering was based on a private recording of the performance, which was released on an unofficial label and in limited numbers, on plain packaging under the label of “Collector’s Edition”. According to information on the Revitalized Classics website, this recording was originally in a very narrow stereo rather than monophonic, which enabled widening of the existing stereo spread after the normal remastering steps. I am assuming this means the listening experience is enhanced but a little more about that later in the review.

At the time of his début Pavarotti was a young man of twenty-five and not yet the household name he would become but the unique, instantly recognisable voice was of course already there, with all its magnificent power. In this remastered recording by Revitalized Classics the voices of Pavarotti (in the role of Rodolfo) and of Mattioli (as Marcello) can be heard reasonably well but the orchestra often sounds as a “muddle” of background noise for lack of a better word. This gets worse when the whole ensemble is singing. It is then almost impossible to distinguish who is who, what they are saying or what instruments can be perceived in the orchestra. I heard this download in mono and then in stereo via the Bluetooth I have set up on my Hi-Fi system. The quality is then greatly improved. So my advice would be to listen to it in stereo only. If you do it in mono I’m sure you will be disappointed as I was. I must admit I had expected more, meaning a better quality from this particular remastering, as it is from 1961 (not so old as Melba’s where the original is from 1926) but I was a little disappointed, especially in the sections of the opera where there are various singers on stage or when the orchestra is at full power. Having said all that, this download does become rewarding and that is when one gets to the famous solo arias or some of the duets. Pavarotti’s rendition of Che gelida manina is not only excellent but it does also show the beauty of his voice, the easiness of the high notes and the crystal clear tone that was his trademark and made him immediately recognisable even in his later years.

I saw and heard Pavarotti live in the 1990s and although his voice was still extraordinary and he was then the stuff of legend, it did no longer have the easiness and excitement of his younger years. This remastering by Revitalized Classics gave me the opportunity of listening to the twenty-five year old Pavarotti and for it I’m grateful. The experience was rewarding and I could fully grasp why he became such a household name and one of the most celebrated super star opera singers of all times.

There is a link to the Revitalized Classics website at the end of the review but please be aware that you can only access it in the EU or the UK due to copyrights. Some can also be downloaded from Amazon UK as MP3 or to stream on Spotify. Outside Europe it should be possible to access some of the downloads via Amazon. All the downloads come with Revitalized Classics own art work and some are more attractive than others. I listened to Pavarotti’s Debut in La Bohème in 320 kbps MP3 but there are other formats available on the Revitalized Classics site. On Amazon it is MP3 only.

To summarise, I would say I enjoyed this remastering of a rarity though I was also a little disappointed during some sections of the opera. Overall, this recording is a curiosity, a compelling one, as it gives the listener a measure of the range, beauty and clarity of Pavarotti’s voice at the beginning of his career when he was only twenty-five years old.

Margarida Mota-Bull
Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at Flowingprose.com




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