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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La bohème – opera in four Acts (1896)
Rodolfo - Giacinto Prandelli (tenor)
Mimì – Renata Tebaldi (soprano)
Musetta – Hilde Gueden (soprano)
Marcello - Giovanni Inghilleri (baritone)
Schaunard – Fernando Corena (baritone)
Colline - Raphaël Arie (bass)
Parpignol - Piero de Palma (tenor)
Benoît/Alcindoro - Melchiorre Luise (baritone)
Sergeant - Ildebrando Santafé (baritone)
Coro e Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Roma/Alberto Erede
the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome
rec. July 1951 in the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome
XR Remastering Ambient Stereo
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO179 [52:02 + 52:30]

This lovely recording of La bohème has fallen under the radar over the years, usually being overshadowed by the Decca stereo version that Tebaldi recorded for Tullio Serafin in 1959, not to mention Sir Thomas Beecham’s classic 1956 recording. Pristine Audio has chosen to presenting this earlier version among their collection of older releases that are given a new lease on life via its Ambient Stereo process which Tebaldi lovers are sure to want to snap up.

The cast is a very strong, each performer has a wealth of experience in their parts, and all have something genuine to communicate rather than just getting through the notes. Giovanni Inghilleri is the singer with the longest career. His first recordings were made for HMV in 1928 during the early period of electrical recordings. Those early shellacs have been collected on a CD in Preiser’s Lebendige Vergangenheit Series (89187), which show a superbly gifted baritone possessed with yards of juicy tone to unroll for the listener. By 1951 his voice is still in fine shape but has mellowed somewhat. It is still a pleasure to encounter his vivid Marcello which still sounds not elderly at all to my ears. As his flatmate Rodolpho, we are fortunate to have a complete recording by Giacinto Prandelli, an Italian tenor who made his stage debut later than most, at the age of 30. He sings with a bright and clean-edged sound and displays excellent control of dynamics. His top C sounds a wee bit tight on this recording but what glorious half-tones he does reveal. This is a Roldofo who sounds youthful and impetuous. Occasionally the recording will reveal a little “catch” in his voice really that touches the heart of this listener.

Among the female roles, Renata Tebaldi is caught just at the outset of her international career. In 1951 her voice is youthfully fresh and her golden tone is completely free of any pitch uncertainties. Her portrayal of Mimi is fascinating when compared to her recording of 8 years later. Her phrasing is already quite nuanced, such as in Act Two when Mimi is discussing her new bonnet that Rodolfo had purchased. Her ability to communicate is also quite impressive in places that one would not normally look for such things, as in Act Three, when she asks the servant to go into the inn and find Marcelo for her, “Oh buona donna...”. In 1959 she is just as expressive but she is placed at a greater distance from the microphones, therefore her singing makes less of an impact at this particular passage. She does become a bit melodramatic during the duet with Marcello at “Mi grida ad ogni instante”. In 1959 her interpretation had deepened and become much more subtle so these minor flaws completely disappear. Hilde Gueden’s uniquely crisp sound sparkles like champagne as Musetta. Her portrayal is vocally vivacious and charming yet she doesn’t become over-the top. She has long been my favorite of all the Musettas that I have encountered on recordings and she certainly is way ahead of Gianna D’Angelo’s merely pretty sounding Musetta on the Serafin set.

In the smaller roles, the young Fernando Corena’s basso-buffo tone provides a greater comic twist on Schaunard than the more customary baritone in the role. Melchior Luise is a rather animated landlord Benoît with lots of groans and whines added to his portrayal. There is also a dreadfully limp-sounding child in Act Two, a regular problem for many a La bohème I have encountered. I am not really able to comment on Raphaël Arie’s Colline because the review copy of I received the second CD was flawed and ceased functioning after the Act Four duet. This is most likely a one off problem and others would not encounter it.

Alberto Erede was one of Arturo Toscanini’s assistants, so his experience with Puccini clearly shows. He provides a loving reading, not as crisply energetic as his legendary mentor but neither is it quite so leisurely as on the later recording under Serafin. Erede is at his best at the beginning of Act Four, capturing the shifting moods of Rodolfo and Marcello to perfection. My sole disappointment is that he does not insist that the tenor take the lower final note in Act One as Puccini intended and which Toscanini mandated in his famous recording for RCA. The higher alternative was common in all other recordings, aside from Toscanini’s until Georg Solti brought the practice back to life again in 1975 for RCA. It is worth noting that Erede would go on to make a later stereo recording of La bohème in 1961. It is mostly forgotten now because it was sung in German but it did boast a cast of Sandor Konya, Pilar Lorengar, Rita Streich, and Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau.

Pristine and Andrew Rose have done their usual splendid job in reviving and refurbishing the sound of the old vinyl source material. There are some patches of distortion at times which seem to have been a problem in the original LP master, as it is mentioned in the original review that appeared in Gramophone in 1952. I did also note that there is a rather clumsy tape splice that occurs at the beginning of Act Three, likely also on the original vinyl master. I should note that Pristine usually provides the purchaser with a downloadable file that contains things like a libretto, and a copy of the score in the PDF format. The review copies don’t come with the ability to access them so I cannot confirm what content has been offered in this case. There is one oddity that I had not previously noted before about Pristine Audio releases. It seems that they have a made a design choice not to capitalize the first letters of any proper nouns. Meaning composers, titles and artists are all in lower case lettering. I thought it must be a new development but on looking back at their album covers it seems to have been around for a while.

Mike Parr

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