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Puccini, Giacomo: La Bohème CD Decca 1999

Puccini: La Bohème (CD)


Composer Giacomo Puccini
Conductor Riccardo Chailly
Mimi: Angela Gheoghiu
Rodolfo: Roberto Alagna
Marcello: Simon Keenlyside
Musetta: Elizabetta Scano
Schaunard: Roberto di Candia
Colline: Ildebrando d’Arcangelo
Alfredo Mariotti
Alberto Ragona
Franco Podda
Gianfranco Valentini
Milan Conservatorio G Verdi Chorus
Milan La Scala Chorus
Label Decca
Code 4660702
Released October 18, 1999
Number of discs 2



What the critics say

Claire Wrathall, BBC Music Magazine

Performance: ****
Sound: *****

Gheorghiu and Alagna, not just a dream double act but a dream couple, have hitherto opted to record operas slightly away from the mainstream: Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, Puccini’s La Rondine, Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. But this time they’ve braved a blockbuster, pitching themselves against such legendary partnerships as Tebaldi and Bergonzi, de los Angeles and Björling, Freni and Pavarotti, Caballé and Domingo, Callas and di Steffano.

Musically, this holds its own impressively; dramatically it could be more involving. Alagna, in particular, can seem preoccupied with the actual business of singing at the expense of much in the way of convincing characterisation (his gulping sobs as Mimi expires sound as though he’s trying to contain mirth more than grief). And overall their approach is just too knowing, even if their ardour is genuine and the sheer beauty of their voices indisputable.

But Bohème is about more than its Mimi and Rodolfo, and the supporting cast here are mostly outstanding, especially Simon Keenlyside’s robust and sympathetic Marcello. Perhaps the absolute star, though, is Riccardo Chailly who inspires gloriously emotive, thrillingly dramatic and minutely multifaceted playing from the orchestra of La Scala, stressing Puccini’s importance as an innovator rather than just a Romantic.

George Jellinek, Opera News, December 1999

First, to answer the logical question in the reader’s mind: no, another recording of this much loved and much recorded opera was not needed. But apparently Decca couldn’t let the opportunity to record La Bohème escape them while they still have Angela Gheorghiu under contract. (Her husband, Roberto Alagna, an EMI artist, joins her for this Decca project.) Publicity will do the rest, and this La Bohème will disappoint neither the producers nor prospective buyers.

This is a very fine performance indeed, with a touching and lovable Mimì and an impulsive and youthful-sounding Rodolfo who are spontaneously responsive in their intimate scenes. Gheorghiu’s Mimì is full of delicate shadings in both of her arias, and her death scene is infinitely moving. Alagna displays a lovely mezza-voce in the right moments and, at all times, refrains from belting the high notes he securely possesses. His despair in the Act III scene with Marcello is keenly felt and enriched by the exquisite diminuendo in the phrase “per richiamarla in vita, non basta amor.”

The two stars are surrounded by a fine group of bohemians. Elisabetta Scano is an unexaggerated, convincing Musetta; Simon Keenlyside’s Marcello is firm and lively in action, while Roberto de Candia draws attention to his opening narrative about the doomed parrot. Colline’s coat aria can be sung with either emotional involvement or philosophical detachment; Ildebrando D’Arcangelo and his conductor choose the latter approach, dramatically correct and smoothly sung.

Riccardo Chailly paces the music briskly without slighting its poetry. I do find his rendering of the fast passages (the opening of Act IV, for instance) a shade too aggressive, but he holds together the multiple strands of Act II with firm control. In sum, Gheorghiu ranks very high among the many memorable recorded interpreters of her role. Alagna (who has previously recorded a complete Bohème for EMI) has not yet given his Rodolfo an unmistakable personal imprint à la Gigli, Bjoerling, Bergonzi and Pavarotti.


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