Puccini: La bohème

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Puccini
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: La bohème
PERFORMER: Andrea Bocelli, Barbara Frittoli, Eva Mei, Paolo Gavanelli; Israel PO/Zubin Mehta
CATALOGUE NO: 464 060-2
This Bohème is noteworthy as being the blind tenor Andrea Bocelli’s first complete opera recording. His timbre, though not of exceptional quality, is pleasant, and his manner of singing is, not surprisingly, open-throatedly Italianate, somewhat reminiscent of his teacher, Franco Corelli. Bocelli is always musically accurate, enunciates clearly, and makes an engaging character of Rodolfo. I was surprised that the conductor, Zubin Mehta, allowed him to join Mimì in her high C at the end of ‘O soave fanciulla’.

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Barbara Frittoli’s attractive lyric soprano makes her an acceptable Mimì, though occasionally her vibrato is a trifle too obtrusive, for example in parts of ‘Mi chiamano Mimì’. Eva Mei sings ‘Quando m’en vo’’ rather cautiously, and in general is not the most spontaneous of Musettas, but Paolo Gavanelli is a stalwart Marcello, and the other roles are all more than adequately taken. The Israel Philharmonic plays with warmth and delicacy for Mehta, whose tempi, however, occasionally sound sluggish.

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There are several better recordings to choose from, the earliest of which is conducted by Thomas Beecham on EMI with Victoria de los Angeles and Jussi Björling. Not much more recent is Tullio Serafin’s loving account of the opera on Decca, with Renata Tebaldi as a really beautiful Mimì, that great stylist Carlo Bergonzi an exemplary Rodolfo and Ettore Bastianini a strong Marcello. That has to be the benchmark version. Charles Osborne