Puccini: La bohème

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: La bohème
PERFORMER: Renata Tebaldi, Giacinto Prandelli, Hilde GuedenAccademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome, Chorus & Orchestra/Alberto Erede
CATALOGUE NO: 440 233-2 ADD mono (1951) Reissue
It is hard to see the marketing ethos behind these reissues dating from the Fifties. Are they Decca’s riposte to the budget issues of companies such as Naxos? The cheap two-CDs-in-a-single-jewel-case packaging and the lack of libretto would suggest as much. Or are they intended as ‘collectors’ items’? Probably both, but I imagine they will appeal more to connoisseurs than beginners because the sound quality on all four sets is crude. Not enough, however, to obscure the merits of performances by what can be regarded as the Decca repertory company of the early LP era. Obviously none would be first recommendations today, but they represent something which I suspect is lost forever in the modern world: almost exclusively Italian artists singing their native repertoire in their own language and under a conductor who knows the idioms of Verdi and Puccini inside out. Erede is a singer-friendly maestro, but one who knows exactly when to relax the tension and whip up the drama. Younger conductors of Italian opera – you know the guilty men – could learn a lot from these discs. The singing is variable: Del Monaco’s stentorian Radames is a trial, but his Otello, occasionally marred by histrionics, is red in tooth and claw, his trumpet-tone thrilling to the ear. Prandelli (Rodolfo) and Campora (Pinkerton) were tenorial also-rans, but they would be stars today. Tebaldi is the constant and she is in fresher, fuller voice than in all of her stereo remakes of these roles. Under Serafin and Karajan she would make more of the characters (she rarely sounds vulnerable here) but, make no mistake, this is Italian lirico spinto singing of a type not heard since her retirement in the mid-Seventies. For this reason, I urge younger lovers of singing to sample these historic sets. Hugh Canning