WORKS: La bohème
PERFORMER: Angela Gheorghiu, Roberto Alagna, Elisabetta Scano, Simon Keenlyside; Verdi Conservatoire Children’s Choir, La Scala Orchestra & Chorus/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 466 070-2
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. Claire Wrathall