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Puccini: La bohème (Irish Nat’l Opera)

Celine Byrne, Anna Devin, Merūnas Vitulskis; Irish National Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Sergio Alapont (Signum Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Puccini
La bohème
Celine Byrne, Anna Devin, Merūnas Vitulskis; Irish National Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Sergio Alapont
Signum SIGCD702   107:03 mins (2 discs)

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There is always room for a new recording of the world’s most performed opera. And all credit to Irish National Opera for celebrating its fourth birthday with this recording of Puccini’s heart-tugging masterpiece. Celine Byrne is a touching Mimì who grows ever weaker before our ears; and as her Rodolfo, Merūnas Vitulskis is capricious, jealous and head over heels with the girl from upstairs. They handle their Act I ‘introduction’ arias as if they had never shared their histories before, then ‘Soave fanciulla’ pulls the emotional rug from under your feet. Vitulskis begins to sound like a young Pavarotti and by the time they sing their farewell duet in Act III Byrne has banished thoughts of other Mimìs.

David Bižić and Anna Devin are a pleasing double-act as Marcello and Musetta, bickering their way in great style even if Devin hasn’t quite found the right swing for Musetta’s waltz. But in the final scene I defy anyone not to reach for a handkerchief when she produces the muff for Mimì. Even Colline’s aria about his overcoat doesn’t sound the add-on it sometimes is with John Molloy making you feel the cold and the threadbare life of a student in every mournful phrase.

It’s Sergio Alapont in the pit who really makes the difference, subtly stretching Puccini’s tempos for maximum dramatic effect, finding orchestral details in a familiar score that you had forgotten, or never properly heard, and above all letting his singers lead.

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Christopher Cook