Notes and Editorial Reviews
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: Dolby Digital 5.1 & DTS 5.1
A production of Metropolitan Opera Association, Inc.
Originally broadcast live on US public television on March 15, 1977.
R E V I E W S:
This was the very first “Live from the Met” telecast, and its availability on DVD will no doubt give rise to intense nostalgia, as it did for me. (How young everyone looked!) There’s an authentic sense of occasion to this performance. It’s one thing to play to a packed house, another to play to a nationwide television audience, and with so many eyes upon them, everyone involved in this Bohème rose to the occasion. It’s by no means a
perfect evening—what performance ever is?—but it’s a treasurable one for anyone who cares about this opera, the Met, or the principal singers.
Rodolfo was Pavarotti’s signature role, and he was in peak form in 1977. He is funny, warm, touching, and believable, and a consummate vocal stylist. The climactic high note in “Che gelida manina” is precarious, but at least Pavarotti is singing the aria in the original key! Scotto, perhaps a little past her prime, is nevertheless a most appealing and Italianate Mimì. Today’s young singers could learn a lot about coloring and shading their voices for expressive purposes from this performance alone. In the same vein as Magda Olivero and Claudia Muzio, her singing is a paragon of class, communication, and emotional authenticity. Wixell, sometimes an underrated singer, is just fine as Marcello, although his acting is rather generalized. Niska’s brittle Musetta is less impressive, but the brightness of her voice makes her an excellent foil for Scotto. Among the other Bohemians, Monk’s Schaunard shows the most personality. (Plishka doesn’t do as much with his “Overcoat Aria” as he might.) Velis is not an overly caricatured Alcindoro. Veteran Italo Tajo is memorable in his brief stint as Benoit. Levine moves the music along, but is unafraid to linger where lingering is appropriate. His flexible phrasing—consistently responded to by the singers—is what makes the music’s myriad expressive details come to life.
This production, directed by Fabrizio Melano, with sets and costumes designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi, originated in Chicago, and predates Franco Zeffirelli’s overly busy staging of the opera by a few years. If anything, the sets are a little too cavernous; the Bohemians’ garret has hardly any furniture at all. Even act II seems to be set in a suburb of Paris, perhaps. This is preferable, however, to the sort of “kitchen sink” staging that ends by swallowing up the principal singers. (A trio of three mediocre acrobats is quickly dispensed with.) Melano does nothing too controversial here. Allowing Mimì out of bed to sing “Sono andati?” might be medically unlikely, but it’s more visually interesting than the alternative.
While the picture quality (4:3) is not terrible, it definitely shows its age. Dark scenes—in essence, the first three acts of this production—created challenges for television cameras of that era. There are consistent problems with focus and with the “ghosting” of light images as they move against a darker background. Overall, the images lack crispness. The audio, in the three usual formats, has held up much better. One annoying drawback is the prompter, who can be very loud indeed. The English subtitles are passable; too much has been left out, though.
The playing time of the opera is 123 minutes. The remaining 27 minutes of bonus material are comprised of host Tony Randall’s fawning interviews with Pavarotti, Scotto, and Levine, Randall’s introductions to each act, and a trailer of other DG DVDs. This DVD has some idiosyncrasies. Tony Randall’s hurried introduction to the first act is part of the main program, but the introductions to the remaining acts are included among the bonuses. Also, my copy of the DVD skips the first five minutes of act III when I play the opera straight through, but if I cue that act separately, nothing is missing. Curious.
It’s hard not to love this performance. It made me cry for both joy and grief several times, and really, what would be the point otherwise? Having said that, I also recommend the Met’s Zeffirelli Bohème from 1982, with Stratas and Carreras in the lead roles, and Scotto now in the role of Musetta. (Monk and Tajo repeat their roles, and Levine is on the podium again.) As I’ve already mentioned, the stage design and direction can be a bit much, but Stratas and Carreras are no less moving and effective than Scotto and Pavarotti, albeit in very different ways.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Works on This Recording
La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini
Ingvar Wixell (Baritone),
Andrea Velis (Tenor),
Renata Scotto (Soprano),
Luciano Pavarotti (Tenor),
Maralin Niska (Soprano),
Allan Monk (Baritone),
Italo Tajo (Bass Baritone),
Paul Plishka (Bass)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1896; Italy
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