Notes and Editorial Reviews
Here, in quite good sound, is the February 15, 1958 broadcast of Puccini's Bohème from the Met, with a wonderful conductor and excellent cast. Thomas Schippers gives the lie to the belief that the Met Orchestra and Chorus were a mess prior to James Levine; while they certainly weren't the virtuosi they now are, all they really needed was a really good conductor to tame them. Schippers leads with a sure hand, with the playful moments truly light and airy and the melodramatic episodes worked for what they're worth.
His terrific, mostly Italian cast is steeped in the tradition, and that, of course, helps. Licia Albanese already had been singing for 24 years when this was recorded (she is still alive and is almost 97 years
old), and was particularly famous and beloved for her portrayals of Puccini heroines, especially Butterfly. Her singing was always filled with intensity and careful attention to the text; her somewhat edgy, quick vibrato gave the voice warmth. My issue with her is that she never sounded young (say, the way Mirella Freni could without trying, or Callas could, when she colored her voice a certain way) and therefore one must use a different type of judgment with her. That having been said, after a shaky start, the voice reacts well and her Mimi is utterly lovely and believable; indeed, her third act is one of the most moving I've ever heard.
Her Rodolfo is Carlo Bergonzi, still early in the first decade of his almost 40-year career. Always known as a suave, sensitive singer with a handsome timbre, in 1958 his top notes were in perfect place; he sings his first-act aria in pitch and tops it with a good high C. He has absolute ease with Rodolfo's music, shades his tone to a whisper when needed, and is totally in the moment. This is a great performance, reminiscent of his Decca recording with Tebaldi from 1959 but with more energy and spontaneity.
Mario Sereni was a baritone stalwart at the Met from the late '50s through the '70s. His appealing, somewhat grainy sound lacked only magnificence; everything he sang was good but his top notes had little brilliance and he could sound throaty. Here he sings Marcello as a fine fellow, always musically and with charm. Laurel Hurley's Musetta is lively and well-sung, with gleaming high notes and a nice sympathetic demeanor in the last act. Norman Scott is good as Colline.
This is a wonderful Bohème--straightforward, echt-Italian, thoroughly involving. Maybe not your first and only (Pavarotti and Freni with Karajan remains the first choice, with Tebaldi/Bergonzi not too far behind), but a major contender.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini
Clifford Harvuot (Baritone),
Carlo Bergonzi (Tenor),
Laurel Hurley (Soprano),
Norman Scott (Bass),
Licia Albanese (Soprano),
Mario Sereni (Baritone)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Written: 1896; Italy
Date of Recording: 02/15/1958
Venue: Metropolitan Opera, New York
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