Si, mi chiamano La Boheme (II)
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 08/31/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Puccini's "La Boheme" was produced in Turin on February 1, 1896. Although Leoncavallo seems to have begun writing first, his opera followed in Venice on May 6, 1897. "Since that time," wrote Silvia Camerini in an essay that accompanied another recorded version of this opera, "a simplistic and senseless mistake has always been made: that of comparing the two Bohemes. Indeed, apart from the common source of their inspiration, the artistic personalities of the two composers and the consequent interpretations are so different and distinct one from the other as to render any serious comparison impossible." That statement surely earns both the fur-lined teacup and the leather medal for being one of the most fatuous statements in the famously fatuous literature of opera. How can anyone NOT compare the two Bohemes?
Here is Leoncavallo's plot:
-- Act 1. Rodolfo (baritone), Mimi, Marcello (tenor), Musette and friends are having a Christmas Eve party at the Cafe Momus. They have trouble paying the bill.
-- Act 2. Musette is behind on her rent and is being evicted from her apartment. Her furniture has been placed in the street. Marcello sympathizes and invites her to move in with him. They decide to have a party right there in the street. During the party, Mimi is approached by Visconte Paolo who offers her love and a life of luxury. Tired of living in poverty with Rodolfo in his garret, Mimi joins him (reluctantly).
-- Act 3. Musette loves Marcello but she is fed up with being poor. She is about to leave when Mimi appears. Mimi has come to beg Rodolfo to take her back. While the two women talk, Marcello comes in. Musette tells him she is leaving. An argument ensues. Marcello becomes convinced that her betrayal has been caused by Mimi. When Rodolfo turns up, Marcello denounces Mimi to him. Rodolfo refuses to hear Mimi's denials and tells her that his love for her is dead.
-- Act 4. Christmas time again, Marcello tells Rodolfo he has written a letter asking for Musette's return but has received no reply. Mimi appears. She has been cast aside by the Visconte and has become sick. Having nothing and nowhere else to go, she begs to stay the night. They take her in but are distraught that they can do nothing more for her. Musette arrives. She gives a bracelet and a ring to Schaunard to purchase medicine for Mimi, but it is too late. Mimi dies in Rodolfo's arms.
Even boiled down as far as this, it is clear that Puccini had a better story-sense than Leoncavallo, who wrote his own libretto. I have never come across a copy of Murger's book, but I would bet that Leoncavallo preserved more of its original elements than Puccini. Leoncavallo's people are cheerful in his first two acts, but never quite as cheerful as Puccini's. There is a certain pervasive grim charmlessness about them. Leoncavallo's final two acts are unrelieved gloom. I suspect that Puccini's librettists originally delivered something quite like Leoncavallo's storyline to that notoriously difficult man and that he tossed it back at them, insisting that they cut out everything extraneous to focus on Mimi.
Bar for bar of the music and phrase for phrase, Puccini and Leoncavallo write in pretty much the same verismo idiom. Leoncavallo can match Puccini in providing orchestral lushness but seems less inclined to so so. Puccini has the better sense of overall structure, brilliantly mixing darkness and light in three of his four acts. Leoncavallo, following a simpler path, goes straight from two acts of giddiness into two acts of gloom.
As for the individual arias, sometimes the similarities get downright eerie. In Act II, Leoncavallo's tenor Marcello finds Musette's furniture in the street. He asks her to move in with him in "Io no ho che un povera stanzetta" (rendered by one translation in lumpy fashion as "I have but a poor little room.") Leoncavallo's aria has the texture and spirit of "Che gelida manina" almost perfectly but it does not develop from that point. Musette does not reply to Marcello in the same heightened manner that Puccini's Mimi does to Rodolfo and there is no advance into glorious duet.
Despite my nitpicking, Leoncavallo's "La Boheme" is a sound piece of work with some good tunes. Had it not been torpedoed by Puccini, it would probably be lurking at the edges of the standard repertory in very much the same manner as "Adriana Lecouvreur." As an alternative version of a great masterpiece, it should be in every serious collection of opera recordings, just like, say, Nicolai's "Merry Wives of Windsor."
I must admit that I have not heard this performance since it first came out to earn widespread critical approval many years ago. It was only recalled to me when I sat down to listen to a markedly inferior version of the opera from La Fenice that was issued by Nuova Era. After each number of that ho-hum performance, I found myself thinking that I had heard it better done. The little chunklets of this performance that Amazon provides on-line are not much but they were at least sufficient to convince me that my memory had not substantially misled me. I regard this set to have a strong cast that offers an enjoyable performance for this pleasing opera. Of the three complete versions of Leoncavallo's "La Boheme" that Amazon lists, this one appears to be the best bet for anyone with the inclination and the wherewithal to pay full price.
Paddy Mccabe | 05/22/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Having dithered and dallied for quite awhile,I eventually took the plunge and bought this recording.I was pleasantly surprised, in fact I am delighted with it.
First of all full marks to The Orfeo people for providing a full summary and libretto in Italian,French,German and English.This is essential for anyone not familiar with this work or indeed any other.
For years now I have Mario Lanza's recording of Testa Adorata from his Coca Cola Radio Show of the early 1950s.Recently I heard Jose Cura's version of same but nothing else.
Since acquiring this set I now realise that this is not a " One Swallow Summer". It is dotted with good tunes. Especially beautiful is the close of Act 1.This is the scene where Barbemuche a man of means wants to pay the Bill incurred by the Bohemians, to Gaudenzo the Proprietor of The Cafe Momus. They decide that the most dignified way is for Schaunard to play Barbemuche in a game of billiards for the money. All repair to the Billiard room except Marcello and Musetta.During the game Marcello woos Musetta.Leoncavallo cleverly intertwines the wooing and the Billiards. When Musetta in jest says to Marcello "But you are not Pluto" Schaunard shouts "Miscue" and when Musetta relents a shout of "Canon and game" comes from the Billiard Room.The Christmas Eve bells ring out and all rejoice singing "Natale".
Act 2 similiarly has it's highlights e.g. "Io non ho che una povera stanzetta"sung by Marcello to Musetta when she is evicted--I have only a poor little room between the chimneys and the sky".This is followed by the Party in the courtyard and the highlight here is the Anthem of the Bohemians a chorus which can stand beside any of the great choruses.
In Act 3 when the mood darkens we have Musetta's farewell and Marcello's lament "Testa Adorata".
The last Act brings us to Christmas Eve one year later and basically deals with the death of Mimi.Yes Mimi and Rodolpho of course also form an integral part of this work, but it is obvious that Marcello and Musetta are the chief characters here as opposed to Puccini's work.
However they come into their own in Act4 which opens with Rodolpho's fine aria Scuoti o vento and the return of a dying Mimi where she dies in Rodolpho's arms as Marcello and Musetta look on helplessly.
The Principals here are excellent.Bonisolli as Marcello is superb.The voice in 1981 is darkening a bit but in the duets with Alexandrina Milcheva he shows his beautiful lyrical side.What a gorgeous Mezzo Milcheva possessed, beautifully rounded and warm right through the registers.As Rudolpho Bernd Weikl is in fine voice and makes the most of his oportunities. Alan Titus is new to me but is excellent as Schaunard.
My only little crib and it is a small one is Mimi.Lucia Popp was never a favourite of mine with her very small voice and rather tight upper register. Nontheless she is very moving in the death scene.I would love to have heard say- Te Kanawa or Freni or Caballe here.The minor roles are all competently done.
The sound is great as are Chorus and Orchestra.Strangely while listening to this I never once think of Puccini.I dont know if this opera is ever staged nowadays but I cannot help thinking that a production with original authentic stage props would be a fine spectacle.
Of course all this is a personal taste,and the proof of the pudding is in the eating.I certainly enjoyed mine."
Comparisons are odious - but you can't help it...
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 10/07/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"First, my thanks to Messrs McCabe and Cantrell for their excellent, balanced and informative reviews. I won't belabour points already made by them but would add a few observations of my own. It is of course inevitable that this opera should remain in the shade of Puccini's greater work but this is a work which can stand on its own feet. It takes some getting used to that the main characters are in fact Marcello and Musette, especially as they are a tenor and mezzo respectively. Bernd Weikl sings as characterfully as ever as Rodolfo but that bleat in the top notes can be distracting and I would have preferred to have heard even more of Bonisolli, who is in top form here; his Act 3 rant is terrific. (In fact, I have never heard anything by Bonisolli that I haven't liked; he had a tremendous range, from Gluck to Rossini to Bizet to Verdi to verismo roles such as this one - and contrary to received wisdom he is perfectly willing to sing delicately as well as revel in the top notes.) Alexandrina Milcheva, too, deploys a beautiful, faultless, rich mezzo and one wonders why we never heard more of her. Perhaps the best known name, Lucia Popp, has a relatively small part until her death scene and sounds just a little small and shrill in such company, but she is vibrant and impassioned in the Act 3 argument. I also particularly enjoyed both the smooth, rotund bass of Alexander Malta, a stalwart of the Munich scene in the 80's, as the would-be Bohemian Barbemuche, and the lovely baritone of Alan Titus as Schaunard - try his aria on track 2, disc 1 or his piano-accompanied party piece (complete with the "re falso") in Act 2 if you want to hear really elegant baritone singing. The chorus and orchestra are lusty and the joyous climax to Act 2 really goes with a swing. It's a pity that several of the comprimario parts speak such Germanic Italian (too many "qvestas" and the like) but otherwise it all goes really well.
The change of mood from Acts 1 and 2 to the second half is marked and leaves the opera oddly balanced - all fun in the first half, all gloom in the second - but in that regard and in regard to the music too, this "Boheme" reminds me of Puccini's "La Rondine", which also has a splendid, rumbustious, raucous crowd scene in Bullier's nightclub. I am sorry that the set I bought did not contain the libretto referred to as essential in Mr McCabe's review; there is so much going on in the first two acts that one really needs it to follow the proceedings.
Ultimately, this is not the work of genius that is Puccini's, but it is brimful of skilful orchestration, lovely tunes and varied emotions and is well worth getting to know."