"A long time ago, my father was driving my teenaged self somewhere as he listened to a cassette of "Pavarotti's Greatest Hits" on the car stereo. During "Che gelida manina", he tried to enlighten my ignorance as to what was special about it. "This is one of the great moments in opera," he explained. "The man sings this beautiful aria. Then the woman sings something even more beautiful. Then the two of them sing together and it's even more beautiful than that." I grunted in assent that it must be a whole lot of beautifulness and then returned my attention to whatever science fiction novel I was reading at the time.
Many years have passed since then. My father is dead, and I probably know more about opera now than he did. But, perhaps because of that conversation, the end of Act I still defines "La Boheme" for me. [Moral of the story for parents of teens: Keep sharing yourself with your kids, no matter how much they grunt at you. There's no telling what will stick.] If a performance doesn't convey Dad's Guinness-Book sense that opera really doesn't get any more powerful or moving than this, I have to consign it to the "Not Quite" file. Sorry Tebaldi/Bergonzi and Callas/di Stefano.
All of which is to set up my claim that Freni/Pavarotti are the ones who truly deliver the goods in this virtually impossible-to-sing scene. While di Stefano's voice has a marvelous bronze gleam and crisp pronunciation, he simply doesn't have the sheer tone power to compete with the strength of Puccini's melodies. When Rodolfo sings "In te ravviso / Il sogno ch'io vorrei sempre sognar!", the heroic notes demand that the tenor produce a sound that you would follow into battle. Here Pav unforgettably brings da noise - and "Yes, Giorgio" is forgiven all over again.
Freni is equally virtuosic in the soprano's milieu, somehow managing to convey a waifish bohemian as she robustly full-lungs her way through some of the most cruelly exposed high notes in the music. And how euphoniously their two instruments mesh in the duets! How confidently they surf the surging waves of Karajan's conducting!
I don't know what else to say except that it's all here. Every component of the recorded operatic experience - composer, conductor, musicians, and singers - exercising mastery at world-class levels. There is nothing to impede the plucking of your heartstrings until they fray and snap. If you can listen to the final offstage "Amor!" with dry eyes, there is something dead inside you - I'm sorry to say. I'm verklempt now just thinking about it.
So, yes - all the raves here are true. This is not just the best "Boheme", but one of the best opera recordings ever made. You know what to do."
Mark | United States | 02/08/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
Finally a great performance with great sound quality. This DECCA recording has it all. Perfect sound and amazing cast.And what a cast!!Pavarotti makes here (with some other Donizetti operas on record) one of his BEST performances ever. The voice shines! It is clear with beautiful ringing and healthy high notes. I loved Freni. She delivers here a very wonderful sick and vulnerable mimi. Along with De Los Angeles, she made history of her performance here as mimi.I cannot forget the very precious performance of Ghiaurov! Bravo.And Karajan's recording...amazing (But I think comes second place after Beecham).Well...nothing goes bad in this performance...on the contrary...it is just Perfect!"
Qui son? Son un poeta!
firstname.lastname@example.org | USA | 12/28/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have returned to this recording, both on wax and on compact disc, for many years. Karajan displays an astonishing feel for the music of Puccini, and the ensemble of singers provides a delightful blend of voices which never fails to touch the heart of the listener. Elizabeth Harwood is a joy to hear as Museta. Freni is in this recording a Mimi beyond compare. This recording is an especially good display of the magnificent vocal gifts of Luciano Pavarotti. His voice is ripe, full, yet easy in this recording. There is, perhaps, no other recording of a complete opera which displays so clearly the fact that Pavarotti's voice is unusually large for a lyric tenor. Even so, his wonderful diction and phrasing make his Rodolfo truly delightful. This is Pavarotti singing serious music with joy! His voice, from the entrance in Act One is liquid sunshine. This recording is a must for every lover of Puccini!"
Library choice for La Bohéme
Gerardo Cabrera Munoz | México | 03/16/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Of course it is, this is one of the finest opera recordings of all time. Pavarotti, Freni and Panerai were born to sing these roles and they can stand comparison with any other singer in history. Pavarotti in his prime was one of the wonders of our time, his God-given voice was a miracle, and his honesty and passion are tailor-made for Rodolfo. You may prefer Di Stefano or Björling, but Luciano is their peer. The same goes for the young Mirella Freni. What a pity some years later she decided to sacrifice quality of voice for sheer power, because as heard here, her voice was a ravishing delight. Karajan conducts with italianate passion and incomparable elegance, and it hardly needs saying that no greater orchestra than the Berlin Philharmonic has ever recorded La Bohéme. You may also want to investigate Beecham's recording with Victoria de los Angeles and Jussi Björling, who next to Pavarotti and Freni are one of the ideal couples on record. Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano must not be forgotten either, they sing the most passionate Third Act on any recording, and Di Stefano sings those high pianissimi like no other tenor could ever hope."