Giacomo Puccini La Boheme Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

A fine overall ensemble performance supported by detailed and accomplished choral and...

Andrew Mellor 2008

''They meet, they fall in love, they split, she returns, she dies'' – that's Rolando Villazón's ten-second plot summary of Puccini’s La Bohème. And the obvious draw of Deutsche Grammophon's new recording of the work is its Mimi and Rodolfo, the aforementioned 'they'. But any opera recording is about more than two singers, however talented Villazón and his Mimi Anna Netrebko may be. What elevates this one to great heights is not just the theatrical talents of opera's current 'golden couple', but a fine overall ensemble performance supported by detailed and accomplished choral and orchestral performances which match the fizzing dramatic intensity of the doomed lovers.

Whether or not the 'Netrebzon' factor galvanised the rest of the company into a compelling performance, the two are undeniably inspiring. Both voices are dramatic, thick and colourful; Netrebko’s perhaps even a touch treacly against some lighter, more innocent Mimis. And for some further pedantry, she occasionally over-eggs her climaxes and appears top-heavy, to the detriment of the overall musical phrase. But her voice is quite an instrument, built for soaring atop luscious Puccinian orchestrations which it does here with ease, whilst retaining formidable dramatic focus. Villazòn is nigh-on impossible to fault. His sure-footed tenor has a wonderfully vulnerable edge. He clothes the most painful dramatic moments in tears, and the effect is heart-stopping; dripping in Puccinian melodrama and every-bit musical.

One of the best duets in Bohème arguably goes to Mimi and not Rodolfo but the painter Marcello – here sung touchingly by Boaz Daniel – as he counsels the distraught heroine at the start of Act II. There are impressive moments too from former Cardiff Singer of the World Nicole Cabell who conjures a cheeky, colourful Musetta. Conductor Bertrand de Billy paces things briskly, creating a sense of cold and desolation when needed, though trotting hurriedly through some of the more interesting orchestral and vocal moments. But the orchestral detail and sensitivity is there, and with a Mimi and Rodolfo like these, you can forgive the conductor for leaving the tear-jerking to them.

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