on July 11, 2004
I love Pavarotti's voice and for me Freni is a lovely Mimi, but I think the Serafin recording with Tebaldi and Bergonzi is better. Personally I find Karajan completely overblown whenever he conducts Italian opera, listen for example to the Butterfly with Pav and Freni which is totally over the top. Serafin conducts a much more "Italianate" opera (with a clear beat!) without pushing things to exageerration, which is all too easy with Puccini-kitch. His tempi are too broad and deliberate. Listen for example to Che gelida manina in Act 1- where Pav is completely out of time before going up for his high C (other people have written about this aria without noticing that Pav is out of time throughout this passage). But who can blame him when Karajan is slowing and speeding things up? Mind you the "money shot" - i.e. the top C- is magical and unique in sound. Tebaldi on the other recording is not as sweet as Freni but more gutsy. Bergonzi has none of the Pav tone but is much more musical in his singing. The Berlin Phil are, as usual, awesome. So, my verdict is 4 stars: great sound, lovely voices, but all a bit stagey and contrived: I guess it is a stylistic point about the Italian school of conducting and playing versus the German approach, but what happened to the Karajan of the 50s with that fantastic Lucia??.
(PS If you want to hear real characterisation of Mimi try the Callas. The voice is ugly comparared to Tebaldi or Freni but the singing is much superior.)
on March 25, 2001
I understand that this opera may be considered to be something of an 'old chestnut' by some, but I am a newcomer, pretty much, to classical music and I like such things anyway, old chestnuts or not. The minute this set was delivered I played it simply incessantly and thought the world of it. This is still true sometime later. Because I really know nothing about classical music (and am only able to learn what I can about it and enjoy it, really, thanks to my CD player, which continues to work well, plus wherever I get my information, especially as I have so very little money), I will not try to say much more about La Bohème, except that I continue to play it because it's beautiful, and, if you buy it, you will find it to be also. I highly recommend it, therefore.
on March 16, 2001
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.
on January 19, 2001
Reasons why this Boheme is great:
1. Mimi and Rodolfo - Once upon a time, there was a great young Italian tenor. He had a huge, lovely lyric voice and one of those once-in-a-lifetime, instantly recognizable timbres (like Caruso, Callas, Flagstad). His name was Pavarotti, believe it or not, considering the careless, sloppy artist he is today. But here, he is captured in his glorious prime. Karajan also restrains his hammy excesses, and prevents him from showing off too much (although he lets Pav hold that high C in "Che gelida manina" a long time). Mirella Freni is a wonderful Mimi, soft, lyrical, sensitive. Her voice nowadays has taken on an old-ladyish tone, but here she sounds youthful and sensitive, just like Mimi. Their Mimi and Rodolfos are for the ages.
2. The supporting cast - La Boheme is actually a difficult opera to record well. All too often two big stars are assembled, and the producers just assume all will fall into place (the Bergonzi/Tebaldi recording falls victim to this complex). But Boheme is an ensemble piece, and its not enough to have two big stars belting out the arias. Musetta, Marcello, Colline, these are all important characters, and it's crucial to establish a real warmth and chemistry. The characters must sing to each other, not the mike. This recording, fortunately, establishes that warm, familiar atmosphere.
3. The orchestra - Under Herbert von Karajans direction, the Berlin Philharmonic plays gloriously. I never noticed how many beautiful touches there are to the score till I listened to this Boheme.
4. The sound - great stereo sound.
So why havent you bought this recording yet?
on January 10, 2004
This is a classic Boheme. But let me tell you an "open" secret. There are even better Boheme's out there.
Yes, Pavarotti can hit all those high notes. But somehow, he can't match Domingo's intelligence of portrayal. And Freni simply cannot match Caballe's exquisite piannisimi. Caballe is, well, Caballe. You can't replace Caballe with Freni. It just doesn't work. Freni works well in theatre because she is beautiful. But when it comes to the voice, CABALLE is the ultimate Mimi.
And Karajan's conducting is simply too "beautiful". Where is the drama??? This is typical smooth and lots of legato Karajan without much else in it. Yes, it is beautiful but devoid of "verismo".
I guess this forum must be flooded with Pavarotti fans. Fact is I owned this set for a long time slightly dissatisfied. I was told that this is the best. But it goes to show how influential critics can be. Whatever they say, the public just swallow - lock, stock and barrel.
If you want to hear a REAL Boheme, get the Solti. After waiting a long time, I decided to explore the Solti set, and now I finally understand what Boheme is all about.
on September 28, 2003
A few years ago, opera aficionados on a panel during a Metropolitan Opera broadcast were asked which opera was their first love. Each panelist said La Boheme, and each could remember a particular cast that made the opera magical. One panelist said "I think we all remember our first Boheme." I do not recall the cast, but I do remember the first time I heard this opera. I was a senior in high school and I purchased a budget recording of the work. The fact that the quality was sub par did not matter, because I did not know the difference anyway. I had to listen with headphones since my siblings did not appreciate opera the way I did. At the beginning when Marcello sings about his masterpiece to be, a painting of the Red Sea and Rodolfo spoke about his writing, I knew they were both geniuses in the making. Even though I had yet to fall in love, I knew that Rodolfo meant every word he sang when he "O Soave Fanciulla" to Mimi, he meant every word. I understood the struggles between both parts of lovers in Act III even though I had never struggled to keep a rocky relationship alive. When Musetta prayed before Mimi's death, I believed the sincerity of her intentions. And I shared Rodolfo's grief when Mimi breathed her last. After the recording was finished, I recall feeling so moved I could not speak. I can still recall these feelings when I hear the opera performed, or listen to a recording, and Karajan's version of this magnificent work can do it to me all the time.
What can anyone say about this recording that has not already been said? Luciano Pavarotti, Mirella Freni, and Nicolai Ghiaurov were all in their prime at the time this recording was made, and it captures the magic that each vocalist offers. Even though neither Pavarotti nor Freni are the appropriate age for the young lovers, listeners will excuse this because of the beauty of their voices. The passion and tension that defines the relationship between Marcello and Musetta comes alive with the singing of Rolando Panerai and Elizabeth Harwood. Karajan conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in his usual powerful, controlled manner that gives that is unequaled.
My only fault with the recording is at the end of Act II. When the military band departs, the recording engineers seem to have lowered the volume to create a fade away sound. It probably would have been better if there was a decrescendo by the orchestra, but this is a small fault in an otherwise [perfect recording.
on September 3, 2002
And it's legendary for good reason. Pavarotti's sweet, ringing lyric-spinto tenor voice wraps itself around the role of Rodolfo like the lover he is. This voice soars to the skies with Rodolfo's love for Mimi, sung here by the lovely and affecting Mirella Freni. Here is a Mimi who can melt hearts of solid ice and her performance with Pavarotti is irresistible.
We come to the voice of Nicolai Ghiaurov, a man with an instrument worthy of a god. What does he do with the very human role of Colline? He sings it magnificently, bringing to life dimensions I have never heard out of any other bass, with the possible exception of Giorgio Tozzi. Colline's farewell to his jacket, in his pitiful and touching attempt to save Mimi, brings tears to my eyes when Ghiaurov sings it. How such a gigantic voice can sound so sincere and sentimental is a mystery to me, but Ghiaurov pulls it off superbly. This is no fluke. Listen to Ghiaurov as the tortured Boris Godunov says farewell to his son as he is dying, and you will come to appreciate what a master singer Ghiaurov was.
Everyone here pulls together to give us a spritely yet tragic Boheme worthy of the ages. This is a worthy companion for the classic versions with Gigli, Callas and di Stefano, and Beecham conducting Bjoerling, Victoria de los Angeles, and Robert Merrill. If you love Puccini and this opera, you owe it to yourself to get this performance. Do yourself a big favor and buy this!
on May 29, 2000
I am an opera singer and a fan of all Puccini's music. It is so life affirming- as is this Boheme! One of the best things about this recording is Karajan's conducting. His is a passionate and exciting Boheme. Even if you were to say he goes to extremes (which I don't think he does!) isn't that what the youthful exuberance of love is all about? When Pavarotti sings that he loves Mimi above all else in the world (Ebbene no! Non lo so! in the 3rd act w/Marcello) the orchestra just soars with the singer- not over him. That brings us to Pav and Freni. These 2 childhood friends sing with such beauty and passion! Only when your voice is trained to perfection (as theirs were) can you really give voice completely to the music as written. Nothing gets in the way. Harwood's Musetta is the best! She's quirky but has such great control and pianissimos that it gives you chills! Then when Ghiarov's Colline sings that low note as she enters on high! Ooh la la! I could go on, but you must hear it to believe it. I really don't think there will ever be another recording to compare. Especially since Freni (whom I saved for last) IS Mimi. She has been hailed by critics and colleagues as the ultimate Mimi. She is sweet, passionate, and sings to perfection. There will never be another like her. I also recommend the Madama Butterfly with Freni, Pavarotti and Karajan. Falling and love and losing it is such an indispensable part of life- that is what has made this opera an indispendable part of music and life itself!
on April 9, 2000
Puccini's "La Bohème" (perhaps the most popular opera in the world) has been recorded so frequently it is impossible to select THE best recording. This 1972 effort, though, must be at or near the top of anyone's list. First and foremost there is the magnificent singing of Freni and Pavarotti in the lead roles - roles which seem to have been made for them. Freni's beautiful voice takes soaring flight with Puccini's melodies. Her voice is always steady and pure, and with subtle, thoughtful characterization, she makes this a Mimì to remember. Rodolfo is perhaps the role to which Pavarotti is best suited (the Duke in "Rigoletto" is also tailor-made for him). His smooth, vibrant lyric tenor makes the most of the glorious long legato melodies that are so frequent in Puccini's music. He also characterizes Rodolfo well. Mimì's death scene is chilling (though I do think his "sobbing" is a bit ridiculous). The supporting roles are very well cast, with Rolando Panerai a witty, characterful Marcello, Elizabeth Harwood a delightful Musetta, Nicolai Ghiaurov a thoughtful Colline and Gianni Maffeo a good Schaunard. Herbert von Karajan brings out the best in the Berlin Philharmonic - the string section produces glorious, shimmering tone, the direction is very responsive to Puccini's score, and the balance between the orchestra and singers is perfect - the orchestra is allowed the clarity and power it deserves, but it never drowns out the singers (as it does in, say, Karajan's "Butterfly"). All in all, this is probably the best recording since Beecham's classic '50's interpretation. Everyone is likely to favor many different recordings of this opera, but I can't find any flaws in this one.
on February 27, 2000
This CD has been in my collection for 10 years and has become a part of my life. Out of the thousands of cd's in my collection, it is the one I treasure the most and the one I play most often. This CD actually began my love affair with opera. It is the definitive recording of the most beloved and popular musical/stage works of all time. When I realized that the recording was made in 1972, I could not believe it. The sound quality has a remarkable intensity and spaciousness that you simply do not get with today's digital recordings. This is one of the very few classical recordings that has been engineered to perfection. It is often cited in magazines and CD reviews as a landmark recording.
I'm only in my twenties now, but I know that I will still be playing this CD and smiling when I'm 80. Truly- one the greatest recordings ever put on disc. The opera contains some of the most beautiful and lyrical melodies ever created. Also, do not forget to purchase the Pavoratti, Freni, and Karajan recording of Madame Butterfly, also a landmark recording.