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PUCCINI: La Boheme (complete opera), C Major Blu-ray (2016)

It’s hard to divorce this release from recent events.

PUCCINI: La Boheme (complete opera), Blu-ray (2016)

Performers: Daniela Dessì (Mimì)/ Fabio Armiliato (Rodolfo)/ Alessandro Luongo (Marcello)/ Alida Berti (Musetta)/ Federico Longhi (Schaunard)/ Marco Spotti (Colline)/ Angelo Nardinocchi (Benoit/Alcindoro)/ Ugo Tarquini (Parpignol)/ Marco Simonelli (Sergente dei doganieri)/ Jacopo Bianchini (Un doganiere)/
Orchestra and Choir of the Puccini Festival Torre del Lago/ Valerio Galli
Director: Ettore Scola
Studio: C Major 736204 2014
Video: 16:9 HD 1080i, color
Audio: PCM stereo 2.0, DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: Italian, German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
No region code
Length: 123 min.
Rating: ****

There is something particularly pathetic, in Act 3 of this production, hearing Mimi utter the words “Alas, I am dying.” For the magnificent soprano playing her, Daniela Dessi, died just a couple of months ago in August from colon cancer that she had just begun receiving treatment for, and the opera world is still in shock from the news. She had promised to be back on stage in October, so something obviously went horribly wrong between prognosis and treatment. Her husband and longtime singing partner, and the Rodolfo in this production, Fabio Armiliato, messaged: ‘A short, horrible and incomprehensible illness has taken her away in these months. The greatest opera singer of the last 20 years has gone.’ This is not hyperbole—many critics and public acceded to this belief. The couple’s awareness of mortality was ever so keen since they were the ones singing Aida together in Berlin on the night in April 2001 when their friend Giuseppe Sinopoli collapsed and died in the pit. I can’t be sure, but this could have been Dessi’s last recorded video performance. At any rate, when this was made in 2014 at the Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago where Puccini wrote many of his operas, the soprano was 57 years old, still looked great, and more importantly, sounded great.

As a tribute disc, there is little to be said. She knew this role as well as anyone singing, her husband certainly did as well, and the entire cast is first rate. Watching the death scene in the final act is especially harrowing, and she plays it perfectly, no histrionics, but with a reality that is almost creepy considering what we know happened later. The director, filmmaker Ettore Scola, said he had to fight hard to resist the temptation to give life to his “revolutionary” ideas; in the end, he decided for a traditional, rich, grandiose and detailed production that is quite beautiful in all respects.

Because of the “live” nature of this festival production, and the interruptions by the audience at critical places, this can’t be a first recommendation for a video—I still prefer the filmed version with Anna Netrebko for a riveting experience—but for a moving and worthy testament to a great singer, this is hard to beat.

—Steven Ritter

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