Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala Theater
Chorus Master: Roberto Benaglio
Stage Production and Set Design: Franco Zeffirelli
Cast: Mimì: Mirella Freni; Musetta: Adriana Martino; Rodolfo: Gianni Raimondi; Marcello: Rolando Panerai; Schaunard: Gianni Maffeo; Colline: Ivo Vinco; Benoit: Carlo Badioli
Studio: Deutsche Grammophon (Distr. by Universal)
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: Dolby 5.1 surround; PCM Stereo
Length: 111 minutes
Universal has released a DVD of this La Bohème production once before. In 2002 Zeffirelli’s classic was released amidst wide acclaim, even though the sound was only PCM stereo. Like the Chereau/Boulez version of Wagner’s Ring cycle (also initially released in PCM stereo only), La Bohème is now available in sumptuous 5.1 sound and, apparently, sharpened video imaging.
It couldn’t have happened at a better time with a resurgence of interest in Puccini’s work, particularly regarding new theories that his work has more in common with Wagner than Verdi. Mirella Freni is splendid as the vulnerable and saccharine Mimi. Her voice is smaller and less dramatic than Tebaldi’s, but she earns the viewer’s sympathy early in the work with her subtle phrasing. As Rudolfo, Gianni Raimondi reminds me of Placido Domingo in his early forties. He sings “Che gelida manina” with the intensity and razor-sharp emphasis of that great Spaniard. What a pity he stayed with the Met only a few years after this recording, then tumbled into obscurity with the Hamburg State Opera.
The 5.1 surround is highly effective. It is most apparent in the city square scene of Act II, with its bustle of street vendors and detailed characterizations of minor and major singers. Voices approach and vanish from all directions. However, since this is a post-dubbed production, there are no background noises like slamming doors and ominous footsteps so over-utilized by surround speakers. You may also miss the grimaces and throat acrobatics that singers exhibit in live performances. No matter. This production may be the shortest suspension of disbelief you’ll ever experience. If you like this opera, you will be seduced by Karajan’s conducting and the lead singers long before you notice the less-than-stupendous acting.
— Peter Bates