Puccini: La Boheme
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184 of 192 people found the following review helpful
La Boheme is certainly one of the top three performed Operas worldwide, along with Carmen and Aida. It is not my favorite Puccini Opera; that distinction goes to Manon Lescaut which, as opera critic Irving Kolodin so perfectly phrased it, is "the most of the promise, with the least cost of the fulfillment." I don't begrudge Puccini his popularity: his music is often beautiful, the emotions direct and heartfelt. His librettos seem designed to tug the heartstrings in a plebian grab for popularity, like a television show tested by a focus group. But that's OK. So when I see a production of any of Puccini's most popular operas, I tend to concentrate on sound: the beauty of the instrumental music, the vocal qualities of the singers. I usually ignore the plot. A misguided fear of being manipulated by a master? Probably. I'm weird that way!

So when I say I loved this DVD of La Boheme, that I was engrossed by the drama as well as the music, then it must be something special. The Met usually mounts traditional productions. When they stray from that conservative path, the audience tends to get ornery. This Boheme is a classic production: no "artistic license" shifting the action to the surface of Mars with a cast of farm animals and an orchestra of kazoos! I like a traditional Boheme, the way Puccini envisioned it. The emotions are less over-the-top, the drama more organic. The libretto is direct, even simple. That simplicity is the source of this production's excellence.

Produced live on 15 March 1977 and the inaugural telecast of the PBS "Live at the Met" series, the DVD transfer effectively reduces many of the artifacts inherent to a 30 year old taped program. The image is still a little fuzzier than we're now used to, but not enough to drive you screaming up the wall. The DTS 5.1 sound is clear and full. As for the singing, both Pavarotti as Rodolfo and Renata Scotto as Mimi are at their absolute peak!

This Boheme features a sublimely sung Rodolfo. All of the things Pavarotti was famous for are in evidence here: crystalline tone, perfect diction, fluidity of vocal quality. And this younger, svelter Pavarotti actually acts! I was moved by his performance in a part he obviously identifies with. As for Scotto, a leading soprano at the Met for two decades, her singing is lovely, with a limpid quality that heightens the emotionalism of her superb acting. The excellent cast includes Maralin Niska as Musetta and Ingvar Wixell as Marcello.

James Levine had come into his own as a Conductor around this time. He offers a nearly perfect rendition of this verdant score. The Met Orchestra, obviously on the rise as one of the world's great ensembles, sounds wonderful. Watching them hang on Levine's every gesture, turning on a dime as they negotiate every twist and turn of this score, is one of the pleasures unique to the DVD format. As for the production design by Fabrizio Melano, it is simple and direct. It just looks right!

I don't know if my atitude towards Puccini as a dramatist will ever change. But productions like this one, saved for posterity, are a clue as to why audiences adored Puccini in the first place. Before time and popularity seemed to cheapen the drama until it resembled a High School production of Cats. I love Puccini just like everyone does, of course. It's just that every now and again I need to be reminded why I love him. I strongly recommend this superb DVD. It's the jolt you need to get you in touch with your inner Rodolfo and Mimi.

Mike Birman
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64 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2005
This is a video of the first live Met telecast, recorded in 1977. Therefore, the video image is not up to the standards we're accustomed to seeing today. There are problems with focus and at times the image is downright blurry. This is particularly noticeable in scenes with very little light.

However, it doesn't matter, because Pavarotti and Scotto win you over with their beautiful singing. I expected a youthful Pavarotti to be outstanding, and he is. What I didn't expect was to be so moved by Scotto's performance. I've heard her on many recordings, and admired her singing, but never found her to be particularly engaging. But after watching her in this production, I can see why she is so highly revered by so many fans.

The rest of the cast is what you would expect from a Met performance in the late 70's: highly talented and professional. The orchestra under Levine's leadership is excellent. The stage production is somewhat lackluster compared to the Zefirelli production that came to the Met later, but as with the video's somewhat fuzzy quality, it just does not matter. It's all about the voices and the music, and it doesn't get any better than this.
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64 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2005
The first ever MET telecast, featuring 2 operatic greats at the height of their powers. Pavarotti, slimmer looking (but almost didn't make the high C in his aria), sings his siganture role magically. Scotto, my favourite soprano, portrays Mimi differently to what we are used to seeing and hearing. Watch the bonus interview and you will understand what I mean! 1st class - a Boheme in the old style - highly recommended
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2006
I saw this when it was first televised in 1977. On a small black and white TV. There were no subtitles.

Viewing it again on the DVD--this time with color and titles--only made it better.

A youthful Pavarotti, with his incredibily then sweet voice, is actually thin (for him!). Scotto gives an impassioned performance as Mimi.

These guys knew they were going down into operatic posterity on this historic occasion and would be watched by millions. The rest of the cast is professional but do not rise to the same level.

I thought the whole thing so moving and terrific, even while agreeing with the minor criticisms of the other reviewers, as well as the many virtues they point out.

But, really, nothing quite says it to me as the following...

My 20 year old son bought this for my birthday in 2006. As a good sport he agreed to watch it with me. (Opera is not exactly his music!) He was appropriately attentive during the first three acts. But once Mimi reappeared in Act IV his demeanor yet changed. He was now leaning forward, intently focused, almost frozen, riveted to the screen.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2007
I have little to add to the other reviews about the performance. It is a classic. Both Scotto and Pavarotti perform signature roles; certainly, Scotto may not have the "purest" voice for the part, but she is in good shape and, more importantly for a video, knows how to act. Pavarotti is "early" rather than "late" Pavarotti -- voice in great shape and, although he doesn't look like the starving artist, he is able to move about the stage. Niska turns in a superlative Muzetta; heard her sing several roles during that decade (from Nedda to Salome) and was always impressed with her voice and acting; never could figure out why she didn't make it "big". As a couple of reviewers have pointed out, because of the age of the performance (1977), the video is a bit soft, not as sharp as we have come to expect in the digital age. However, the lighting is good, the sets are typically MET traditional. I've seen a couple of more recent Bohemes and find none better than this one.
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62 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2007
Bear with me here, I'll get to La Boheme in a minute (and I will also admonish my fellow reviewers).

I've seen a lot of live operas and listened to a lot of opera CDs (and LPs), and one big, difference is that in a live production, it's only the singers' belted-out notes that the audience hears well. The softer notes leading up to and following those notes often are just barely audible above the orchestra. I think it's because one voice, no matter how well-trained, simply isn't as loud as a collection of instruments. And it seems that even the belted-out notes require a little cooperation from the orchestra in backing off a bit. On a CD (or LP for that matter), all sung notes are audible, because the singers have their faces inches from a good quality microphone. Call me corrupted by technology, but I like the CD sound better, except for whatever sound quality is lost in the recording process itself. The balance between the orchestra and the singers is better.

Now, let's understand something about opera DVDs generally. You can't have opera singers holding microphones on camera. So there are two choices in getting the singers' voices recorded, neither of them perfect. One can try to record as they're performing, either live or on a set and in costume, using either a parabolic or shotgun microphone. This gives you perfect lip-sync, but sometimes gives you the out-of-balance sound typical of live performances (but not the clear distortion-free sound of a live performance). I'm not sure why this happens; I think it must be because the microphone operator's aim isn't as good as it should be. The other option is to lip-sync, even if that means with the same person. This yields a more balanced sound, but sometimes the lip-sync-ing is not perfect, and sounds emerge from closed mouths. Personally, I prefer the latter, as I prefer the better sound balance, and can tolerate a little imperfection in the synchronization.

This La Boheme, recording, like all the live @ the Met recordings, uses the parabolic or shotgun microphone technique, with all the shortcomings that that implies. Pavarotti and Scotto are (well, were) among the best in the world, of course, and live up to their reputations--when you can hear them. All the minor-role singers are excellent too. The important duets toward the end of in Act 1 are mostly ok, but much of the singing-over-singing in Act 2 suffers from the poor-aim problem and is disappointing. You turn up the volume and just barely hear the lead-up, then are somewhat satisfied by the punch note, and then the following accompanying chord from the orchestra flattens your lampshades. Act 3 is OK, since there are fewer people singing at one time. Act 4 is pretty much the same for the same reason, with only a few faded sung notes. The last part of Act 4 was not a great turn-on for me, although I have to admit, I have more problems with Puccini on that issue than any singer, conductor, microphone operator, or recording engineer. I guess I just don't think drawn-out death scenes are amenable to great music. I feel the same way about the last parts of Traviata, Norma, and Carmen for that matter. I find them tedious, but that's just me, I guess.

The fidelity of the sound is ok, considering the age of the performance (at least on my equipment, a pretty good Klipsch 2.1 system--better than Bose but not really hi-fi). They must have cut the DVD from a pretty decent master tape. They got a separate grant for "restoration," so maybe that had something to do with it. However, throughout the opera there is some sort of a growl on the soundtrack that sounds a bit like muffled speech, as though there was a little leakage between the main microphone signals and the instructions from the director to the camera or microphone operators.

The performance is really quite good, even if somewhat staid Met standard. I think I like the applause after the arias, duets, and at the ends of acts, although they let it go on a little too long. I have the DG Cosi (lip-synced) and, while it has excellent sound quality, it doesn't have applause, which I must admit, I miss. But I really could have done without Tony Randall's synopses--I just skipped over them (I'd have preferred Walter Matthau, but probably would have skipped over him too). Of course, La Boheme doesn't really lend itself to the lavish staging that is so typical of Met productions, but, the sets are well done, and it's as good a Café Momus as I've seen anywhere. The acting is as good as you'd expect. One minor goof that I was expecting was that Murphy's law would decree that among a bunch of actors complaining about being cold but singing their hearts under hot lights in a warm theatre, someone's bound to start sweating visibly. Indeed, it happens in Act 4 where, in the coat aria, Colline's face has quite a sheen on it.

Well, OK, now to my admonishment. All you reviewers out there, you're not giving me everything I want. TELL ME ABOUT THE SOUND QUALITY! It's really important. When I read reviews, they tell me about everything else, and I'm getting tired of reading every review twice looking for something that isn't there. As far as I'm concerned, sound quality and singing artistry are the two most important features. Even if you do have the latter, you won't enjoy it unless you also have the former. When I pop that DVD in my machine and crank up the volume, I want to hear something close to a live performance in terms of crispness and frequency balance and not a distorted and/or muddy mess, as I have in so many opera DVDs. And I'm counting on you to tell me which I'll get. For example, this Boheme is a little turbid, spotty, but generally not muddy or too distorted. So, to summarize, despite a few shortcomings in the sound, there're still a few goosebumps in this DVD.

Ciao

Wayland
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2007
There isn't much to add to what the other posters have said about this truly historic DVD remastering, but allow me a few comments. This is it, the granddaddy of Met telecasts on PBS, the first in the long-running, but recently sadly dormant, "Live from the Met" series. (Apparently Peter Gelb's commitment to live movie-theatre telecasts from the Met will help get the PBS series back on the rails--we've already had the English-language "Magic Flute" on broadcast TV this season, with "I Puritani" coming soon.) Scotto and Pavarotti make a nearly unbeatable team in this score; both have Puccini's music coursing through their veins. Scotto was in her "plump" period here (seeing a video playback supposedly prompted her weight loss!), but she's plump in a cute way. As always, dramatically she goes straight to the heart of the role of Mimi, and vocally is in near-prime condition. As someone else commented, it's such a pity her definitive Butterfly, well-documented on studio (audio-only) recordings, was never videotaped for TV. Pavarotti does nearly lose the high C in "Che gelida manina"--but give him proper credit for not transposing the aria down a half-step as Domingo always had to, and as Carreras does on the 1982 "Boheme" telecast! At this early-mid stage of his career, he is definitely a LOT more mobile than he later became, and that's all to the good. But the revelation is in the light and shade of his facial expressions. His ability to act for the cameras--when he was of a mind to--always surprised (and pleased) me. The rest of the cast is an eminently likeable bunch. Wixell was never exactly an Italianate baritone with his grainy, wide-open timbre, but he was a consummate musician and sings magnificently here. Paul Plishka never seems to get his due from critics--count me as a longtime fan of his rich, sonorous voice and bluff, hearty acting. Similarly Allan Monk, the Schaunard, always seemed much underrated and underprized, at least to me. Gorgeous, rich, lyric-baritone sound and fine characterization--was the voice perhaps undersized in the house? (I never heard him live.) Marilyn Niska's Musetta never struck me as being quite on this level, but she contributes an enjoyable, lively performance. Levine was at his very best in this score, and the Met Orchestra and chorus responded with crispness and precision.

I must dissent from some of the positive comments about the production itself, borrowed by the Met from Chicago Lyric Opera. On the original March 1977 PBS live telecast it looked dark, dank and dreary, even the Cafe Momus act. It still does... DG's remastering can't do much about that, but the clarity they achieved is still pretty remarkable. The sound is cleaner and richer than I remembered too, though PBS still had a lot to learn about miking the Metropolitan Opera House effectively. The later Zeffirelli production with Stratas and Carreras is thrilling in an eye-candy sort of way, and nearly as well sung as this one. But this is my sentimental favorite.

As with the Met "Rigoletto" and "Luisa Miller," DG has seen fit to remove all of announcer Peter Allen's commentary during the curtain calls, but owing to the historical nature of being the first PBS Met telecast, they do include NBC newscaster Garrick Utley's introductory remarks. I remember being rather annoyed and/or impatient with the live backstage interviews--"for God's sake, let these people go to their dressing rooms and REST until the next act, will ya?!" But actually I'm glad to be able to see them again. (But note that for the second PBS telecast, "Rigoletto" in November of '77, the interviews were PRE-taped.) Many thanks to the Met and DG for bringing this classic performance back in such a fine remastering!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2008
I found every detail of this production to be unimprovable. True, the film is old and grainy and sometimes slightly blurry. But it doesn't matter. The casting and vocals are unbeatable. I'm so glad to have seen Pavarotti in this role and in his prime, when he fully committed to everything with his whole being rather than just vocally doing so. He is superb (though he wobbles on the High C in "che gelida manina"), as is the rest of the cast. But the biggest revelation for me was Scotto. I grew up seeing her as Musetta on the other Met Boheme, and never really understood her following. Thank goodness I saw this. Her performance is something I cannot shake. It has an emotional depth to it that fits perfectly with her vocal choices - she crushed me. "Senza rancor" is the highlight of the night - I had to rewind it a few times. This is an ideal DVD to show non-opera people. I can't imagine not being swept into its magic!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2008
I remember seeing this live original broadcast, and it was thrilling then. Pavarotti and Scotto are at their best, and Levine supports them and the rest of the cast perfectly. I am glad I went looking for it, and recommend it to any Puccini or Pavarotti lover.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2011
I now have 4 La Bohemes after reading carefully the fine reviews. Having reviewed the four versions and comparing them for total experience this is worth getting only to see Pavarotti and Scotto probably in their primes vocally. Neither of them really fit as Rodolfo and Mimi (stout and past age 40) and this was shot before the MET figured out how to shoot a live performance as they now do. Many times the singers are in the dark due to poor stage lighting. So get it for the great voices even though Pavarotti misses the high C. For total enjoyment get the movie with Natrebko and Villazon; and if you want to see a sublimely wicked Musetta. Niska is not a terribly convincing Musetta in this version. But get this for your video library only as a historical moment in opera.
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