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"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.
Prima Donna of the highest order
Robert Petersen | Durban, South Africa | 09/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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"
pm444 | Okemos, MI USA | 10/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."
Great on the ears, less so on the eyes
Ivy Lin | NY NY | 03/22/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This 1977 telecast was the first extant telecast from the Metropolitan Opera. In the 1950's there were some attempts to make telecasts (a Don Carlo, for instance) but these films have never surfaced, and the experiments were not successful. But in 1977, the telecasting of Met performances started in earnest. And it's a good way to start -- one of the most beloved operas, starring two of the Metropolitan's biggest stars, Renata Scotto and Luciano Pavarotti, in trademark roles. This should be a wonderful experience, but I admit when I saw the telecast I felt a smidge of disappointment. The production is small-scaled and traditional. Unlike the Zefferelli production, the garret really looks like a small, cold, Parisian garret. I like the simplicity of the production, although I think that it's dowdy even for a La Boheme production. Most of the sets are earth-tones -- lots of browns and olives and such. A bit of red would have done a world of good. Second of all, Pavarotti and Scotto only minimally follow stage directions. Pavarotti at this point is a lot less, uh, large than he would later become. Nevertheless, neither Scotto and Pavarotti seem very mobile. For instance, one of the key moments is Mimi and Rodolfo searching for the key in the dark garret after Mimi's candle has gone out, and Rodolfo has slyly blown his own out. Mimi and Rodolfo search; Rodolfo finds it, and hides it, and continues to 'paw around' until he touches Mimi's hand. Thus, "Che gelida manina" (Your cold little hand), starting probably the most famous 15 minutes of opera. When well done, this scene can be magical: charming, flirtatious, sexy, and romantic. But Pavarotti and Scotto barely bother to search or flirt. It's stand-and-sing. Granted, Pavarotti singing "Che gelida manina" and Scotto singing "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" are glorious. But I wish both singers had followed stage directions with more enthusiasm, so the love scene would have more impact. Scotto and Pavarotti, as well as the rest of the cast, are generally all in great voice. Pavarotti cracks the high C in "Che gelida manina," which at that point was highly unusual for him. Nevertheless, the glorious tone, the impeccable diction, they are all there. Scotto's voice was still in its prime too. In the late 1970s she would take on heavier roles, and her voice would become harsher and more curdled. But here, she is still luminous. Too bad her incandescent, definitive Butterfly was never filmed. This would be a great recording of La Boheme. But as a visual document, I find it a shade disappointing. As an aside, the dvd includes interviews that were conducted during intermissions of the telecast. Scotto is interviewed; she has a pretty funny story about a deathbed that had wheels and rolled backwards just as Mimi was "dying." She also says to her kids, "Go to bed." A nice moment."
Roy Gordon | Berkeley, CA USA | 07/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"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."