On Wednesday, I went down to Lincoln Center and failed, for the first time in all my attempts, to get a rush ticket. However, there's nothing like standing on a line for a couple of hours to put me in the mood for an opera (what else is one going to do but read the libretto and talk to one's neighbors about memories of past performances, and hopes for this one?) so I trekked back up to my apartment and defied the piles of books by curling up with wine and Puccini. And I was reminded: yes, I really, really do like La Boheme. Maybe it's partly because I recognize far too much of Benoit in my own landlord that I never tire of spending time with the Bohemians. Never does verismo (which surely ought to be translated "verisimilitude," rather than "realism"?) seem quite so credible as when detailing students who are stretching their budget, stretching their pockets with secondhand books, sticking Latin words into their conversation as often as they can, and of course, complaining about work. Eerily familiar, really.
Maybe I wouldn't love it as I do if I weren't so deliciously spoiled by the classic Pavarotti/Freni recording. Rodolfo and Mimi, much as I love them, can be silly (especially Rodolfo, I think, but maybe that's just a sisterly spirit of solidarity rooting for Mimi.) But with Pavarotti and Freni they are never less than utterly compelling. "Che Gelida Manina" gives me shivers every time. And if these two weren't enough to ensure non-complacent listening, there's Herbert von Karajan with the score. I haven't heard a recording which--to my mind--brings out all the simultaneous shenanigans of Act II better, never losing Puccini's careful orchestration in the cacophony of Christmas Eve (or vice versa.) Not to mention, well, everything else. It's not that I don't appreciate different interpretations of this opera; it's just that I've never heard one I've liked better. Maybe an entirely subjective comparative study will turn up here later. In the meantime, here are Pavarotti and Freni, falling in love as Rodolfo and Mimi, live in 1969.