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Pioneer Entertainment presents
La Boheme (1982)

"I am a poet, but she is poetry itself."
- Rodolfo (Jose Carreras)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: August 21, 2000

Stars: Teresa Stratas, Jose Carreras, James Levine conducting the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Other Stars: Renata Scotto, Richard Stilwell, Allan Monk, James Morris
Director: Franco Zeffirelli

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:02m:29s
Release Date: November 24, 1998
UPC: 013023009196
Genre: opera

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+BB+ D

DVD Review

The impoverished poet Rodolfo in this Giacomo Puccini opera sings, "I'm poor but happy. I'm as extravagant as a lord, for I'm rich in the rhymes and hymns of love." While that may be the case for a while, La Boheme makes it clear that such joy is fleeting and transitory at best.

Although La Boheme opened in 1896 to critical disdain, it quickly became one of the staples of the repertoire and one of the most beloved operas of all time. It receives a first-rate production here from the Metropolitan Opera, through the production guidance of Franco Zeffirelli (best known for his Romeo and Juliet).

Four bohemian types (the poet Rodolfo, the philosopher Colline, the artist Marcello and musician Schaunard) dwell in a Parisian garret, living a desperate hand-to-mouth existence. When Schaunard comes into a little money, they immediately head to the Café Momus to celebrate their good fortune. Rodolfo (Carreras) stays behind and meets the beautiful (but consumptive) Mimi, a flower-maker (Teresa Stratas). They quickly fall in love and join the others at the Momus. Musetta (Renatta Scotto), a former lover of Marcello (Richard Stilwell) arrives with her new aged beau, but quickly discards him in favor of rejoining Marcello.

But since this is opera, difficulties ensue. Musetta's flirtatiousness is enough to drive Marcello mad, and Mimi's illness forces Rodolfo to send her away since he cannot provide a home for her. The usual boy meets girl, girl gets sick and pathos ensues that we've seen so many times before. But it's probably never been done better than in La Boheme.Zeffirelli's production design and costuming are quite perfect; the first act, in the moonlit garret, has an unearthly quality that brings on the shivers to match the freezing young artists. The cast is extremely good, with Stratas bringing an innocence and nearly ethereal air to Mimi. So often Mimi ends up being cast as a husky Valkyrie, that it's truly a pleasure to see her as the gaunt yet beautiful consumptive of the story. Stratas' voice has a clarity which echoes this innocence and quite transcends the earthly concerns of the story. In sharp contrast is Scotto's slightly shrill and obnoxious Musetta; the contrast is best exemplified in the duet portion of the famous Musetta's Waltz, where the two sing countering melodies. Carreras has a powerful and meaty tenor that suits the passionate Rodolfo well. The cast humorously brings to life the ability of the Bohemians to survive by their wits, particularly in the engaging scene in which they evade the landlord in his demands for rent.

The camera is quite active in this production, moving the emphasis to various areas of the stage. This action is quite important, since the staging of the Café Momus scene in particular is so jam-packed and chaotic that it would be difficult to follow otherwise. One can only wonder how well production this came off for the live audience. This is a live performance at the Met, which involves the usual audience racket and coughing (Mimi apparently isn't the only tubercular in the building), but overall this is an excellent production.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Probably the weakest point of the DVD is the image quality; the blacks tend to be rather weak. The colors are influenced by the impressionistic stage lighting, but they seem to be captured accurately. There is a little minor artifacting, but not nearly as much as I've seen on other Pioneer opera releases. The image is somewhat grainy, but this is no doubt due to the needs of filming with the stage lights.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Italianno

Audio Transfer Review: The only soundtrack is a DD 2.0 stereo track. I would have much preferred a PCM track. The audio is decent, but somewhat lacking in lower bass. Although the orchestra is somewhat compressed-sounding, the vocals come through nicely. In particular, Carreras' voice sounds like he's right there with you. Stratas' voice on the other hand, appropriately sounds as if she's on another place of existence altogether.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 27 cues and remote access
Music/Song Access with 27 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Extras are sorely lacking. Other than the excellent chaptering, there is a synopsis of the opera and some production notes in an included pamphlet. Most of the notes are devoted to the composition of the opera and its critical acceptance, rather than the present production. I would have liked more information on the artistic decisions made in this performance.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

An excellent cast (supported by the superb production design) gives a moving reading of one of the most-beloved operas. Although the image and sound could have been better, the disc is worth buying for Stratas' performance alone. Recommended.


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