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Puccini: La Boheme -- Royal Opera House/Gardelli DVD

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This full-blooded 1982 performance of Puccini's most-loved opera demonstrates just how much drive and powerful emotion can make up for a certain lack of subtlety. Cotrubas' Mimi is entirely moving in both joy and death, while never quite feeling as thoroughly frail as some of her quieter rivals; stronger tenor voices than Neil Shicoff's have recorded the role, and yet he has a Romantic passion and a dignity that many of his rivals fail to bring to the role. That under-rated singer Gwynne Howell is especially moving in Colline's farewell to his cloak--one of those perfect little showcase sections Puccini sometimes gives to minor parts. Marilyn Zschau's Musetta is broad and comic and yet somehow includes the audience in the glorious joke that her sexuality is for her; when Thomas Allen sings, to her waltz theme, of youth that is not yet dead, his ardour transcends realism. Gardelli knew this score in his bones--the production bounces along from comedy to tears to eroticism to tragedy and neither cast nor orchestra miss a single one of Puccini's wonderful touches of emotional exploitation. --Roz Kaveney

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