About this Recording
8.110072-73 - PUCCINI: Bohème (La) (La Scala) (1938)

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) - La Bohème

An opera in four acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, based on Murger’s novel Scènes de la vie de bohème.

Despite the cool reception accorded to La Bohème at its première in 1896 - even with the great Toscanini on the podium! - it soon became, and has remained, one of the best-loved of all Italian operas. Its melodies soar, carrying every listener through the story of the impoverished lives of Rodolfo, Mimì and their colourful friends. It is, perhaps, the poverty that they suffer that makes them such endearing characters; we may not all have been as poor as they are, nor has everyone endured the same bitter cold that permeates their story, but many of us have loved and felt the pain of parting and loss. These bohemians are real people, young, vivacious, jealous and heartbroken.

What is needed to portray these people, of course, is an ideal cast, for only through the finest interpretations can the love and loss of their story be fully realised. Surely on this recording we have the greatest Rodolfo and Mimì of their generation, and a Marcello and Musetta fully worthy of their friendship.

In one sense this is Gigli’s Bohème; by 1938 he had been singing the rôle for many years and had fully absorbed the character of Rodolfo. He includes special touches for his ‘gramophone’ audience which may not have been evident in stage performances. A courteous, unwritten, prego when Mimì thanks him for re-lighting her candle; a charmingly emphasized in verità as he tries to assure her that he has not found her doorkey; an impish chuckle in the voice as, surprisingly, his own candle is extinguished. And these examples are just from the short scene in the garret after their first meeting; Gigli’s interpretation is filled with such telling moments, bringing the young poet to life as perhaps only a native Italian speaker can. His whole performance is suffused with the vocal warmth for which he was renowned; from the finest pianissimo thread of golden tone to the full-throated blaze of an Italian summer noon.

For the twenty-four year old Licia Albanese, the opportunity to star with the great tenor in this recording must have seemed like a dream come true. After a career of less than four (albeit brilliantly successful) years, she immortalised her moving characterisation of Mimì, setting a standard that younger singers would hope to emulate. Her gleaming, long-breathed soprano is pure throughout its range and she encompasses the arching phrases of Mi chiamano Mimì with ease; her third act encounter with Marcello reveals the anguish of an imminent break with Rodolfo, the voice coloured with the pain of parting as she sings Mimì’s Addio, senza rancor. As recorded, Albanese’s seems to be a large voice, but in the last act she fines it down for the return of the themes from Act 1 and in her short exchange with Musetta about the muff that, she is told, Rodolfo has bought her.

Albanese’s versatility is amply demonstrated in the ten additional items on CD2. The tone is soft and velvet-like in Adriana Lecouvreur’s aria, while Scarlatti’s stately Tuo Mi Chiami is from a period whose music she never sang in the opera house. Giro-Tondo shows a teasing side to her character, whilst Buzzi’s Colombine’s infectious tune, with its unexpected ‘whirring’ and sighing might catch the attention of any amorous dove within earshot. These are most attractive examples of the art of a greatly-loved diva.

In this fine company Afro Poli and Tatiana Menotti make a fitting ‘second couple’. Poli’s firmly focused tone is good to hear, and how expressively he uses it. In Marcello’s duets with Rodolfo they really sound like friends (perhaps the two singers were...?), reacting to each other in the most natural, yet musical ways. Menotti’s Musetta is wonderfully theatrical in the second act; she gives a fine lesson in how to dispose of one lover and take back a former one. By Act 3 things have changed and she becomes a shrill, independent strega (to use Marcello’s insult), ready to go her own way. Different again at the opera’s close, she is tender and compassionate with the dying Mimì - a young lady of many moods. Menotti’s bright soprano is ideal for this sometimes underestimated rôle.

This was not the first set of La Bohème to be recorded but it must rank as the first serious contender to be a definitive version. Each of the principals lives and sings as if the tragic story of Rodolfo and Mimì is for real and, given a cast of this quality, real is what it becomes.

La Bohème was first performed on 1st February 1896 at the Teatro Regio, Turin.

Paul Campion


CD 1

Act I

The scene is a garret in the artists’ quarter of Paris. There is a large window, from which the roofs of houses can be seen, covered with snow. In the room there is a fireplace, a table, a small cupboard, a bookcase, four chairs, an easel, a bed, two candlesticks and many packs of cards. Rodolfo, a young poet, is looking out of the window, while Marcello is at work on his painting, The Passage of the Red Sea. His hands are cold, and he blows on them from time to time, to warm them.

1 Marcello complains of the cold, but jokingly suggests revenge by drowning Pharaoh in the Red Sea. Rodolfo admires the view from the window, the smoke from the chimneys, although their own stove is cold. Marcello continues his complaints about the cold and about the falseness of Musetta, and Rodolfo points out that love is like a stove that needs fuel. Marcello suggests burning one of the chairs, but Rodolfo has a better idea: he will burn the play he has written, and the two sit warming themselves in front of the burning pages. The door opens and their friend, the philosopher Colline, comes in, stamping his feet. He throws a bundle of books on the table and complains that he has been unable to pawn anything because it is Christmas Eve, and the three of them joke about burning the play, as the second act goes on the fire.

2 Rodolfo laments the end of his play and Colline moralises. The third act goes the way of the rest, as the flames die down.

3 Two boys come in, one of them carrying food, wine and cigars and the other wood for the fire. The three friends seize on the provisions and Colline adds wood to the fire. The musician Schaunard comes in and throws down some coins, telling them of his good luck, how an English nobleman has employed him to play and sing to his parrot. The others interrupt his story, more interested in the provisions Schaunard has brought. He suggests that they should drink first at home and then go out to celebrate. Rodolfo locks the door and they go to the table and pour out wine.

4 There is a knock at the door and their landlord Benoit announces himself. After a brief consultation they let him in and offer him a glass of wine. He has come for the quarter’s rent, but the young men constantly fill his glass and jest with him over his supposed amatory conquests. Benoit confesses his liking for a buxom girl, and at this point Marcello pretends to be angry, accusing him of immorality, and they push him towards the door, ironically wishing him a happy Christmas. Now the friends make ready to leave for the Café Momus.

5 Rodolfo, however, must stay behind to finish an article, which will only take five minutes, and he holds a candle for the others to go down the stairs. Coming in again he shuts the door, clears a corner of the table and prepares to write, breaking off from time to time for thought.

6 He is not in the mood for writing. There is a timid knock at the door and their neighbour Mimì comes in, seeking a light for her candle. She has a fit of coughing and is about to faint. Rodolfo makes her sit down and brings water to revive her. He offers her wine, which she reluctantly accepts and then makes to leave. She thanks Rodolfo and wishes him good evening.

7 As she is leaving, Mimì finds she has dropped the key to her room. Her candle, which Rodolfo had lit for her, is blown out, and Rodolfo runs to bring his own from the table, but that too is blown out by the draught from the stairway. The room is in darkness. Rodolfo shuts the door and the two of them search for Mimì’s key, which Rodolfo finds and pockets.

8 While they are still searching, Rodolfo touches Mimì’s hand, which he holds, telling her to wait until the moon shines brightly enough for them to see again. While they wait, he will tell her who he is, a poet and a writer, a man of imagination.

9 Mimì tells her own story. Her real name is Lucia and she is a seamstress, embroidering flowers like the flowers of poets: she lives alone in a garret, where, after winter, she can welcome the first light of spring. She breaks off to apologise: she is just an importunate neighbour.

10 Rodolfo’s friends shout out to him from below in the courtyard and he opens the window, allowing a few rays of moonlight into the room, and shouts down that he has nearly finished his work and will join them at the café with a friend.

11 He sings in praise of Mimì’s beauty, as she stands in the moonlight: they are in love.

Act II

12 The scene is a square in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Here many streets meet and here stands the Café Momus. The square is crowded with people, soldiers, servant-girls, children, students, working girls, gendarmes and so on. There are street-vendors, hawking their wares. Rodolfo and Mimì walk together, while Colline has a patch sewn on his old coat, Schaunard bargains with a scrap-dealer for a pipe and horn, while Marcello wanders from one vendor to another. The shops are decorated with tiny lamps, while outside the Café Momus there is a huge lantern, with customers sitting at tables outside the café. We hear the sound of the crowd, the hawkers selling oranges, chestnuts and trinkets, the crowd exclaiming in appreciation and street urchins adding their own noise to the din. Schaunard tries out the horn he has bought, which he thinks out of tune; Colline examines the repair now made to his coat and Rodolfo and Mimì move towards a bonnet shop, while Marcello delights in the busy scene.

13 Mimì and Rodolfo talk together, while Marcello, Schaunard and Colline ask a waiter for a table, which is prepared for them. The voice of the hawker Parpignol is heard, while Rodolfo introduces Mimì to his friends, to their amusement.

14 Parpignol approaches pushing a barrow of toys, decorated with flowers and paper lanterns. He is followed by an enthusiastic crowd of urchins. Mothers of children attempt to drag them away, but the children resist. The friends loudly order food and wine and Parpignol moves on, followed by the children. Marcello asks Mimì what Rodolfo has bought for her and she shows him her new bonnet. The others comment on Rodolfo’s talents as a lover, but a remark by Mimì briefly revives Marcello’s bitterness. They drink a toast, but as Marcello catches sight of his beloved Musetta, followed by a fussy, over-dressed, pompous old gentleman, he calls instead for poison. The old man, Alcindoro, follows her breathlessly, like a servant, as he remarks, and Musetta takes the table next to the friends, where she makes her Lulu, as she calls him, sit down. They comment on her expensive clothes, while she tries to attract their attention, with increasing irritation. She calls the waiter, complains that the plate smells and throws it on the ground, while Alcindoro tries to calm her.

15 Marcello tells Mimì that the girl is called Musetta and that she is notoriously fickle. Alcindoro tries to keep Musetta quiet and she complains that he is boring, while still seeking to attract the attention of Marcello. A group of working girls see her with her old admirer and burst out laughing. Eventually she can restrain herself no longer and addresses Marcello directly, to the delight of his friends, although Rodolfo and Mimì remain preoccupied with one another.

16 Musetta, gazing at Marcello, now tells of her life, wandering along the street, admired by all the men. Alcindoro is horrified. Musetta continues to celebrate her conquests and the old man becomes more and more agitated. Mimì realises that Musetta is really in love with Marcello. Schaunard and Colline stand up to watch the scene and Marcello too is about to go, while Rodolfo and Mimì continue their own conversation. Suddenly Musetta calls out, pretending to feel a violent pain in her foot, and sends Alcindoro off to find a pair of boots for her instead of the tight shoes she is wearing. As soon as he goes, Musetta and Marcello fall into one another’s arms.

17 A waiter brings the bill and the friends hand it round, as a march is heard in the distance. They feel for money, but have nothing. Musetta calls for her bill, as the marching patrol draws nearer, and tells the waiter to put the two together and give it to her friend Alcindoro, who will pay. The patrol marches into the square, led by a stalwart drum-major, and as they pass on they are followed by Marcello and Colline, carrying Musetta, without her shoe, Rodolfo and Mimì, with Schaunard blowing his new hunting-horn. Alcindoro comes back, carrying a carefully wrapped pair of new shoes, to be greeted by the waiter with the bill.


18 The third act opens at the Barrière d’Enfer, by the toll-gate, with a tavern and streets leading off in either direction. The tavern sign is Marcello’s painting, The Passage of the Red Sea, with the title underneath At the Port of Marseilles. Light shines from the tavern window into a gloomy February dawn. The ground is covered in snow and the trees are grey and gaunt. There is an occasional sound of revelry from the tavern. A gang of street-sweepers approaches the toll-gate, calling for admission into the city, and one of the guards stirs himself and goes to open the gate. The men pass through and he closes the gate again. The sound of merriment comes from the tavern, singing accompanied by the clinking of glasses, followed by the voice of Musetta. A group of milk-women approaches the gate, which is opened for them, as the dawn grows lighter. They are followed by peasant-women, carrying baskets. The guards move their bench and brazier and at this moment Mimì appears. She reaches the first of the trees and bursts out into a violent fit of coughing.

19 She approaches the sergeant and asks him the name of the tavern where the painter is working. He shows her and as a serving-woman comes out of the tavern, she asks to speak to Marcello. Other people pass through the toll-gate and the matins bell of the Hospice of Ste Thérèse is heard. It is day at last, a gloomy, winter day.

20 Couples leave the tavern, followed by Marcello, who greets Mimì in surprise. He explains that he earns his money by painting and Musetta by teaching the customers to sing. Mimì is looking for Rodolfo, who loves her but has left her, out of jealousy. Marcello advises her to part from Rodolfo for good and explains how he and Musetta are united by their own good humour. He will help her finally to part from Rodolfo, who now lies asleep on a tavern bench. She breaks into a fit of coughing again, to Marcello’s alarm, and tells him how Rodolfo has left her that night, telling her everything is finished.

21 Mimì hides, as Rodolfo comes out, telling Marcello that he wants to leave Mimì, now that his love for her is dead, only to revive when he looks into her eyes. Marcello advises separation, if love brings such misery and jealousy.

22 Rodolfo complains of Mimì’s behaviour, which Marcello doubts. Rodolfo is bound to agree.

23 He goes on to declare that he really loves her, explaining about her illness and increasing weakness and approaching death. Mimì overhears all this. Rodolfo blames himself for the poor conditions in which she must live with him. She is like a rare flower, wilting in his poor room. Mimì is racked by another spasm of coughing and Rodolfo anxiously rushes towards her. Musetta’s laughter is heard from the tavern, as she flirts with the men there, and Marcello goes in.

24 Mimì bids Rodolfo farewell: she must die and now she asks him to send her the few possessions she has left in his room, the presents he has given her. He can keep the little bonnet that she has treasured as a souvenir of their love.

25 Rodolfo sadly parts from her. While they tenderly remember their love, there is the sound of breaking plates and glasses, and Marcello is heard angrily quarrelling with Musetta. The altercation between one pair of lovers accompanies the sorrowful parting of the other. Musetta’s quarrel with Marcello ends in her fury, as she shouts angrily at her lover and storms off, while he goes back into the tavern. The scene ends with the gentler parting of Rodolfo and Mimì.

CD 2

Act IV

1 The four friends are together again in the garret where they all live again. Marcello is painting and Rodolfo is sitting at the table trying to write. Rodolfo has seen Musetta riding in a carriage and finely dressed, and she has told him that she has no feeling of love: her finery is compensation enough. Marcello tries to force a laugh, but is upset. He tells Rodolfo that he has seen Mimì riding in a carriage, and dressed up like a queen. Rodolfo is equally annoyed and curses his pen, which he throws onto the floor, as Marcello throws down his brush and secretly takes out a bunch of ribbons that he kisses.

2 Rodolfo, to himself, laments the loss of Mimì, taking out the bonnet that he keeps to remember her by. Marcello too is haunted by his memory of Musetta. Schaunard comes in carrying bread and accompanied by Colline with a paper bag, from which he takes out a herring. They all sit down at the table and pretend that they are at a banquet, water serving for champagne, the salted fish for salmon and the bread for parrots’ tongues.

3 The mock banquet is to be followed by singing and dancing, as Schaunard announces, and the mock-ball begins, leading to a feigned quarrel and duel with fire-irons between the musician and the philosopher.

4 Their merriment is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Musetta, who brings with her Mimì, now seriously ill and unable to climb the stairs unaided. The men help her in and make her as comfortable as they can on a bed that they drag forward. Musetta explains to the others how she had heard that Mimì had left her protector, the old viscount, and was destitute and dying. She has just found her, exhausted and begging to be taken once again to Rodolfo so that she may die near him. Mimì is happy now and embraces Rodolfo. Musetta asks what they can give Mimì, but the friends have nothing, no wine and no coffee. Mimì complains of the cold: she has no feeling in her hands, which Rodolfo, as once before he had done, tries to warm in his own. Schaunard and Colline sit apart, sadly, while Musetta takes off her earrings and tells Marcello to go quickly and sell them, to buy medicine for Mimì and to pay for a doctor.

5 Musetta and Marcello leave the room and Colline philosophically plans to part with his coat to raise money. He and Schaunard leave the lovers together.

6 Mimì opens her eyes and asks if the others have gone: she has much to say to Rodolfo and embraces him. She asks if she is still beautiful and he tells her that she is as beautiful as dawn. Together they recall their first meeting and their love for one another, as she repeats his words to her, as he first held her hand. Schaunard returns.

7 He is followed by Musetta, who asks if Mimì is sleeping. Marcello has brought medicine and Musetta gives Mimì her muff, which she thinks is from Rodolfo. Mimì seems to sleep, while Musetta prepares the medicine with a spirit lamp on the table and murmurs a prayer. Schaunard approaches Mimì and realises that she is dead but Rodolfo is the last to see the truth, as he throws himself on Mimì’s body in his final grief.


Giacomo Puccini


La Bohème

Mimì (Licia Albanese)

Musetta (Tatiana Menotti)

Rodolfo (Beniamino Gigli)

Marcello (Afro Poli)

Colline Duilio Baronti

Schaunard (Aristide Baracchi)

Parpignol (Nello Palai)

Benoit / Alcindoro (Carlo Scattola)

La Scala Opera Chorus and Orchestra

Umberto Berrettoni

(Recorded in February, 1938)

CD 1 73:34

Act I

1 Questo Mar Rosso . . . (4:20)

(Marcello, Rodolfo, Colline)

2 Pensier profondo! (1:19)

(Colline, Marcello, Rodolfo)

3 Legna! . . . Sigari! (3:36)

(Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline, Schaunard)

4 Si può? . . . Chi è la (5:08)

(Benoit, Marcello, Schaunard, Colline, Rodolfo)

5 lo resto per terminar . . . (0:58)

(Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline, Schaunard)

6 Non sono in vena . . . Scusi (2:25)

(Rodolfo, Mimì)

7 Oh! sventata, sventata! (1:27)

(Rodolfo, Mimì)

8 Che gelida manina (4:43)


9 Si. Mi chiamano Mimì (4:25)

(Mimì, Rodolfo)

10 Ehi! Rodolfo! (0:41)

(Schaunard, Colline, Marcello, Rodolfo)

11 O soave fanciulla 3:35

(Rodolfo, Mimì)

(Matrices: 2BA 2362-64, 2370, 2381, 2382, 2366, 2384, (catalogue DB 3448-51))

Act II

12 Aranci, datteri! (2:33)

(Venditori, Schaunard, Colline, Rodolfo,

Mimì, Marcello)

13 Chi guardi? (3:19)

(Rodolfo, Colline, Mimì, Schaunard,

Marcello, Studenti, Parpignol)

14 Viva Parpignol! (2:52)

(Ragazzi, Marcello, Mimì, Schaunard,

Colline, Rodolfo)

15 Domandatelo a me (2:31)

(Marcello, Alcindoro, Musetta,

Colline, Schaunard, Sartine e Studenti,

Rodolfo, Mimì)

16 Quando me’n vo’soletta (4:22)

(Musetta, Marcello, Alcindoro, Mimì, Rodolfo, Schaunard, Colline)

17 Chi l’ha richiesto? (2:11)

(Colline, Schaunard, Rodolfo, Colline, Marcello, Musetta, La Folla etc.)

(Matrices: 2BA 2373, 2372, 2374, 2376, 2371 (catalogue DB 3452-54))


18 Ohè, là, le guardie . . . Aprite! 3:16

(Spazzini, Doganiere, Musetta, Carretieri, Lattivendole, Contadine)

19 Sa dirmi, scusi, qual’è l’osteria . . . 1:23

(Mimì, Sergente)

20 Mimì?! . . . Speravo di trovarvi qui 4:35

(Marcello, Mimì)

21 Marcello. Finalmente 1:37

(Rodolfo, Marcello, Mimì)

22 Mimì è una civetta 1:20

(Rodolfo, Marcello)

23 Mimì è tanto malata! 2:48

(Rodolfo, Marcello, Mimì)

24 Addio . . . Donde lieta uscì al tuo grido 3:13


25 Dunque è proprio finita 4:58

(Rodolfo, Mimì, Marcello, Musetta)

(Matrices: 2BA 2375, 2365, 2386, 2387, 2367, 2385 (catalogue DB 3454-57))

CD 2 58:23

Act IV

1 In un coupè? 1:23

(Marcello, Rodolfo)

2 O Mimì, tu più non torni 5:15

(Rodolfo, Marcello)

3 Gavotta 1:41

(Schaunard, Colline, Marcello, Rodolfo)

4 C’è Mimì . . . C’è Mimì 5:44

(Musetta, Rodolfo, Schaunard, Mimì, Marcello)

5 Vecchia zimarra . . . 2:10

(Colline, Schaunard)

6 Sono andati? Fingevo di dormire 6:12

(Mimì, Rodolfo, Schaunard)

7 Dorme? . . . Riposa 4:32

(Musetta, Rodolfo, Marcello, Mimì,

Schaunard, Colline)

(Matrices: 2BA 2368, 2369, 2377-8, 2383 (catalogue DB 3457-60))

Recorded by Italian HMV on 26 sides,

Matrices 2BA 2367-2387

Issued on HMV, catalogue DB 3448-60


Licia Albanese • Solo Recordings

The following tracks recorded by Italian HMV, with orchestral accompaniment conducted by Dino Olivieri

8 Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur: 3:34

Io son l’umile ancella

(Matrix 2BA 4093 (catalogue DB 5383))

9 Puccini: Manon Lescaut: 2:36

In quelle trine morbide

(Matrix OBA 4140 (catalogue DA 5391))

10 Puccini: Madama Butterfly: 4:27

Un bel dì vedremo

(Matrix 2BA 4094 (catalogue DB 5383))

11 Puccini: Turandot: Signore, ascolta! 2:34

(Matrix OBA 4095 (catalogue DA 5390))

12 Puccini: Turandot: 2:47

Tu che di gel sei cinta (Morte di Liù)

(Matrix OBA 4087 (catalogue DA 5390))

13 Domenico Scarlatti: Tuo Mi Chiami 3:43

(Matrix OBA 3544 (catalogue DA 5372))

14 Bellini: Ninna-Nanna a Liana 3:18

(Matrix OSA 712 (catalogue DN 829))

15 Giro-Tondo 2:40

(Matrix OSA 713 (catalogue DN 829))

16 Falvo: Dicitencello Vuje 3:27

(Matrix OBA 4141 (catalogue DA 5391))

17 Buzzi: Colombetta 2:20

(Matrix OBA 3543 (catalogue DA 5372))

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