Review of Alan Rich in the New York Herald Tribune
Ecstatic reports from overseas about the qualities of Mirella Freni and Gianni Raimondi can now be enthusiastically endorsed. The two singers made their Metropolitan Opera debuts Wednesday night as the lovers in the season’s first performance of “La Boheme,” and treated a capacity and warm-hearted audience to a ravishing display of the lyric art at just about its purest.
To be perfectly fair, we will take them in alphabetical order. Miss Freni is-well, “irresistible”-will do for a start. Beautiful to look at, and actress of simple naturalness and overwhelming intelligence, she used voice and gesture to create a Mimi of ravishing femininity and grace.
The voice itself is pure and fresh, operating without seam from bottom to top, marvelously colored at every point by what seems to be an instinctive response to the urging of the text.
There was talk during intermission of a “young Albanese,” a young this and a young that. Forget it; the important thing is that she is a young Mirella Freni, a standard unto herself and an artist of the highest qualities.
Mr. Raimondi, somewhat stocky of build and solid of countenance is not quite the investiture that Miss Freni is. As Italian tenors go, however, he is a pillar of grace. Once in a while he forgot who he was singing to and addressed himself directly to the Family Circle, but that may be nervousness about the size of the Met. He can rest easy, because he came though loud and clear-and better yet-also soft and clear.
His voice is a splendid instrument and he has it under fine control. It whitens ever so slightly toward the top, but not enough to cause any alarm. What matters is that here, for the first time in a while, is a young Italian with a real feeling for a lyric line and a superior fund of good vocal manners. He sang Rudolfo’s first-act aria in the original key of C, by the way, which is a rarity, and at the end he sang a lovely, open-throated pianissimo the likes of which one doesn’t get very often on 39th Street or anywhere else.
Both singers are veterans of the recent Karajan-Zeffirelli production of “Boheme” at La Scala (and are in the movie of the same which opens October 20). This meant something special in the way of ensemble; their interaction was full of delightful little touches. It isn’t often that you see such dramatic consistency in one of the Met’s middle-aged operas.
A strong supporting cast provided the usual number of good deeds, under Fausto Cleva’s knowing direction. Despite its age, the “Boheme” remains one of the Met’s brighter assets. This time around, its glint was positively blinding.
Post-deadline not very dry-eyed report: The last act eclipsed in musicanship anything, all that had gone on before. Miss Freni spun out a small silvery thread of tone at the end until you felt, rather than heard, the intensity of it all. Mr. Raimondi remained marvelously musical, resisting all temptation at the end to gulp or gargle. The audience all but tore the house down and may be at it still.
Birthday anniversaries of conductor/composers Leopoldo Mugnone (1858) and Georg Vollerthun (1876) conductors Franco Capuana (1894), and Martin Turnovsky (1928), tenor Josef Traxel (1916) and singer and actress Madeline Kahn (1942)
Happy 94th birthday tenor Harry Theyard
Happy 93rd birthday conductor Richard Bonynge
Happy 78th birthday soprano Lella Cuberli
Happy 73rd birthday countertenor Andrew Dalton