The audience at this 1988 San Francisco Opera production of La Bohème clearly thought very highly of it. There is even some applause for the scenery. I’m less impressed. Seen as a star vehicle for Pavarotti and Freni it’s quite adequate, though both are decidedly on the mature side for Rodolfo or Mimi. Other than that it’s rather dull, the video direction doesn’t help it any and the technical quality is no more than adequate.
The production and direction is by Francesca Zambello and it is as straightforward and conventional in design as it could possibly be. The Christmas scene looks like something out of a very old BBC production of A Christmas Carol. If there was any direction of the actors beyond basic blocking it’s not evident. As it happens Freni acts very well as does Gino Quilico as Marcello. Sandra Pacetti, on the other hand, gives us a very crudely cartoonish Musetta who simply isn’t sexy. To be fair she’s much better in the final scene than in her appearance at Momus’. There is some really good singing as might be expected. Quilico is pretty much in the same league as the big stars though once again Pacetti is a bit disappointing with some swooping and general insecurity. The conducting, by Tiziano Severini, seems a bit anonymous but part of this may be because the sound is balanced to place the orchestra very much in the background.
The video direction is a typical Brian Large effort. It’s mostly a straightforward sequence of more or less close ups including his habit of closing in on a character who is not singing which I find odd. He gets a bit fancier in the final scene with fades and so on. The overall effect is to make a rather cluttered production look even more cluttered. The 4:3 picture is TV quality and there are hard coded English subtitles. The sound is Dolby 2.0 and it’s adequate though, as pointed out above, the balance is far from realistic. There are no extras and documentation is rudimentary.
Even with the technical weaknesses I imagine fans of traditional productions will like this disk. For myself, I was tempted to just shut my eyes and listen to the fabulous singing.