Classic Opera: Tebaldi and Bjorling Sing La Boheme
Someone once said that we’re all embarrassed by Puccini operas, but that many of us would also have to admit that Puccini’s operas are what turned us into opera lovers in the first place.
Embarrassed? It’s those long, lush, romantic melodies that make us feel like lovesick teenagers. It’s the faux boheminaism, the faux orientalism, or even, in the case of La Fanciulla del West, the faux Americanism that gives Puccini’s opulent sound world a dime store tint. We might say that Puccini’s operas as objets d’art are a bit twee, that heartbreaking sentimentalism like that which makes La Bohème a three-Kleenex opera isn’t what art-loving sophisticates shell out for.
The thing is, art-loving sophisticates do shell out to see La Bohème and for the pleasure of falling in love as Mimì and Rodolfo fall in love and of weeping bitterly as Mimì’s consumption drains the very song right out of her.
Why? Well, those long, lush, romantic melodies are nice to listen to, for one thing. But it’s also because we like to live vicariously through characters who, safe and sound behind their proscenium, are free to wear their hearts on their sleeves in ways that we are not. In short, we long not just to see and hear Puccini’s characters, we long to be them.
In that vein, I hope you’ll enjoy this video of a 1956 performance of “O soave fanciulla” from the Act I love scene from La Bohème, featuring the incomparable Renata Tebaldi as a blushing Mimì and the famed Jussi Björling as the love-struck Rodolfo.
And don’t worry. Your secret’s safe with me.