This most popular opera never lacks for new recordings. These two were preceded a half-year ago by one conducted by Bertand De Billy that is currently nominated for a Grammy, but they neednt take much of a back seat. This melodious work brings out the best in everyone. Both conductors here utilize young casts of up-and-coming singers, and without erasing memories of Mirellla Freni and Luciano Pavarotti, they are all quite good. As often happens with this piece, the Musettas on both sets (Georgia Jarman on Telarc, Laura Giordano on Opus Arte) come close to stealing the show for their vocalizing in act II. Conductors make a difference. Roger Spano leads a competent, fitfully inspired reading, while Jesus López-Cobos seems to have the music in his blood and never misses a lyrical moment or a dramatic statement. Both orchestras play with splendid tone and admirable precision.
Of course, the Opus Arte release has picture as well as sound to display a magnificent production that is made intimate at appropriate times by a careful choice of camera shots. The interesting thing is this: Both recordings are reproduced in advanced audio formats (Telarc, multichannel SACD; Opus Arte, multichannel PCM), and though the recording perspectives are different (Opus Arte favors the singers more) each is worthy audio competition for the other. Provided you can put up with the stage noise, you can listen to the Opus Arte without picture and have a satisfying audio experience. The Telarc is also a live performance and includes multichannel applause at the end of each act, where it makes less sense than it does on the Opus Arte video presentation.
The two-disc Telarc release comes in a big jewel case with full libretto. The Opus Arte version has subtitles in quite a few languages, including English, so it needs no libretto and is contained on a single disc, showing off Blu-rays higher storage capacity. It is filled out with some attractive extras, including cast interviews, an opera synopsis, and a cast gallery. In addition to a libretto, the Telarc release offers a short printed essay, a synopsis, and cast biographies and photos.
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