Various Artists

La Bohème: The Dream Cast [Highlights]

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La bohème has always batted cleanup in the repertory, and never more so than at the beginning of the twenty-first century: crossover star Andrea Bocelli chose it for his first complete opera recording and director Baz Luhrmann tapped it for a much-hyped run on Broadway. Perhaps in the same can't-miss spirit, Decca released its La bohème: The Dream Cast. It resembles other highlight discs in format -- chronologically touching on the opera's most famous moments -- but it is assembled from seven different recordings from Decca's catalog. Kiri Te Kanawa, Angela Gheorghiu, Renata Tebaldi, and Mirella Freni all appear in the leading role of Mimi opposite the Rodolfos of Carlo Bergonzi, Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras, Roberto Alagna, and Bocelli. A more interesting variety would be hard to find, and each track is a gem in its own way, but the overall result asks more questions than it answers. The biggest of those is: since listeners are bound to like some contributing casts better than others, why not simply buy a complete recording or highlights featuring the one they like best? Those looking to get to know La bohème may find the discontinuity of voices, musical approaches, and recording environments disconcerting, making this supremely approachable opera seem less so at first hearing. And fans of the individual singers may find it strange that big names like Bergonzi and Pavarotti are relegated to ensembles while Bocelli claims "Che gelida manina," one of the greatest tenor arias of all time. Anyone paying close attention will find Plácido Domingo's prominent billing on the cover puzzling because he isn't on the CD. In the end, La bohème: The Dream Cast is an interesting experiment in presentation and full of high-quality singing. But those looking for a coherent representation of Puccini's masterpiece may want to look elsewhere.

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