La boheme by Irish National OperaThis CD and digital download of La bohème (1896) is Irish National Opera’s second release on the Signum Records label; the first was a recording of Gerald Barry’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (2020). The partnership between Ireland’s national company and the specialist classical music label was only announced in September 2021 and so far it seems to be going well.

This concert performance of Puccini’s much-loved masterpiece was recorded at Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in February 2021. Set in 19th-century Paris, a poet, a painter, a musician and a philosopher are living hand to mouth in a freezing garret. The poet, Rodolfo, falls in love with girl-next-door Mimì. But young love is dashed when it becomes clear that Mimì is dying.

The recording features celebrated Irish soprano Celine Byrne as the doomed seamstress Mimì, with Lithuanian tenor Merūnas Vitulskis as her lover Rodolfo. The role of the painter Marcello is sung by Serbian baritone David Bizic, while Irish soprano Anna Devin is his erstwhile girlfriend Musetta. Northern Irish baritone Ben McAteer as Schaunard the musician and Irish bass John Molloy as Colline the philosopher round out the main cast.

The quality and clarity of this recording are exceptional – every note is pin sharp – while the singing is truly excellent. Bizic is particularly good as Marcello, his voice rounded and clear, with great diction.

Byrne’s Mimì, too, is superb. Her voice really soars in her Act I aria ‘Si. Mi chiamano Mimì’ (‘Yes. They call me Mimì’). The flute underneath her singing bounces along and provides wonderful support for the singing, as do the strings when they come in, swelling with the voice.

Devin’s impressive coloratura in Act II’s ‘Ch’io beva del tossico!’ (‘I’ll drink some poison!’) also deserves special mention.

The music is exceptionally evocative; even an old cynic like me who doesn’t believe in love at first sight couldn’t help but be moved by Rodolfo and Mimì’s first meeting. The tenderness between the two characters is clear in all their scenes together, and the final scene with Mimì’s death is genuinely moving.

This is due to the expressiveness of the two leads’ voices, as well as the adept way in which conductor Sergio Alapont handles the Irish National Opera Orchestra.

But also evident is the humour in the work – the four friends making fun of each other, Musetta taking advantage of her older lover at Café Momus and so on. The chorus scenes at the café are suitably rousing.

The CD booklet includes a full list of the cast as well as the chorus and musicians. It also has a synopsis of the opera and the libretto in both Italian and English, making it easy to follow along with the action. This is really useful for newcomers to opera who might be worried about missing out on what’s going on, especially for those English speakers who don’t know any Italian.

Finally, there are cast biographies and a short history of Irish National Opera.

It’s safe to say that La bohème is one of the world’s most popular operas, audiences around the globe love it. This is very much a traditional production that sticks to the original story – a no-frills approach that works beautifully and will surely appeal to those global listeners.

More info

Tech spec
• Price: from £12
• Format: two-CD set, digital stream, download
• Total run time: 107 minutes, 3 seconds
• Tracks: 33 (16 on CD 1, 17 on CD 2)
• Stream and download: available here
• Release date: 25 March 2022
• More information and to order the CD: from Signum Records

A moving, beautifully performed traditional rendition of this well-known opera.