Puccini: La Bohème
Before he produced melodramatic works like Tosca and Turandot, Puccini was a verismo opera composer, focusing on the travails and passions of ordinary people. The consumptive Mimi may not seem particularly real: She's become as iconic a figure of the repertory as the slave girl Aïda or the Gypsy Carmen. But in fact, Mimi, Rodolfo, and the rest of the bohemians were immediately accepted into the operatic pantheon, because their impoverished but noble existences are so accessible. In this recording, Herbert von Karajan and his Berliners beautifully handle this most Italianate of Italian operas, and the doomed lovebirds are spectacularly sung by Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti. Recorded in 1973, this is a reminder of how Pavarotti sounded in his prime, and it's truly unbelievable; "Che gelida manina" induces shivers. And Freni (who still sounds pretty great some three decades later) is every bit his equal. Growing up together in Modena, Italy, apparently prepared the duo to become expert collaborators. La Bohème is one of the most popular of all operas, and this is among the best of its many recordings.