I’ll put it out there: I love Puccini’s La Bohème and I would argue that one of the most poignant moments in all of opera occurs during Mimi’s Act I aria Si, mi chiamano Mimi.

Mimi, a poor seamstress with a heart of gold (but a rapidly deteriorating lung condition) introduces herself to her neighbour Rodolpho, a young poet who heats his draughty Parisian garret with pieces of furniture and old manuscripts. (An ardent lover, but not exactly husband material.) It’s a quaint scene of love at first sight, the fin-de-siècle version of speed dating.

Halfway through this aria, in which Mimi begins by explaining the mundane facts of her simple life, there’s a pause that suddenly transforms her exposition into an epic outpouring of yearning:

“Ma quando vien lo sgelo / But when the thaw comes
il primo sole è mio / the first sun is mine
il primo bacio dell'aprile è mio! / the first kiss of April is mine!”

In an instant, Mimi reveals that the quest for happiness, however fleeting, is never far beneath the surface of our lives. When staged properly, with an accomplished singing actress, this moment overwhelms.

All of us, like Mimi, eagerly await the first kiss of April and everything it represents, so let’s take a moment to appreciate this aria performed by five distinguished sopranos of the modern era. In each case, I have indicated the start time of the passage described above.

Which version strikes you as the most successful? You can vote in the survey below.

1. Angela Gheorghiu, Metropolitan Opera, 2008 (2:45)

2. Renata Scotto, Metropolitan Opera, 1977 (3:00)

3. Ileana Cotrubas, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1982 (2:36)

4. Mirella Freni, Hamburg Opera, 1971 (2:50)

5. Cristina Gallardo-Domâs, La Scala, 2003 (2:52)

Vote in our survey to let us know which interpretation you prefer. And use the comments below to tell us about your favourite Mimi.


posted by Robert Rowat on Mar 30, 2012