Ruggero Leoncavallo (1857-1919) is, of course, best known as the composer of Pagliacci. He had the bad luck to write a pretty good opera, La Boheme, ( first performed in 1897) at about the same time as Puccini’s opera of the same title which first appeared in 1896. If Puccini’s masterpiece hadn’t been written Leoncavallo’s opera would likely hang around the frontier of the standard operatic repertoire.

His setting of Henri Murger’s novel Scènes de la vie de bohème is well crafted, tuneful, and engaging from start to finish. It’s libretto (also by Leoncavallo) is not as good as the one Puccini squeezed out of Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. It switches from comedy to bleak despair between acts 2 and 3 and seems a bit unbalanced. The two operas clearly show the difference between talent and genius. Puccini’s La Boheme has swallowed the world leaving no room for Leoncavallo’s lesser effort. Most years his opera receives not a single performance any place in the world. But it is good enough for an occasional listen.

The two tenor arias are often performed in recitals or on recordings. In Leoncavallo’s version Marcello is a tenor while Rodolfo is the baritone. Roberto Alagna (b 1963) recorded Io non ho che una povera stanzetta in 2003 when his lyric tenor was still fresh and not coarsened from singing spinto roles. The aria is from act 2.

The the third act tenor aria is performed even more frequently. Mario Lanza (1921-59)  gives a knockout reading of Testa adorata. This recording omits the postlude which ends the aria and the act. Franco Bonisolli (1938-2003) was known for both his beautiful voice and outsized ego (even allowing that he was a tenor). His reading of Testa adorata is as good as any you can find despite the gratuitous sobbing at the end. Equally good is Placido Domingo’s (b 1941) performance of the aria. This is prime Domingo at the height of his considerable powers. Testa adorata

As in Puccini’s opera Mimi dies at the opera’s end. Here’ how Leoncavallo finishes her off. The soprano is Lucia Popp (1939-93) and the baritone is Bernd Weikl (b 1942). No, morir non voglio

For a complete recording of the opera made in 1963 click the following link. The site includes a summary of the plot. Leoncavallo La Boheme. The cast is below. It’s a work good enough to warrant an occasional revival. This performance is quite good though performed by a cast of secondary singers.

Marcello – Angelo Lo Forese
Rodolfo – Guido Mazzini
Schaunard – Fernando Lidonni
Barbemousche – Giorgio Tadeo
Visconte Paolo – Osvaldo Scrigna
Colline – Osvaldo Scrigna
Gaudenzio – Walter Brunelli
il signore del primo piano – Antonio Petrini
Musette – Bianca Maria Casoni –
Mimì – Florida Assandri Norelli
Eufemia – Maja Sunara
Conductor – Pietro Argento.