The title translates to “Mimì is very sick.” It’s from Act 3 of Puccini’s La Bohème. The outline of the episode is below. Mimì is dying from tuberculosis and her lover Rodolfo is too poor to help and wants her to leave him for another man who will better care for her. The scene represents Puccini’s extraordinary ability to set ordinary conversation to the most beautiful music. It’s a rare gift possessed by the barest handful of operatic composers – all who had it were at the top of the art. Puccini’s music goes directly to the heart, capturing the core of one’s emotional center.

Rodolfo wakes up and comes out looking for Marcello. Mimì hides and overhears Rodolfo first telling Marcello that he left Mimì because of her coquettishness, but finally confessing that his jealousy is a sham: he fears she is slowly being consumed by a deadly illness (most likely tuberculosis, known by the catchall name “consumption” in the nineteenth century). Rodolfo, in his poverty, can do little to help Mimì and hopes that his pretended unkindness will inspire her to seek another, wealthier suitor. Out of kindness towards Mimì, Marcello tries to silence him, but she has already heard all. Her weeping and coughing reveal her presence, and Rodolfo hurries to her. Musetta’s laughter is heard and Marcello goes to find out what has happened.

The tenor takes the lead in this brief bit of stage business. The lovely and poignant music is rarely played outside of a staged performance, but it is so good that it deserves a separate platform. Below are seven takes on the episode that only a supreme master could conjure.

First Beniamino Gigli’s reading. The great lyric tenor had the perfect voice for this part.

Giuseppe Di Stefano had an even richer lyric tenor than Gigli and was unqiuely able to impart emotional content into his singing that still defies analysis. Di Stefano Mimì è Tanto Malata!

Jussi Björling had one of the most beautiful tenor voices of the last century. If he lacked anything it was deep emotional committment. His complete recording to the opera is one of the best yet made. Björling Mimì è Tanto Malata!

La Bohème was at the center of Luciano Pavarotti’s repertoire. Accordingly, he delivers the lines in exemplary fashion. Pavarotti Mimì è Tanto Malata!

Giuseppe Di Stefano much influenced Jose Carreras. Like the Sicilian tenor, he had a beautiful voice which didn’t last too long. Partly as the result of overly heavy use and also as the consequence of the acute luekemia he suffered, and was cured of, in the late eighties. His singing is first class as it always was in his too brief prime. Carreras Mimì è Tanto Malata!

Rolando Villazon had one of the most beautiful tenor voices of the first decade of the 21st century. For reasons still mysterious it just vanished one day. He seemed headed to being the next Placido Domingo, but alas it was not to be. Still we have his recordings from before the vocal retirement. Villazon Mimì è Tanto Malata!

Andrea Bocelli’s opera recording have not been among his most successful outtings. His problem has been faulty intonation. But in this selection he does very well. Bocelli Mimì è Tanto Malata!

Well, this bit of Puccinian genius speaks volumes about the immense talent the composer from Lucca was gifted with. We have not seen his like since his demise on Nov 29, 1924. I hope the Met and La Scala have appropriate commemorative events schedule to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the last great Italian composer of operas.