The Charm of La Boheme – Kiepura, Eggerth

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(Zauber der Bohème)

Eggerth, Kiepura. (1936). In German, with non-optional English subtitles. 97m. B&W. PCM audio.

“A tender, sorrowful, musically enchanting film….it has strength of its own and the gift of weaving Puccini, singers, cast and sub-plot into a sadsweet romance which must be called one of the most impressive of our cinema operas. It cloaks its transitions so cleverly that one cannot say where Puccini’s fancy leaves off and the film’s fact begins, or whether it owes more of its drama to the composer than it does to the script writer.Although the score is the thing, with its superb presentation by Miss Eggerth and Mr. Kiepura, the film has other virtues—a handsome production, sensitive direction, the amusing supporting performances by Paul Kemp, Oskar Sima and Theo Lingen.”—Frank S. Nugent, The New York Times, March 19, 1938

Eileen Rose Smith, reviewing in New Classics

“Giacomo Puccini’s four-act opera La bohème is one of the composer’s best known works as well as one of the most performed operas in the standard repertoire – second only to Madama Butterfly, also by Puccini. With a libretto based on Scènes de la vie de Bohème by Henri Murger, the opera premièred in Turin on 1896 at the Teatro Regio (now the Teatro Regio Torino), conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. The Charm of La Bohème (originally known as Zauber der Bohème) is a 1936 film musical inspired by Puccini’s masterpiece and featuring some of its music as well as specially composed music by Robert Stolz. The film stars handsome Polish tenor Jan Kiepura and the beautiful Marta Eggerth, two gifted opera singers who would soon become husband and wife. They play Rene and Denise, aspiring singers who hope to land a role in a Paris Opéra production of La Bohème. Denise wins the leading role of Mimi but tragedy ensues when she discovers that, like her character, she has contracted a fatal disease. Excellently sung, touchingly acted and sensitively directed (by Geza von Bolvary), The Charm of La Bohème cleverly combines Puccini’s much loved opera with contemporary drama. An enchanting experience–highly recommended.”

Tully Potter, reviewing in International Opera Collector

“From 1936 comes The Charm of La Bohème, with a husband and wife team, Jan Kiepura and Martha Eggerth (though they were not to marry until the following year). The credit ‘additional music by Robert Stolz’ gave me some amusement; and sure enough, when Kiepura is supposed to be coaching Eggerth in Bohème, they sing a Stolz song. When Kiepura does an audition for the Paris Opéra, he sings the Tarantella sincera! Never mind. Both stars are excellent actors and fine singers who have not just the operatic style but the more yielding operetta style at their command; and this piece of hokum, in which real life shadows the story of Puccini’s opera, is beautifully directed by Geza von Bolvary.”

Alan Blyth, reviewing in Gramophone

“In the 1930s and early 1940s, film was used regularly by famous singers as a vehicle for their art. The films are representative of a trend then typical of film makers, a gift for zany, nonchalant humour that has been almost entirely lost. Both the films featuring the glamorous Polish tenor Jan Kiepura have episodes derived partly from the Marx Brothers, partly from the tradition created by the great René Clair in France. That element contrasts startlingly with the naïve sentimentality of the love interest where the tenor hero always falls for a poor, ingenuous girl. The Charm of La Bohème is a fine example of the genre, the real-life story of a consumptive girl infatuated with a tenor being woven into a stage performance of Puccini’s opera. Kiepura’s Roswaenge-like enthusiasm and top notes are unerringly exploited, as they are again in My Song for You. In The Charm of La Bohème he’s teamed up with the lovely soprano Martha Eggerth whom he married the following year: she acts as beguilingly as she sings.”

Michael Tanner, reviewing in Classic CD

“In The Charm of La Bohème Kiepura is joined by his wife, the superb operetta star Marta Eggerth. Puccini’s music is used, or plundered, and combined with specially composed music by Robert Stolz to produce an irresistible period piece.” Rated 4 stars out of a possible 5

Kiepura and Eggerth act and sing extraordinarily well together (they married in 1937 and remained happily together until his death in 1966). Eggerth was a beautiful woman (she still is) with a lovely pure lyric soprano. Kiepura has a charming, outgoing personality and his singing is oomphy. He has amazing control over his voice, particularly at the top, where he sings beautiful and impressive pianissimi. At full voice he can be thrilling. He is a good actor, extraordinarily handsome as operatic tenors go and actually funny at times. Fine as his acting is, however, it pales in comparison to Eggerth’s. She seems to me to have an acting talent equal to her vocal one, and she is intensely moving in her best scenes.— Joe Pearce

The Charm of La Bohème lies more than just in the glowing charm of Marta Eggerth and Jan Kiepura, and Eggerth is revealed as a fine dramatic actress. An authentic tearjerker.—Bert Wechsler

“The Charm of La Bohème is notable for the charm of Jan Kiepura. The film itself is wonderful nonsense. The quality of the film transfer is superb, as we’ve come to expect from Bel Canto Society.”—Steve Cohen, The Delaware Jewish Voice and The Philadelphia Jewish Times

For a review of this title by the Wall Street Journal, click the Reviews tab.