La Bohème, Royal Opera, December 2009

This production by John Copley, with designs by Susan Trevelyan Oman, suits the Royal Opera House perfectly. Its depiction of wintery cold in Paris combines well with the human warmth of the story, and our protagonists were young singers whose charm and vivacity gave a welcome freshness to this frequently performed opera.

Note: this is a review of the dress rehearsal — I understand the tenor had to back out after Act I on opening night, but here he sang the role throughout the performance.

The four bohemians contrasted well with one another, and each gave an excellent portrayal. Rodolfo the poet was strongly sung by Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, who appeared in the Metropolitan Opera live relay in February this year as an impassioned Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor. Here he was equally impassioned as Rodolfo, and with his Che gelida manina he fully opened up the emotional side of the performance. The painter Marcello was also strongly sung and delightfully performed by Italian baritone Gabriele Viviani, as were the musician Schaunard and the philosopher Colline, the one by South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo, and the other by Lithuanian bass Kostas Smoriginas, whom I last saw this summer in The Royal Opera’s Tosca as a redoubtable Angelotti. The young women were both Russian born singers, and I thought Hibla Gerzmava gave a very fine portrayal of Mimi, quietly reserved yet full of intensity in the high moments, especially in her Act I aria, as she refers to the thaw after winter, and sings il primo sole è mio. Musetta was strongly sung by Inna Dukach and I thought she came over well in the last two acts, but in Act II of this dress rehearsal she was simply a drama queen without the sexiness that attracts her escort Alcindoro, her old lover Marcello, the waiters and all the other men in the cafe.

The orchestra, under excellent direction by Andris Nelsons, gave a superb rendering of the music. This, along with the singing and wonderful staging, made the whole performance a delight. John Copley knows exactly how to match the action to both words and music, and must surely have rehearsed the singers in this fine revival. He knows the opera inside out, and in a previous revival when Mimi was missing in a rehearsal, Copley simply sang the entire role himself! With opera directors of such knowledge and talent why would anyone hire those dreadful ‘concept’ producers? Let us have productions like this that allow the singers to portray the characters in the drama, so we can concentrate on the singing and music without awkward distractions.

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