La Bohème with Calleja and Giannattasio, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2012Posted on 1 May 2012
This production by John Copley, first staged in 1974, has been revived twenty-four times so far — not surprising since it just gets everything right. So indeed did Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo, bringing real depth and lyricism to the role.
From the very start Calleja exhibited a catching youthful energy, and after taking Mimi’s cold hand in his and launching into Che gelida manina he hit a wonderful high point when he sings of her pretty eyes as two thieves stealing his jewels (Talor dal mio forzieri …). Suddenly this is no longer some bohemian inhabitant of Paris but Rodolfo the poet, a thaumaturge of romantic invention whose soft notes floated like birds on the wing.
In Acts I and II, Calleja sang everyone else off the stage, but following the first interval, Carmen Giannattasio as Mimi warmed up after a nervous start. She was making her debut in the role at Covent Garden, and finally hit the mark in her Act III duet with Marcello when she seeks him out at the inn. By Act IV she had become a fine match for Calleja, and in her curtain call she bent down to kiss the stage.
The other bohemians all did well, with Fabio Capitanucci engaging as Marcello the painter, Thomas Oliemans attractive as Schaunard the musician, and Matthew Rose singing a fine bass as Colline the philosopher, who sells his coat to help poor consumptive Mimi. Nuccia Focile sang Musetta with rather heavy vibrato, and her stage presence failed to match the sparkle needed for her big role in Act II. Conducting by Semyon Bychkov was restrained at the start, but things warmed up musically later, and I loved the drawn-out silence just before Mimi dies in Act IV.
That final act pitches merriment against tragedy as the four bohemians clown around before Musetta and Mimi arrive, and when Matthew Rose used a bat to hit the bread rolls for six, the audience applauded spontaneously. All great fun, but when Colline goes off to sell his coat, and Rodolfo and Mimi are left alone, Calleja and Giannattasio sang beautifully together, recalling the time they first met. When Colline returns, and Rodolfo suddenly realises something is amiss, Calleja’s distraught cries brought the house down. This is a Rodolfo not to be missed.
Finally after the curtain calls, Tony Hall came on stage with a fiftieth birthday cake for the director John Copley, celebrating a half century of brilliant work with the Royal Opera.
Performances with this cast continue until May 17 when it will be shown live on Big Screens throughout the country — for performance details click here.