Monday, 18 September 2017

Leaving you an emotional wreck: La Boheme at Covent Garden

La bohème, The Royal Opera - Simona Mihai, Michael Fabbiano, Nicole Car, Marius Kwiecien, Florian Sempey - © ROH 2017. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.
La bohème, The Royal Opera - Simona Mihai, Michael Fabbiano, Nicole Car, Marius Kwiecien, Florian Sempey © ROH 2017. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.   
Puccini La Boheme; Michael Fabiano, Nicole Car, Mariusz Kwiecien, Simona Mihai, Luca Tittoto, Florian Sempey, dir: Richard Jones, cond: Antonio Pappano; Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Sep 16 2017 Star rating: 5.0
A beautiful, collaborative work; Richard Jones new production of La Boheme,

La bohème, The Royal Opera - © ROH 2017. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.
La bohème, The Royal Opera
© ROH 2017. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.   
You can understand the temptation to keep reviving John Copley’s cherished and long-lasting production of La Boheme at Covent Garden but everything has it’s day and at some point you have to bite the bullet. Even opera luddites who might have assumed that the artistic trajectory would inevitably turn downwards would have been relieved at the outcome this Saturday, 16 September 2017 when the Royal Opera performed Richard Jones' new production of Puccini's La Boheme. Antonio Pappano conducted, with Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo, Nicole Car as Mimi, Mariusz Kwiecien as Marcello, Simona Mihai as Musetta, Luca Tittoto as Colline, and Florian Sempey as Schaunard.

Visually this is a steady as she goes production, the sets a little less romanticized than Julia Trevelyan Oman’s. No artists’ studio for our young Bohemians, the garret is claustrophobic and shorn of all but the basics for survival. A few fewer rafters might have been preferable as it can become irksome, from upstairs, to see so many de-capitated singers and the youthful horseplay in act 1 seemed a tad choreographed given that there’s little enough room to swing a cat. Act two in contrast is expansive and lavish with shopping arcade trucks gliding into place and a very grand Café Momus.
La bohème, The Royal Opera - Nicole Car, Mariusz Kwiecien - © ROH 2017. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.
Nicole Car, Mariusz Kwiecien
© ROH 2017. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.   
Richard Jones has crafted a beautiful collaborative work. He clearly thinks that the work should speak for itself and furnishes us with a conversational naturalism and emotional clarity that I haven’t experienced from other Bohemes. The concurrent duets in act 3 that can sometimes sound emotionally flaccid were particularly poignant and illuminating.

I may have heard more beautiful vocal performances in the past but that’s not the point here. There’s no need for showboating. The cast is committed and vocally articulate, their performances full of youthful energy and a lust for life that hides their characters emotional naivety and vulnerability. All the characters are good and bad, although I did wonder whether getting Rodolfo to poke a collapsed Mimi with his foot was pushing it a little, even if it does get a laugh. There’s a sense that these bright young things feel invulnerable – free to dream their dreams.

Pappano obviously relishes this music. The orchestral sound was luxuriant, moving seamlessly from the intimate to the expansive and breathing in harmony with the singers. It was at times restrained and unsentimental, but the emotional intensity was raised imperceptibly until like a wave it broke over the icy horn chord that heralds Mimi’s death. My diaphragm spasmed and I stifled an audible sob.

La bohème, The Royal Opera - © ROH 2017. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.
La bohème, The Royal Opera - © ROH 2017. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.   
This production is far more than the sum of it’s parts. I can only hope that these qualities are nurtured in the coming years and that future casts are given the rehearsal time to maintain it’s emotional clout. It’s as finely wrought an ensemble piece as I’ve seen in years.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

Puccini - La boheme
Saturday 16 September 2017, Royal Opera House

Rodolfo : Michael Fabiano
Mimi : Nicole Car
Marcello : Mariusz Kwiecien
Musetta : Simona Mihai
Colline : Luca Tittoto
Schaunard : Florian Sempey
Benoit : Jeremy White
Alcindoro : Wyn Pencarreg
Parpignol : Andrew Macnair
Customs Officer : John Morrissey
Sergeant : Thomas Barnard

Conductor : Antonio Pappano
Director : Richard Jones
Designer : Stewart Laing

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