La bohème - Royal Opera House, 30 April 2012
Which performer in Covent Garden’s La bohème not only gets carried on and off stage, but even has a stand-in for rehearsals?
No, Angela’s not here yet. I’m talking about the adorable Puffin, who plays Musetta’s fluffy white Pomeranian.
While rehearsing, Puffin’s place is taken by an equally fluffy white teddy bear. Together with a vast cake, the bear was presented to La bohème’s director John Copley last night after the show to mark his 50th year with the Royal Opera House.
Copley affected surprise (quite possibly genuine) as Tonys Hall and Pappano joined him on stage after the curtain call. As ever, he had a witty and apposite anecdote polished and waiting. The audience, which included Prince Charles, gasped as he recounted how San Francisco Opera had once celebrated his birthday with a surprise party that included a royal throne and a stripper – “male”, he pointed out.
This 25th-ish revival of his 1974 production seemed to have had more rigorous rehearsal than usual. Joseph Calleja sang as astoundingly as ever, but for the first time his acting completely matched up. His passionate, impulsive Rodolfo was touching and utterly credible.
The depth of psychological nuance extended to the rest of the cast as well. Carmen Giannattasio has the perfect looks for the sweetly vulnerable Mimi and probably the right voice as well, but on this occasion some scratchy singing didn’t resolve until the finishing stretch. Later and less nerve-ridden performances may be better. Nuccia Focile was a nicely saucy if rather mature Musetta. Fabio Capitanucci (Marcello), Thomas Oliemans (Schaunard) and Matthew Rose (Colline) made a likeable and stylishly-sung trio of Bohemians, though their 'improvised' cricket match with a toasting iron and bread chunks was a little bit too show-stealing.
The production’s irritating disregard for the libretto remains intact. Rodolfo asks his friends why they’re looking at him like that when they’ve all turned their backs, he offers Mimi his arm when he’s six feet away with no intention of giving it, and for the sake of elegant blocking he only warms one of her tiny hands, which is distinctly uncharitable in the circumstances. Still, if you can ignore the specifics of the words, there’s an undoubted emotional power in their delivery.
In the pit, Semyon Bychkov combined a sumptuous sound with a measured pace and a very Russian pessimism. Hope was absent; tragedy inevitable from the start. He turned the volume up a notch too high initially, and lost contact with the ensemble singers towards the end of the second act, but there’s no doubt the orchestra play very well for him. I have to admit I prefer the vitality and dramatic flair of the production's previous outing, under Andris Nelsons, though.
production photos (above) Bill Cooper/Royal Opera House
curtain call photos (below) intermezzo.typepad.com
Thanks to Kyoko for this video: