La bohème - Royal Opera House, 17 December 2012
When Rodolfo sounds more consumptive than Mimì, you’ve got a problem. Post-surgery, Rolando Villazón has had his ups and downs, but he was singing much better in Salzburg this summer than he could manage last night in the 999th revival of John Copley's La bohème. The notes were (mostly) there; the volume wasn’t. Despite Mark Elder’s considerate restraint, the orchestra often washed over him, and he bottled a few key phrases, not to mention their money notes. I can only hope for Rolando’s sake it was just an off night, perhaps a touch of the respiratory lurgy that seemed to afflict half the audience.
Mimì on the other hand sounded more like Lady Macbeth. Maija Kovalevska’s voice has matured from the sweet soubrette of a couple of years ago to an unwieldy powerhouse. She struggled to contain a fruity vibrato, steely top and sour intonation, conveying fragility only with a couple of game coughing fits. Rolando’s diminished resources were no match.
On the plus side this is the first time I’ve seen Covent Garden’s venerable production properly rehearsed by all of the principals, not just those who felt like it, and it has breathed new life into the old warhorse. Those fiddly stage directions, usually mechanically replicated, have been thought through and reproduced with care and intent.
Villazón and Kovalevska don’t have great chemistry, but they do express their passion with a rare and convincing physicality. Their playful first encounter seems tailor-made for Rolando’s clowning skills – bet it was his idea to hide her key in his mop of hair. Pity his exuberance didn't rub off on Mark Elder, whose low-calorie conducting, sensitive and well-judged though it was, could have done with a little more Italianate syrup.
No complaints about the rest of the cast, a solid ensemble. Stefania Dovhan was a delightfully coquettish Musetta. Audun Iversen, whether by accident or design, made Marcello less fiery than usual – but with Rolando gambolling about perhaps that was just as well. David Bizic as Schaunard and Nahuel di Pierro as Colline bounced around with puppyish energy but sang with real elegance.
production photos (above) - Bill Cooper / Royal Opera House
curtain call photos (below) - intermezzo.typepad.com
Thanks to Kyoko for this curtain call video, which includes a rare glimpse at the orchestra: