Pleasant surprises at Bohème

After getting the first day back to work out of the way, it was off to Bohème at Covent Garden.  I can’t say I was brimming over with enthusiasm, but actually I came away pleasantly surprised.  In fact, it was one of the better outings for this old warhorse that I’ve seen at Covent Garden.

When it comes to the production, others can sum it up far better than I can.  At its heart, it feels ‘workaday’.  It doesn’t intrude upon the story, but neither does it effectively illuminate or amplify it, unless, in these particularly wintry times, a light snow shower can spark some pathos in you.  Given the frankly comedic murmurs of appreciation from around the audience, there are more of them out there than you think.  To be honest, I’ve seen it far too often and now find it, quite simply, boring.

Paul Wynne Griffiths had taken over from Andris Nelsons and the comments made elsewhere about Nelsons’  conducting applied similarly.  I thought it was a sparky, dramatic reading which put back some of the life that the production sucked out of the piece.

Hibla Gerzmava was strong of both voice and histrionics as Mimì; it wasn’t the most subtle portrayal, but then this isn’t the most subtle opera, and so I thought it worked effectively.  I particularly liked her in the snow of Act 3, where I thought her full-on presentation suited the woman who had trudged through all of that snow to get to the Barrière d’Enfer, consumptive or not.  She was effective in her death scene, and in fact the whole ensemble really came together to pull that off, and to maximise its impact.   In fact, so effective were they that the scene managed to withstand my momentary (silent) fit of mirth prompted by the arrival of the muff that, with Intermezzo’s so helpful observation, prompted unkind thoughts of the poor Act 2 dog…

I was less taken by Piotr Beczala’s Rodolfo.  I gather he had to pull out earlier in the run, so I wonder if everything was totally peachy, but he sounded less-than-fulsome, particularly higher up, and the floated notes off-stage that end Act 1 sounded quite a struggle, not helped by Gerzmava’s hefty sound meaning that you couldn’t but picture two people standing at the other end of a long corridor shouting…  Of the others, none were less than effective without any of them really standing out (is that in fact a positive thing, one asks, given the ensemble character of their scenes?)

So, the next time La Bohème is scheduled it would be nice to see a new production.  I doubt that this is at all likely:  with John Copley returning to direct it himself (whilst taking time out to appear on Desert Island Discs), any intention of scrapping the production would doubtless have been accompanied by the sort of hoo-ha that surrounded the end of the old Tosca production:  “last chance to see…”, etc.  No, I fear we’re stuck with this for a while and any desire for a more challenging, engaging, sparky Bohème – not to mention one that doesn’t need a whole hour of intervals and pauses for set changes – will have to be satisfied elsewhere.  At least it’s not quite as bad as that Rosenkavalier…

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