La Boheme

Bye bye Bohème

Rooftops of Paris [(c) Mark Tyson]

Rooftops of Paris [(c) Mark Tyson]

So, it begins: the last run of Covent Garden’s production of La Bohème by John Copley, originally premiered during the period of electricity cuts and the 3-day week in 1974 – in fact, on the eve of Edward Heath asking for a dissolution of Parliament for the February 1974 General Election. In contrast 2015’s final revival saw ample full-on star-wattage blazing, albeit distractingly at times, from the two lead performers. In the meantime, the production showed its steadfast muted colours by carrying the the story with convincing straightforwardness. Nice though it was to see it a last time, I confess myself ready for something with rather more insight.

Given my lack of success in seeing her on the Covent Garden stage in the past, it was pleasing to note that Anna Netrebko was indeed present – and then some. As the evening progressed the celebrity sheen was slowly dimmed in favour of her genuine acting talents. Vocally as well, she seemed to ‘free up’ as the performance went on, after a first act in which her vocal voluptuousness threatened to tip over into an excessively mezzo-ish tone with stodgy consonants. Nonetheless, she won me back over as she stood behind the tumbril in act 3 and reacted most movingly to Rodolfo’s changing explanations of why he had left her. At the close, she anchored the death scene with her stillness, matching her vocal beauty to the failing health of the character. (more…)

2013/14 – and 20 years – out on a high…

A busy 13 July 2014: Ariadne Boheme programmes

A busy 13 July 2014

A flurry of activity, and a trip to Switzerland, meant I never had a moment to capture thoughts on the two final performances of 2013/14 ROH season: both on the same day, La Bohème and Ariadne auf Naxos. Both were splendid.

We hadn’t gone for the supposedly ‘starrier’ cast, with Gheorghiu reprising her Mimì and Vittorio Grigolo playing Rodolfo, largely because I’ve become rather apathetic towards Gheorghiu, her cancellations and her increasingly staid artistry, especially after a most disappointing La Rondine a couple of years back. Instead, we went for the pairing of Ermonela Jaho and Charles Castronovo, both on fine form and taking part in a revival of John Copley’s production that was revived with a very welcome attention to the details. It’s ironic that the revival that comes immediately before its final outing next year should appear so fresh.  Jaho captured Mimì’s vulnerability wonderfully; Castronovo was in fulsome voice; Cornelius Meister made a great impression, with a reading of warmth and drama. The ensemble came together finely for the comic shenanigans, Markus Werba in particular a fine Marcello and the Musetta of Simona Mihai being more successful than many an exponent of the role, making Quando m’en vo more than a minor diversion. A wonderful afternoon. (more…)

The Alagna-Gheorghiu Bohème: let’s just call it an ‘event’

At the General Rehearsal for Les Troyens on Friday (which, by the way, is shaping up to be a fine night), I noted that it was an ‘event’ rather than a performance as such: that way, one can bring some stoicism to bear on the clicking photographers and the talking of the Director in Grand Tier. I have decided that I should apply the same to this performance of La Bohème; to do so mellows how I think of it. Judged as a straightforward performance it would be found significantly wanting, but it was most definitely an ‘event’.

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Bohème 2012

As old as me, John Copley’s production of La Bohème creaked its way onto the Covent Garden stage for another outing. There’s no denying it’s extraordinarily effective, even if the more jaded amongst us might wish for the refreshing tonic of a new production. Then again, bearing in mind the ROH’s choice for a Rusalka production, it’s probably best we stick with this for the foreseeable. (more…)

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…