The Royal Opera – La bohème [John Copley 50th-Anniversary; Carmen Giannattasio & Joseph Calleja]

La bohème – Opera in four acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica after Henry Murger’s Scènes de la vie bohème [sung in Italian with English surtitles]

Marcello – Fabio Capitanucci
Rodolfo – Joseph Calleja
Colline – Matthew Rose
Schaunard – Thomas Oliemans
Benoît – Jeremy White
Mimì – Carmen Giannattasio
Parpignol – Luke Price
Musetta – Nuccia Focile
Alcindoro – Donald Maxwell
Customs Officer – Christopher Lackner
Sergeant – Bryan Secombe

Royal Opera House Youth Opera Company
Royal Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Semyon Bychkov

John Copley – Director
Julia Trevelyan Oman – Designer
John Charlton – Lighting Designer (after William Bundy)

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 30 April, 2012
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo & Carmen Giannattasio as Mimì (La bohème, The Royal Opera, April 2012). Photograph: Mike HobanJohn Copley’s 1974 production of La bohème returns for its twenty-fifth showing in a welcome and successful revival. It is a glorious realisation of nineteenth-century Paris, and the designs of the late Julia Trevelyan Oman continue to delight – the attic of the four friends, Café Momus, Outside the Barrière d’Enfer – with each capturing the milieu with pin-point accuracy; one can also marvel at her sumptuous and appropriate designs in The Royal Ballet’s frequently-revived Enigma Variations, The Nutcracker, and A Month in the Country. The Café Momus Act in particular, with both the Café and the outside Street Scene, hustle and bustle realistically, but the genius of the staging is such that one is never distracted: everything supports what the opera demands, and such ideas never feel superfluous. Copley’s direction is utterly convincing: never in a long time has this bunch of friends felt genuinely like they are going through joys and pains, with love coming between friendship.

Fabio Capitanucci as Marcello, Carmen Giannattasio as Mimì, Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo, Matthew Rose as Colline, & Thomas Oliemans as Schaunard (La bohème, The Royal Opera, April 2012). Photograph: Mike HobanThis successful revival is matched by a cast that rose to the opera’s demands. Stepping-in to replace the indisposed Celine Byrne (who in turn replaced Anja Harteros) as Mimì for her Royal Opera debut was Carmen Giannattasio, and what a debut! Her assumption of the part was captivating and beautiful, full of the timid, in-love and vulnerable qualities required. And her voice was crystal-clear, soaring with full voice and projecting the quietest pianissimos with exquisite clarity. Her lover, Rodolfo, is Joseph Calleja; he was immensely secure, too. His bright and soaring voice was delivered effortlessly: he sounded glorious. His many duets with Giannattasio found their voices superbly matched. At the end, his anguished cries over the dead Mimì were heart-breaking.

Of the other bohemians, Marcello is the bigger part, and Fabio Capitanucci delivered the goods, the ‘quarrelling duet’ with Musetta in Act Three being particularly memorable, and suitably contrasting with Rodolfo’s reconciliation with Mimì. In Act Two, Nuccia Focile had a few difficulties at the top of her register, but she settled and was heartfelt by the close. Matthew Rose sings Colline for three performances, and he delivered his ‘Overcoat aria’ with affection, relishing making what is a quirky moment beautiful. Thomas Oliemans succeeded in making Schaunard a bigger role than it is. It was good that Benoît was not the usual bumbling fool; fun was had, but it was kept in check by Jeremy White.

Semyon Bychkov conducted an account that took joy in Puccini’s details, and many more were heard than is usual. The opening was buoyant and bright, and then mixed tragedy and tranquillity exquisitely, heralding an exciting and fresh take on the music. Come Mimì’s death, which was quietly and subtly executed by the orchestra, and then Rodolfo’s realisation of her demise, the orchestral cries packed more-than-the-usual emotional punch – chilling stuff, and it rounded off one of the most ‘complete’ performances of this opera heard here in a long time.

This staging marked John Copley’s fiftieth-anniversary of working as a director with The Royal Opera, beginning in 1962 on a revival of Robert Helpmann’s Madama Butterfly, and his first as a Director was in 1965 with Suor Angelica. Speeches were made and a cake cut!

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