La bohème – opera in four acts to a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica after Henry Murger’s “Scènes de la vie bohème”
Marcello – Franco Vassallo
Rodolfo – Roberto Aronica
Colline – Matthew Rose
Schaunard – Roderick Williams
Benoit – Jeremy White
Mimì – Cristina Gallardo-Domas
Parpignol – Alan Duffield
Musetta – Nicole Cabell
Alcindoro – Donald Maxwell
Sergeant – Bryan Secombe
Customs Officer – Jonathan Coad
The Royal Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
John Copley – Director
Julia Trevelyan Oman – Designer
John Charlton – Lighting Designer (after William Bundy)
Reviewed by: Michael Darvell
Reviewed: 13 July, 2008
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
This, the 562nd performance of Puccini’s “La bohème” at the Royal Opera House, will probably go down in theatrical history, if only because it may have been the first time that Rodolfo, as well as Mimi, seemed to be on his last legs. Roberto Aronica had injured his knee and, although he was apparently in great pain, he carried on regardless and gave a very good account of the lovelorn poet starving along with his other cultural chums in Bohemian Paris. He engaged the audience from the start and it was with him all the way, although it wasn’t only because he was moving carefully and using a walking stick that his curtain-call had the rafters ringing with applause.
In fact with Mimi on the verge of death and Rodolfo limping, it added another frisson of emotion to the scenes where they are together. You begin to feel even sadder about the plight of these two doomed lovers. Maybe this is what went straight to the hearts of this Sunday-afternoon audience. Individually they are very good singers and they also act their roles with great conviction. The Act One highlights – ‘Che gelida manina’ and ‘Mi chiamano Mimi’ – were performed with real urgency and subdued passion. Aronica has a gutsy way of singing that gets right to the heart of the music’s emotional appeal. Cristina Gallardo-Domas has an exceptional range and a strong but beautiful tone.
Casting from strength this immensely appealing production notches up very good performances all round: Franco Vassallo’s earnest account of Marcello, Matthew Rose’s dour Colline and Roderick Williams’s larking-around Schaunard all interacted very well, and they seemed like real friends. Nicole Cabell’s Musetta was something of a star turn, managing the change from farce to tragedy with ease.
The Orchestra under Christian Badea played Puccini’s delectable score with great feeling and exuberance.
John Copley will later this year celebrate 60 years working at the Royal Opera House. His production of “La bohème” dates from 1974 and shows no sign of serious ageing. The Café Momus scene is a model of how to handle a busy stage – people rushing on and off everywhere and things happening on different levels. There are extra chorus and actors playing shopkeepers and barrow boys, citizens and soldiers, waiters, and boys and girls – all acting quite naturalistically and yet Copley manages to keep the plot going without a hitch. It’s a brilliant piece of stagecraft undoubtedly enhanced by the late Julia Trevelyan Oman’s gorgeous sets that are as detailed in themselves as is Copley’s production – no detail is overlooked.
It seems to run like clockwork. It will be a sad day if this production ever leaves The Royal Opera – it is virtually impossible to recreate perfection such as this on such a grand scale.
- Further performances on 15 & 17 July at 7.30 p.m. and a Family Performance (“not available for booking”) on 19 July at 12.30
- Box office: 020 7304 4000
- Royal Opera