The Royal Opera – Puccini’s La bohème [Ermonela Jaho & Charles Castronovo; directed by John Copley; conducted by Cornelius Meister]

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 – Markus Werba
Rodolfo – Charles Castronovo
Colline – Jongmin Park
Schaunard – Daniel Grice
Benoît – Jeremy White
Mimì – Ermonela Jaho
Parpignol – Luke Price
Musetta – Simona Mihai
Alcindoro – Donald Maxwell
Customs Officer – Christopher Lackner
Sergeant – Bryan Secombe

Tiffin Children’s Chorus
Royal Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Cornelius Meister

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

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 9 July, 2014
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Simona Mihai as Musetta, Charles Castronovo as Rodolfo and Ermonela Jaho as Mimì in La bohème © ROH / Catherine AshmoreA double celebration marked this return of Puccini’s La bohème – in John Copley’s staging – as it marks the 40th-anniversary of this production (only the second-ever by The Royal Opera). These achievements were done justice to with a performance full of feeling and artistic integrity. Kasper Holten had it right when he spoke from stage-centre before curtain-up: when one thinks of La bohème, one thinks of this production. Everything feels right. The garret of the four young Bohemians is a lived-in space, every nook and cranny occupied; the Café Momus is set within a bustling Paris, occupied by people of all walks of life; and, in Act Three, snow falls gently whilst smoke rises from a chimney. It is a glorious realisation in these ravishing designs by the late Julia Trevelyan Oman, and is beautifully and sympathetically lit by John Charlton.

The Royal Opera has assembled a well-matched cast, both in voice and temperament. It was this equality-amongst-singers that was unusually noticeable, whether apposite contrasts or with a unison that made more than the sum of the parts. Ermonela Jaho was a humble Mimì, which she interspersed with flashes of confidence and romantic ardour, which contrasted with Simona Mihai’s Musetta so well, a Musetta with a degree of insecurity, masked by that confident and forceful personality. Her recognition of Rodolfo and Mimì’s love in Act Four made for a touching moment.

Jonhmin Park as Colline, Markus Werba as Marcello, Jeremy White as Benoît, Daniel Grice as Schaunard and Charles Castronovo as Rodolfo in La bohème © ROH / Catherine AshmoreCharles Castronovo really looks the part of the poet Rodolfo: dashing, with a hint of being a schmoozer, he nevertheless makes his desertion of Mimì not for another woman, for his is the action of a young man not knowing his future: he is vulnerable. His scenes with Jaho were spine-tingling. Impressive too were the rest of the Bohemians: Markus Werba a proud painter (Marcello) and the philosopher of Jongmin Park made a marked impression, his ‘overcoat’ aria beautifully poignant. Daniel Grice, as the musician Schaunard, gave his reposts-and-parries a good dose of fun. ROH stalwarts Donald Maxwell and Jeremy White (the foursome’s landlord Benoît) enjoyed their brief turns, and delivered the put-upon comedy with aplomb.

Making his debut at the House is Cornelius Meister. He led a powerful and emotional reading of the score, sympathetic to the singers’ needs, and at the service of Puccini: this was with-feeling, the emotions acted out on the stage being fed by the sounds from the pit. He also highlighted the tenderness of the music, with details such as the flickering candle made lucid in the music.

As usual, clapping mid-Act spoilt the end of the arias, and the second interval really needs to go. Well, maybe that is something Richard Jones will ditch when we see his vision of this masterpiece after the final revival of Copley’s. Yes, after a few years of rumour, it is now confirmed: the summer 2015 staging is to be this production’s last.

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