Magazine article The Spectator

Golden Olden

Magazine article The Spectator

Golden Olden

Article excerpt

La boheme

Royal Opera House

Thanks to the cautiousness of the major opera companies over the festive season, I saw Puccini's La boheme twice in five days, with another couple of productions to go. The most fascinating aspect, for me, of seeing the Royal Opera's 577th performance of this masterpiece, in John Copley's production from 1974, was to compare it with the shoestring production which I saw at The Cock Tavern in Kilburn on New Year's Eve. Many dimensions of comparison suggest themselves, the most obvious being that of cost. Tickets for The Cock are £15, those for much of the Royal Opera House about £205, with even the centre amphitheatre at £89. I'd like to talk more than I ever get a chance to to the patrons of opera houses; if you can spend £205 on one ticket for an unstarry revival - however good, and this one was in most ways excellent - then you are likely to be with someone else, to have refreshments in the interval, in short to have an evening which will be at least £600. If you go to The Cock, your priorities will evidently be different. The audience at the Royal Opera will be straining at the leash to applaud each aria, at length, so dramatic values mean little to them - and the conductor will make sure that there is a pause before the opera continues. The audience at The Cock may well not have been to that or any other opera before, and will not be primarily interested in seeing a set of stars, whether potential, actual, or clapped out, go through their paces.

It is all the more to the credit of the Royal Opera that, with odd exceptions, it takes its duties as purveyor of music-drama seriously. However many times a production is revived, one gets no sense that the main singers arrive shortly before the performance and do their own thing. The directors, in this case John Copley, often return to make sure that proceedings are still fresh.

Critics have complained that this staging of La boheme is beginning to 'look its age', but given that the bohemians don't live in the sprucest of settings, and that even the Cafe Momus may not be pristine, that seems all to the good. The important thing is that Julia Trevelyan Oman's designs fill the stage without making it seem that the living quarters are absurdly spacious, and they do that brilliantly, so, as Andrew Porter wrote in 1974, there is no reason why they should ever be replaced, unless a trendy director is brought in to update and give a new slant to the proceedings. …

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