Magazine article The Spectator

Fresh Touch

Magazine article The Spectator

Fresh Touch

Article excerpt


Fresh touch

La Bohème

Royal Opera House


Scottish Opera

It's a good thing that the Royal Opera keeps its revivals of standard Italian repertoire in good shape, considering the many acute disappointments we have had this season from new productions, Italian, German, French. John Copley's La Bohème was first staged in 1974, but the latest revival, with a fair number of fresh touches added by the associate director Richard Gregson, and with Mark Elder conducting, is welcome, even if not quite ranking with the finest of its previous runs.

It has an almost uniformly excellent cast, but some of these performers are mildly miscast; and for all the lucidity and careful climax-building of the conducting, it may suffer from being slightly too refined. Not that one wants this or any Puccini to sound like middle-period Verdi, or middle-period Verdi as it used to sound before being Karajanised, but the essentially popular nature of his work does suffer if it is made to sound as if it is aspiring to be the highest art. Even so, it was lovely to hear so much of the detail of the score, especially the Falstaff-related detail of the opening half of Acts I and IV, and the opening night had no hint of routine, though most of these artists must have performed these roles countless times.

The biggest draw, apart, I hope, from the perennial appeal of the masterpiece itself, is probably Angela Gheorghiu. She appeals in so many ways, has so complete a command of the stage, that I am very tempted to repose in inert gratitude. Yet many Mimis who have far less have moved me rather more. Gheorghiu is a good actress, and of course looks wonderful in whatever she does. But can she convey, or comprehend, fragility? She has an essentially robust, buoyant personality, which emerges irrepressibly in her singing, and is a major element in her deserved success. All her conscientious coughing, though, isn't enough to persuade me that she is a natural for Mimi or Violetta. The tight vibrato which gives her voice such allure suggests excitement more than wilting, and though on the first night she rarely sang full-out, almost to the point where I wondered if she was off-colour, she still suggested an eager and even dominant personality. The announced Rodolfo was ill, and so Tito Beltran took the part, to nearly ideal effect. He acts romantically, almost looks romantic, and was just as good at horseplay, of which there is a great deal, as at ardour. His agony at Mimi's plight in Act III is wholly convincing, and indeed that marvellous act, one of the most perfect in opera, went best; a great shame that its effect was almost sabotaged by grotesquely elongated intervals, about 35 minutes before it - it lasts 28 - and over 20 after it. …

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