Sunday, June 7, 2015

Guest blogger Ed Beveridge reviews ROH's beloved Copley La Boheme production

Addio, senza rancor - La Boheme at the Royal Opera House, London, May 23, 2015

Nothing lasts forever, and John Copley's much loved production of La Boheme has done sterling service for the company since it was new in February, 1974. Copley’s successor will have their work cut out. Rumour has it that it will be Richard Jones (whose Il Trittico demonstrates an aptitude for Puccini) and his sideways view will produce something quite different. Probably for the best. Rumour also suggests the Copley will be mothballed, not junked, but we shall see.

Jennifer Rowley as Musetta in ROH's La Boheme
Photo:  Bill Cooper, ROH
May 23 was the start of a long run of farewell performances. It’s a popular production of a popular piece—this performance the 614th at the Royal Opera House. Clearly each revival needs to be special, and for these performances there is a mostly new cast with Copley himself directing and taking a well deserved curtain call at the close. Copley’s direction is naturalistic and detailed, subtle and skillful (it's not easy to direct the characters in the Act 2 crowd so that they both appear naturally and can be spotted straight away). Direction this understated but this good is rare.

With lesser performers, the evening could easily have been all about the production, which is absolutely beautiful. The late Julia Trevelyan Oman's designs seem definitive, traditional without being monumental or showy, intimate when they need to be. The colour palette is muted and earthy. The loft of the outer acts uses split levels to frame parts of the action and create effective entrances and exits. The interior and exterior of Act 2—the Cafe Momus with its steaming kitchen, the busy street outside—give way to the austere Act 3 city gate, queasy greenish sky and romantic snowstorm.

Joseph Calleja and
Anna Netrebko
Photo:  Bill Cooper, ROH
The cast was mostly new, but with familiar elements. Joseph Calleja's Rodolfo is a known quantity and he was on good form here, much better than his Gustavo in the disastrous Un Ballo in Maschera earlier in the season; not quite at his best though, and underpowered at times in this company. His characterization was straightforward and touching. Straightforward would not be a good description for Anna Netrebko’s Mimi. As ever she is utterly compelling to watch and hear and there was nothing routine about this performance. She was no shrinking violet, but neither was there Diva-style mannerism or affectation; she was almost ghostly in Act 4. It’s a big voice for Mimi—nothing wrong with that—and her basic sound is beautiful, smoky and complex. There was plenty of detail in her dynamics and phrasing. I don’t think she will be singing Mimi for much longer, as she gravitates towards dramatic soprano repertoire, so I am glad to have heard her score such a success here.

The second couple were American. Lucas Meachem is becoming a firm favourite at this house and his burly Marcello looked and sounded handsome, his disbelief at the end Act 4 very touching. Musetta was Jennifer Rowley, making an overdue house debut. She gave notice of an important singer—brassy and comic (and a dab hand at billiards) in Act 2, moving and sincere later on, delivered with a bright and ample soprano of which I would be happy to hear more.

It wasn’t all good news. The rest of the cast I found competent, but unremarkable, and the conducting of Dan Ettinger has some serious flaws, mainly around ensemble with the stage. I wondered at first if this was first night nerves or lack of rehearsal but as the evening went on it felt more of a fundamental failure to follow his singers. A great shame to find oneself wishing Pappano had been at the helm. Still, this was a great and in some ways historic night at Covent Garden, and Copley’s show is being given a fine send-off. Best of all, my goddaughter, who had never seen any opera before, had a ball and can’t wait for the next show. Definitely Addio, senza rancor.

Further performances with this cast before conductor Alexander Joel and singers Lianna Haroutounian, Piotr Beczala, Ekaterina Bakanova and Levente Molnar take over. Until July16th.

No comments: