Tuesday, June 30, 2015

ROH's La Boheme Revisited

Joseph Callejah and Anna Netrebko
Photo: (c) 2015 Bill Cooper, ROH
At one time I was viewing and writing about quite the Metropolitan Opera's HD opera broadcasts fairly regularly. I think it's a great medium for viewing opera, with prices usually in the Family Circle range or lower, usually great views and sound, and the availability of overpriced movie theater junk food to make the experience complete. (I don't think it's a complete substitute for experiencing opera in the opera house, though—that is a separate conversation.)

I've known for some time that other world-class opera houses have been doing similar broadcasts, and on Sunday I was thrilled to see an NYC showing of a June 10 live broadcast of La Boheme from Royal Opera House Covent Garden. This is the last season the beloved John Copley prodution will be used, and this was the final performance of the cast we saw—Anna Netrebko, Joseph Calleja, Jennifer Rowley, and Lucas Meacham. There will be four more performances later on with a different cast. To thoroughly evaluate the performance would be redundant, considering Ed Beveridge's guest post of a few weeks ago. Let me say I quite agree with nearly everything Ed says. I merely have a few additional comments.

Jennifer Rowley as Musetta with the waiter
Photo: (c) 2015 Bill Cooper, ROH
Anna Netrebko in recent years has ventured into vocal territory that wasn't right for her—my humble opinion, and other opinions vary on that—but her Mimi on Sunday contained some of the best singing I've heard her do in years. Rich and subtle, with very sensitive phrasing and an uncommon commitment to the text. It seems Mimi is a role that suits her right now. Her Rodolfo, Joseph Calleja, usually has a pleasing sound and manner, and did not disappoint. In fact, his occasional tendencies to sing sharp or with a too-fast vibrato were seldom present in this performance. American Lucas Meacham was a delightful Marcello, with very solid, comfortable sound, and very convincing acting. I quite liked Marco Vinco as Colline. His Act IV coat aria was one of the most touching moments in the performance, sung with tender feeling and deep, resonant sound.

Jennifer Rowley as Musetta—wow! I know I sound like a broken record, having written about her many times, but what a great, scenery-chewing performance! Her Act II aria was full of naughtiness and glorious in rich, creamy sound. I've compared her Act II Musetta to Veruca Salt of Willy Wonka fame. By Act IV, and even within Act IV, she is a changed woman. This is no longer an impetuous child, but a woman who has known sorrow.

Although this production has been in service for 42 years, we are told that John Copley himself is involved as often as possible with revivals. He directed this revival, and the performance was full of subtle directorial choices that make great sense. Each chorus member in Acts II and III had his own story. All of the cast reacted to each situation as if for the first time hearing it—which is as it should be. Rodolfo's "Una donna" in Act I (when Mimi calls from behind the closed door) should be more puzzled than lecherous, unless we are meant to imagine young ladies lose their flames (or anything else) on those garret steps more often than implied. Messrs Copley and Calleja had that bit right. We also learn just why the guard in Act III is so slow to respond, and sleep is not the reason! Miss Rowley, in her live intermission interview on Sunday, described many such detailed moments—far too many to repeat here—when there was always something happening behind the actions of the main characters.

Indeed, such details make one love and revere a production more and more, and wonder why, at 42 years, it isn't too early to retire it. We will have to wait and see whether the replacement production deserves its new place. It will have a tremendous lot of tradition and beauty to replace, as well as a tremendous amount of love and affection from the ROH and the worldwide audience.
Act II: Jennifer Rowley as Musetta
Photo (c) 2015 Bill Cooper, ROH

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