Copley’s Boheme Continues to Satisfy 40 Years On

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Puccini, La bohème: Soloists, Royal Opera Chorus (chorus master: Renato Balsadonna), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Alexander Joel (conductor), Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 16.2.2013 (MB)


Rodolfo – Teodor Ilincai
Mimì – Anita Hartig
Musetta – Sonya Yoncheva
Marcello – Gabriele Viviani
Schaunard – Alessio Arduini
Colline – Marco Vinco
Benoît – Jeremy White
Alcindoro – William Robert Allenby
Parpignol – Luke Price
Customs Officer – Christopher Lackner
Sergeant – Bryan Seacombe


John Copley (director)
Bruno Ravella (revival director)
Julia Trevelyan Oman (designs)
John Charlton (lighting)

La Bohème:credit Bill Cooper

La Bohème  Photo Credit Bill Cooper

What a pleasure to attend a performance in which everything comes together, there is nothing to object to, and – in short – the performance is a credit to all concerned: director, conductor, orchestra, singers, the Royal Opera House itself! John Copley’s production, here revived by Bruno Ravella, may be nearing forty years old. In the abstract I should definitely be highly suspicious of a staging that has lasted nearly so long, but it is revived with such belief, such attention to detail, such joy in the work, that it exhibits more life than many a first night, let alone a first revival. The locations might be as we expect, or rather as we imagine, somehow clicking perfectly with how we always imagined Puccini’s Latin Quarter or the Barrière d’Enfer, but there is nothing wrong with that;. No one needs La bohème, or indeed anything else, to be set in a supermarket just for the sake of it. The singers are well directed, credible and often rather more than that as actors. Crowd scenes are equally well handled. Little additional details, for instance Musetta taking up her billiard cue at the Café Momus and successfully potting her ball, add the occasional delight or amusement, without in any sense detracting from the drama. No Konzept? Well, there are always other directors for something more provocative – and Stefan Herheim’s production, now available on DVD, of course demands to be seen.

Alexander Joel, making his Royal Opera debut, was a new name to me. On the basis of his lively, vital conducting, I hope that I shall hear him again soon. No particular ‘points’ were being made about the score; it was simply treated with respect, allowing the many fascinating aspects of Puccini’s scoring and his musico-dramatic intelligence to shine through. Wagnerisms and modernisms were not underlined; they manifested themselves anyway. If only he had not paused for applause during acts, but then I have never heard a conductor who did not; more’s the pity… Orchestra and chorus were on excellent form throughout, with nary a hint of the Saturday matinée routine.

Anita Hartig proved a touching Mimì. Again, there was no especial ‘point’ being made; one took her character and lived with it, Beautifully sung, well acted: one could hardly have asked for more. Teodor Ilincai (Rodolfo) certainly has the instrument for this repertoire; his acting impressed too. He sometimes, however, had a tendency to sing at full throttle with the lack of tonal and dynamic differentiation that gives tenors a dubious name. I can see no reason, however, why that should not be successfully worked upon. Gabriele Viviani made a thoroughly musical impression as Marcello. Sonya Yoncheva’s was a vocal and stage delight, from beginning to end, the character fully inhabited and represented. There is nothing secondary about this ‘second cast’; its coherence puts a great number of starrier casts to shame. And there is nothing secondary about Copley’s production either. Quite a tonic for a cold February afternoon, enough to melt the coldest, most cynical of hearts!

Mark Berry