Posts Tagged ‘John Copley’

La Bohème with Calleja and Giannattasio, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2012

1 May, 2012

This production by John Copley, first staged in 1974, has been revived twenty-four times so far — not surprising since it just gets everything right. So indeed did Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo, bringing real depth and lyricism to the role.

From the very start Calleja exhibited a catching youthful energy, and after taking Mimi’s cold hand in his and launching into Che gelida manina he hit a wonderful high point when he sings of her pretty eyes as two thieves stealing his jewels (Talor dal mio forzieri …). Suddenly this is no longer some bohemian inhabitant of Paris but Rodolfo the poet, a thaumaturge of romantic invention whose soft notes floated like birds on the wing.

At the Café Momus, all images ROH/Hoban

In Acts I and II, Calleja sang everyone else off the stage, but following the first interval, Carmen Giannattasio as Mimi warmed up after a nervous start. She was making her debut in the role at Covent Garden, and finally hit the mark in her Act III duet with Marcello when she seeks him out at the inn. By Act IV she had become a fine match for Calleja, and in her curtain call she bent down to kiss the stage.

The other bohemians all did well, with Fabio Capitanucci engaging as Marcello the painter, Thomas Oliemans attractive as Schaunard the musician, and Matthew Rose singing a fine bass as Colline the philosopher, who sells his coat to help poor consumptive Mimi. Nuccia Focile sang Musetta with rather heavy vibrato, and her stage presence failed to match the sparkle needed for her big role in Act II. Conducting by Semyon Bychkov was restrained at the start, but things warmed up musically later, and I loved the drawn-out silence just before Mimi dies in Act IV.

Act III: early morning outside the inn

That final act pitches merriment against tragedy as the four bohemians clown around before Musetta and Mimi arrive, and when Matthew Rose used a bat to hit the bread rolls for six, the audience applauded spontaneously. All great fun, but when Colline goes off to sell his coat, and Rodolfo and Mimi are left alone, Calleja and Giannattasio sang beautifully together, recalling the time they first met. When Colline returns, and Rodolfo suddenly realises something is amiss, Calleja’s distraught cries brought the house down. This is a Rodolfo not to be missed.

Finally after the curtain calls, Tony Hall came on stage with a fiftieth birthday cake for the director John Copley, celebrating a half century of brilliant work with the Royal Opera.

Performances with this cast continue until May 17 when it will be shown live on Big Screens throughout the country — for performance details click here.

La Bohème, Royal Opera, December 2009

19 December, 2009

This production by John Copley, with designs by Susan Trevelyan Oman, suits the Royal Opera House perfectly. Its depiction of wintery cold in Paris combines well with the human warmth of the story, and our protagonists were young singers whose charm and vivacity gave a welcome freshness to this frequently performed opera.

Note: this is a review of the dress rehearsal — I understand the tenor had to back out after Act I on opening night, but here he sang the role throughout the performance.

The four bohemians contrasted well with one another, and each gave an excellent portrayal. Rodolfo the poet was strongly sung by Polish tenor Piotr Beczala, who appeared in the Metropolitan Opera live relay in February this year as an impassioned Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor. Here he was equally impassioned as Rodolfo, and with his Che gelida manina he fully opened up the emotional side of the performance. The painter Marcello was also strongly sung and delightfully performed by Italian baritone Gabriele Viviani, as were the musician Schaunard and the philosopher Colline, the one by South African baritone Jacques Imbrailo, and the other by Lithuanian bass Kostas Smoriginas, whom I last saw this summer in The Royal Opera’s Tosca as a redoubtable Angelotti. The young women were both Russian born singers, and I thought Hibla Gerzmava gave a very fine portrayal of Mimi, quietly reserved yet full of intensity in the high moments, especially in her Act I aria, as she refers to the thaw after winter, and sings il primo sole è mio. Musetta was strongly sung by Inna Dukach and I thought she came over well in the last two acts, but in Act II of this dress rehearsal she was simply a drama queen without the sexiness that attracts her escort Alcindoro, her old lover Marcello, the waiters and all the other men in the cafe.

The orchestra, under excellent direction by Andris Nelsons, gave a superb rendering of the music. This, along with the singing and wonderful staging, made the whole performance a delight. John Copley knows exactly how to match the action to both words and music, and must surely have rehearsed the singers in this fine revival. He knows the opera inside out, and in a previous revival when Mimi was missing in a rehearsal, Copley simply sang the entire role himself! With opera directors of such knowledge and talent why would anyone hire those dreadful ‘concept’ producers? Let us have productions like this that allow the singers to portray the characters in the drama, so we can concentrate on the singing and music without awkward distractions.