Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Prom 9: Fidelio lives by its Florestan

The last time Beethoven’s sole opera, Fidelio, was performed at the Proms, in 2009, Daniel Barenboim was making a somewhat belated London opera debut with his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

The Merchant of Venice: WNO at Covent Garden

In Out of Africa, her account of her Kenyan life, Karen Blixen relates an anecdote, ‘Farah and The Merchant of Venice’. When Blixen told Farah Aden, her Somali butler, the story of Shakespeare’s play, he was disappointed and surprised by the denouement: surely, he argued, the Jew Shylock could have succeeded in his bond if he had used a red-hot knife? As an African, Farah expected a different narrative, demonstrating that our reception of art depends so much on our assumptions and preconceptions.

Leoncavallo's Zazà at Investec Opera Holland Park

The make-up is slapped on thickly in this new production of Leoncavallo’s Zazà by director Marie Lambert and designer Alyson Cummings at Investec Opera Holland Park.

McVicar’s Enchanting but Caliginous Rigoletto in Castle Olavinlinna at Savonlinna Opera Festival

David McVicar’s thrilling take on Verdi’s Rigoletto premiered as the first international production of this Summer’s Savonlinna Opera Festival. The scouts for the festival made the smart decision to let McVicar adapt his 2001 Covent Garden staging to the unique locale of Castle Olavinlinna.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

Sallinen’s Kullervo is Brutal and Spectacular Finnish Opera at Savonlinna Opera Festival

For the centenary of Finland’s Independence, the Savonlinna Opera Festival brought back Kari Heiskanen’s spectacular 1992 production of Aulis Salinen’s Kullervo. The excellent Finnish soloists and glorious choir unflinchingly offered this opera of vocal blood and guts. Conductor Hannu Lintu fired up the Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra in Sallinen’s thrilling music.

Kát’a Kabanová at Investec Opera Holland Park

If there was any doubt of the insignificance of mankind in the face of the forces of Nature, then Yannis Thavoris’ design for Olivia Fuchs production of Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová - first seen at Investec Opera Holland Park in 2009 - would puncture it in a flash, figuratively and literally.

A bel canto feast at Cadogan Hall

The bel canto repertoire requires stylish singing, with beautiful tone and elegant phrasing. Strength must be allied with grace in order to coast the vocal peaks with unflawed legato; flexibility blended with accuracy ensures the most bravura passages are negotiated with apparent ease.

Don Pasquale: a cold-hearted comedy at Glyndebourne

Director Mariame Clément’s Don Pasquale, first seen during the 2011 tour and staged in the house in 2013, treads a fine line between realism and artifice.

Billy Budd Indomitable in Des Moines

It is hard to know where to begin to praise the peerless accomplishment that is Des Moines Metro Opera’s staggeringly powerful Billy Budd.

Tannhäuser at Munich

Romeo Castellucci’s aesthetic — if one may speak in the singular — is very different from almost anything else on show in the opera house at the moment. That, I have no doubt, is unquestionably a good thing. Castellucci is a serious artist and it is all too easy for any of us to become stuck in an artistic rut, congratulating ourselves not only on our understanding but also,  may God help us, our ‘taste’ — as if so trivial a notion had something to do with anything other than ourselves.

Des Moines Answers Turandot’s Riddles

With Turandot, Des Moines Metro Opera operated from the premise of prima la voce, and if the no-holds-barred singing and rhapsodic playing didn’t send shivers down your spine, well, you were at the wrong address.

Maria Visits Des Moines

With an atmospheric, crackling performance of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires, Des Moines Metro Opera once again set off creative sparks with its Second Stage concept.

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range - that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love - only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

World Premiere of Aulis Sallinen’s Castle in the Water Savonlinna Opera Festival

For my first trip to Finland, I flew from Helsinki to the east, close to the border of Russia near St. Petersburg over many of Suomi’s thousand lakes, where the summer getaway Savonlinna lays. Right after the solstice during July and early August, the town’s opera festival offers high quality productions. In this enchanting locale in the midst of peaceful nature, the sky at dusk after the mesmerising sunset fades away is worth the trip alone!

Mozart and Stravinsky in Aix

Bathed in Mediterranean light, basking in enlightenment Aix found two famous classical works, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress in its famous festival’s open air Théâtre de l’Archevêche. But were we enlightened?

Des Moines: Nothing ‘Little’ About Night Music

Des Moines Metro Opera’s richly detailed production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music left an appreciative audience to waltz home on air, and has prompted this viewer to search for adequate superlatives.

Longborough Festival Opera: A World Class Tristan und Isolde in a Barn Shed

Of all the places, I did not expect a sublime Tristan und Isolde in a repurposed barn in the Cotswolds. Don’t be fooled by Longborough’s stage without lavish red curtains to open and close each act. Any opera house would envy the riveting chemistry between Peter Wedd and Lee Bisset in this intimate, 500 seat setting. Conductor Anthony Negus proved himself a master at Wagner’s emotional depth. Epic drama in minimalistic elegance: who needs a big budget when you have talent and drama this passionate?

The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra throws a glossy Bernstein party

For almost thirty years, summer at the Concertgebouw has been synonymous with Robeco SummerNights. This popular series expands the classical concert formula with pop, film music, jazz and more, served straight up or mixed together. Composer Leonard Bernstein’s versatility makes his oeuvre, ranging from Broadway to opera, prime SummerNight fare.

Die Frau ohne Schatten at Munich

It was fascinating to see — and of course, to hear — Krzysztof Warlikowsi’s productions of Die Gezeichneten and Die Frau ohne Schatten on consecutive nights of this year’s Munich Opera Festival.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Carmen Giannattasio as Mimi and Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo [Photo © ROH 2012 / Mike Hoban]
02 May 2012

La bohème, Royal Opera House, London

A robust Mimì and a self-regarding Rodolfo impart a distinctive flavour to this full-throttled version of John Copley’s evergreen La bohème.

Giacomo Puccini: La bohème

Mimì: Carmen Giannattasio; Rodolfo: Joseph Calleja; Musetta: Nuccia Focile; Marcello: Fabio Capitanucci; Colline: Matthew Rose; Schaunard: Thomas Oliemans; Benoît: Jeremy White; Alcindoro: Donald Maxwell. Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House. Conductor: Semyon Bychkov. Director: John Copley. Designs: Julia Trevelyan Oman. Lighting Design: John Charlton. Royal Opera House, London, 30 April 2012.

Above: Carmen Giannattasio as Mimi and Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo

Photos © ROH 2012 / Mike Hoban

 

This latest revival of Copley’s vintage 1974 production of La bohème has an anniversary quality. It is the 25th time it has been presented, and, remarkably, it marks the 50th anniversary of Copley’s first employment as a director at the Royal Opera House. Copley was presented with a cake at the end of the performance.

Anniversaries or not, I have mixed feelings about the endless revivals of safe, classic productions. On one hand it is impossible not to feel that they cramp experiment and exploration (Leoncavallo’s La bohème, anyone?) and give opera-going the air of a familiar, timid ritual.

On the other hand, it is hard to deny that they boast strong claims to be essential viewing for anyone who loves opera, and that they set the benchmarks against which more daring productions should be measured. Copley’s Bohème is the sort of production which gets remembered as a “good, old-fashioned” one and engenders warm feelings of recognition, conveying the impression that it is timeless and somehow authentic. It succeeds wonderfully well because it puts itself entirely at the service of the opera, translating Puccini’s imagined world into vivid and memorable stage pictures.

The general style of Copley’s production, matching that of Puccini’s score, might be described as rose-tinted realism with a rich vein of humour. The different worlds of the bohemians’ attic, the Café Momus and the Barrière d’Enfer are patiently and lovingly assembled in a way which paradoxically conveys both historical verisimilitude and a sense of romantic enchantment. This is the nineteenth-century Paris we all wish to believe in, not least for its potent ability to mythologize itself. Despite the many references to cold and poverty, there is no doubting its basic allure: better to be cold and poor there than warm and comfortable in many another city. This latest incarnation of the production was notable for power and passion rather than poetry and pathos. The gentleman in the next seat, a veteran opera-goer who informed me he had been coming to the Royal Opera since 1953, complained that it was “can belto rather than bel canto” and left at the first interval. That was harsh, indeed unfair, but not completely devoid of point. Such criticism would focus primarily on Carmen Giannattasio’s robust Mimì, who only seemed frail and consumptive at the very end (even then more in the acting than in the sounding), and in the earlier acts appeared impervious to the cold. The great Mimìs are able to suggest that every high note comes at a heavy price to ruined lungs, and much of the glory and pathos of the role turns on the recognition that she is prepared to pay that price, choosing intensity of living over the sort of calm, sensible existence her doctor would recommend. In this sense Giannattasio was a disappointment, and her performance musically impressive rather than truly moving.

LA-BOHEME-10166_0801.gifNuccia Focile as Musetta, Fabio Capitanucci as Marcello, Carmen Giannattasio as Mimi and Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo

There is really only one way to play Mimì, but Rodolfo is susceptible to a variety of interpretations. Joseph Calleja did occasionally give the impression that he was mainly there for the purple passages when his beautifully clear, heroic-sounding voice could be unleashed to thrill the house, but that is dramatically acceptable if one thinks of Rodolfo as something of a poseur, in love with the whole idea of being a poet. In fact Calleja’s representation was internally consistent, and carried off with many deft strokes of acting. His wonderfully helpless look when Mimì expressed her wish for a muff appeared as much a comment on the misfortune of poets in an ungrateful world as on any frustrated longing he may have had to relieve her sufferings. He was, in short, not the sort of Rodolfo that one especially feels for, but it was impossible not to enjoy his performance. Perhaps a more heart-melting Mimì would have brought out greater depths in his representation.

One of the delights of seeing opera at Covent Garden is the assurance that secondary parts are almost always cast incredibly well. The latest La bohème is no disappointment. Fabio Capitanucci was the best Marcello I’ve ever seen, looking and acting the part consummately well. His secret seemed to be simply to embrace the part as though he were the hero of the opera. I was vividly reminded of one of the items on my operatic wish list: alternating productions of the Puccini and Leoncavallo Bohèmes with the same singers taking the same roles. Capitanucci as Marcello would be a perfect starting point for the project. Matthew Rose as Colline and Thomas Oliemans as Schaunard were equally outstanding, and made up a very strong quartet , conveying a natural sense of tried and tested camaraderie. Rose’s fourth act address to his old coat was a beautifully judged piece of singing, and one of the highlights of the evening — almost as moving, dare I say it, as Giannattasio’s dying agonies.

David Chandler

LA-BOHEME-10166_0181.gifFabio Capitanucci as Marcello, Carmen Giannattasio as Mimi, Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo, Matthew Rose as Colline and Thomas Oliemans as Schaunard

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):