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Puccini, La Bohème: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Andris Nelsons 19.12.2009 (CC)


Piotr Beczala and Teodor Ilincai - Rodolfo

Hibla Gerzmava - Mimì

Gabriele Viviani - Marcello

Kostas Smoriginas - Colline

Jacques Imbailo - Schaunard

Jeremy White - Benoit

Alan duffield - Parpignol

Inna Dukach - Musetta

Donald Maxwell - Alcindoro

Bryan Secombe - Sergeant
Jonathan Coad - Customs Officer


Picture © Johan Persson

“Two for the price of one” may be the catch phrase of every latter-day supermarket, but it is not every day that the concept extends to tenors in opera houses. But such was the case here. After a pre-performance announcement that Piotr Beczala was suffering from a cold, a hyper-long interval between Acts II and III led to a very restless audience being told that Beczala’s condition had deteriorated (indeed, his final, off-stage contribution to Act 1 had been risible) and would be replaced by Teodor Ilnicai, himself scheduled to sing the part later in the run and who was luckily in the audience.

Such drama, it might be argued, squares well with Puccini’s sense of the theatre. And it certainly pepped up the evening in the light of John Copley’s rather dour, traditional production (originally seen way back in 1974 and here enjoying its 23rd revival). Also, why there were two intervals remains a mystery: true, one was extended due to singer problems, but even in the normal run of things two breaks make Bohème into too long an evening and unnecessarily detracts from the dramatic trajectory. The use of stage-space was fine, in the sense that Act II did not look too overcrowded although it was a pity that ensemble was only operating at around 80% accuracy. The children too had problems, projecting too little and sounding under-confident.

A strange effect regarding Mimì’s entrance was that she (Hibla Gerzmava) sounded better off-stage than on. Yet she improved (warmed up?) as time went on. Gerzmava’s achievement was to project Mimì’s guileless innocence via a clear, low-vibrato voice, something in particular evidence in “Mi chiamano Mimì”. She outsang and out-acted Beczala’s Rodolfo by some way, managing to wrench at the heart-strings in the final act.

The idea of another person playing a role and no-one onstage noticing is akin to the suspension of belief we are expected to show when a soap character returns after an absence to be played by an entirely different actor/actress. Here, at least, it was necessary. Ilincai’s Rodolfo was altogether a more youthful, ardent chap than when we last saw him. One believed his impetuosity, and his torment in the Act IV death scene.

Jacques Imbrailo was a rather weak Schaunard; far better was Gabriele Viviani’s Marcello, youthful of demeanour and focused of voice. Kostas Smoriginas made an impression as Colline, particularly in his Act IV Coat aria. Inna Dukach was a funny Musetta with a nicely free voice.

The star of the evening was the conductor, Andris Nelsons (Music Director of the CBSO). This was his debut with the Royal Opera and  like Jacques Lacombe in the recent Tosca, Nelsons finds much detail and, at times, a chamber-like delicacy to Puccini’s scoring. There was only one real misjudgement (Musetta’s entrance in Act I), and I am sure the ensemble problems in Act II will be ironed out ere long.

Let’s hope they can stick to one lead tenor per evening from now on though because this remains an eminently watchable Bohème


Colin Clarke

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