Review: LA BOHÈME, Royal Opera House

A visual spectacle

By: Oct. 15, 2022
Review: LA BOHÈME, Royal Opera House
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Review: LA BOHÈME, Royal Opera House

Review: LA BOHÈME, Royal Opera House Focusing on uncontroversial flamboyance, Richard Jones's revival of his 2017 production of La bohème is a visual spectacle with plenty to please the eye. When combined with Ailyn Pérez's Mimì and Danielle De Niese's hilarious Musetta, it's definitely a success - and a well-deserved one.

Jones's vision certainly fits the tone: surrounded by the bleakness of winter, the three different sets ooze a certain comfort that we expect from the intimate lifestyle the characters enjoy. It juxtaposes the cold exterior with the comfort that can be found inside.

This is particularly efficient in Act 3, when the characters stand in the cold, with snow falling while they're outside a tavern with a warm light emanating from the windows. But it is the second act with its lively streets, crowded cafes, and bright colours that truly impresses and brings the opera to life - even if it can, occasionally, feel a touch too theatrical.

But La bohème is a theatrical opera. The characters are all likeable, but quite stereotypical for this kind of story: of course Rodolfo (Juan Diego Flórez) is a poet; of course Marcello (Andrey Zhilikhovsky) is a painter; of course they live in utter poverty and for the sake of art and love. As such, there's little wrong with a production that emphasises the clearly deliberate artificiality of Puccini's opera. A sense of irony is always involved.

And at the end of the day any caveats relating to artificiality don't matter when the music is top-notch, and there is a good reason La bohème is one of Puccini's most popular operas, even among his critics: the score is intoxicating and highly nuanced, with a fantastic build-up and payoff. Conductor Kevin John Edusei does a fantastic job of transporting the audience into this gorgeous soundscape with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

The cast, too, is generally powerful. Pérez's Mimì is beautifully nuanced and stimulating; whenever she sings her arias she delivers a soothing tone that immediately draws the audience in. Especially her rendition of "Sì, mi chiamano Mimì" is absolutely stunning.

Flórez's Rodolfo emphasises the lyricism of his role; soft, clear and technically pristine, his voice adds well to his acting prowess. What sadly goes a bit missing in this rendition is the power of his voice: while the singing is beautiful, it lacks volume to fill the large auditorium of the Royal Opera House. When performing "Che gelida manina" this doesn't matter all that much, but he does tend to get drowned out a little when performing alongside Pérez's dominating presence.

De Niese performs Musetta with a beautifully ironic take on the character. She's constantly playful and works well with the wider cast, especially Zhilikhovsky's Marcello. In her comedic scenes in Act 2 she's absolutely stunning, but she does equally well when serving as Mimì's friend in the final act. Zhilikhovsky is musically fine and a genuinely likeable Marcello.

All in all, this is a production that works with, rather than against, the opera. It lets the comedy flow well and give the audience a necessary rest from the pathos of the love story while also not being too overbearing as to drown it out. As such, this is a powerful rendition of one of Puccini's finest, and it's guaranteed to please most audiences.

La bohème is at Royal Opera House until 17 November.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner


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