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When the Royal Opera’s production of La bohème was new in 1974, half these singers probably were not born. In an ideal world a cast of young faces would be just what is needed to breathe life into a middle-aged production apt to sag in the middle, but it did not work out like that here. Far from being bright and breezy, this performance felt positively enervating.
The two lead singers were the operatic equivalent of chalk and cheese: a couple less likely to hit it off in the time it takes to blow out a candle would be hard to imagine. Katie Van Kooten has an interesting, bright soprano with a bit of an edge and a fast vibrato, and manages to act shy without becoming coy, but she seemed undecided how to stamp her individuality on the character of poor, fragile Mimì.
By contrast, Marcelo Alvarez played a Rodolfo who had all the answers. No doubt his ability to semaphore his emotions will come in handy if he sings the role at the Verona Arena, but in this relatively intimate space he was overwhelming. Fortunately, his Italianate tenor is the real thing and his ardent singing was the number one pleasure of the evening.
At the last moment Anna Leese – already noted as a student at the Royal College of Music – stepped into the role of Musetta and lit the fuse on a sparkling cameo that briefly set the evening alight. The young bass Alexander Vinogradov introduced a potentially important voice as Colline. William Dazeley and Jared Holt, although vocally solid enough, each sounded on the cusp of being over- parted as Marcello and Schaunard.
The orchestra played well for the conductor Philippe Jordan, so at least there was sure guidance coming from the pit, but a safe pair of hands was not really what this performance needed. Was it that the production is too old or the singers too young? Or even – maybe – both?
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