La bohème, Royal Opera House, London – review

It is – remarkably – 40 years since John Copley’s production of La bohème was first seen at the Royal Opera House. In the intervening years it has played host to almost every Puccini singer of merit, including each of the Three Tenors, and has acquired an artistic history of its own, enough for a modest celebration to mark its anniversary.

This is taking the form of a 40th birthday series of performances. There are alternating casts, one of which features the starry couple of Angela Gheorghiu and Vittorio Grigolo as Mimì and Rodolfo. It is their cast that can be seen for free on the BP Big Screens across the UK on Tuesday (July 15), including at Trent Bridge – the cricketers having just departed – in Nottingham.

There is a brief spell of cricket in this production, too, when the Bohemians bat slices of baguette around their Parisian garret. One of the virtues of Copley’s production has always been that it features as much comedy as tragedy – never more so than in this high-spirited revival.

Whether he is washing his socks or hymning his beloved in the moonlight, Grigolo throws himself into everything with hyperactive, puppyish enthusiasm. His Rodolfo radiates youth and energy. Sometimes Grigolo’s sense of abandon carries him away – at the start he is apt to shout rather than sing and it must be difficult for a conductor to follow him – but for a wholehearted portrayal, sung with native Italian passion, there have been few more engaging over the years.

Gheorghiu, who first appeared in this production in 1992 and has been back four times since, remains remarkably fresh and appealing, though her soprano sounds a touch soft-grained these days. The other young Bohemians – Irina Lungu’s vibrant Musetta, Massimo Cavalletti’s stern Marcello, Lauri Vasar’s ebullient Schaunard and Gábor Bretz’s thoughtful Colline – have been well rehearsed in the production’s high jinks. The conductor, Cornelius Meister, does well to keep in touch with his somewhat wayward leading couple. Anybody going to La bohème for the first time on Tuesday will see a now venerable production given new life.

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