“Addio, senza rancor,” sings Mimì with a tear in her eye. The sentiment — “Goodbye, without bitterness,” — is intended for her lover Rodolfo, but might equally be applied to the Royal Opera’s widely-loved production of La bohème as it embarks on its farewell run of performances. After more than 40 years of service, the production has earned its keep.
Several generations of singers, including all the Three Tenors, have now gathered for dinner at the boisterous Café Momus, with its steaming kitchen and upstairs pool table, and lingered in the light snow at the Barrière d’Enfer. Two final casts share this run. The more starry first cast will take part in a live relay to cinemas in more than 40 countries on June 10.
The big draw in this cast is Anna Netrebko. As the penultimate Mimì in a distinguished line, she is less vulnerable than some (Ileana Cotrubas or Katia Ricciarelli, say), but strikes a nice balance between wide-eyed innocence and come-hither looks when she first meets Rodolfo, and rises to tragic intensity by the end. Netrebko gives heart and soul and sings with a voice full and rich beyond almost any before her. Its dark, dramatic colours belong to other roles now, so it would not be surprising if she says “Addio” herself to Mimì soon.
Joseph Calleja returns as Rodolfo, distinctive with his fast vibrato, though intermittently uncertain about his top notes. His bohemian friends are a rather surly lot, Lucas Meachem a sturdily-sung Marcello, Simone Del Savio an earnest Schaunard, Marco Vinco a grainy-voiced young Colline. Jennifer Rowley’s Musetta supplies the fun, also some gleaming top notes. The conductor, Dan Ettinger, exerts a tight grip on the orchestra. Every dot and dash of the music is exact but its emotional warmth does not flow so easily.
The now 81-year-old John Copley’s production (he was there to take a bow at the end) looks as immaculately detailed as ever. Some of its ideas, though, have started to get crude — the incontinent puppy at the café, the guard and his girl setting the wagon a-wobble with their dawn passion — and they will not be missed. Otherwise, this is definitely a case of “Addio, senza rancor.”
To July 16, roh.org.uk
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