La Bohème, Royal Opera House, London
Melvyn Tan, Wigmore Hall, London

This dusty, busty dowager is only propped up by tradition

From the steaming copper pans of the kitchen in the Café Momus to the cosy glow of the follow-spots in the moonlit artists' garret, La Bohème looks as dated as an episode of Upstairs, Downstairs.

When John Copley's Royal Opera House production opened in February 1974, Hibla Gerzmava (Mimi) and Inna Dukach (Musetta) were toddlers. Jacques Imbrailo (Schaunard), Kostas Smoriginas (Colline), baby-faced Teodor Ilincai (Rudolfo) and conductor Andris Nelsons had yet to be born, and though I cannot find a birthdate for Gabriele Viviani (Marcello), he was probably still in nappies.

Aside from the introduction of some mildly saucy business at the Barrière d'Enfer, the production hasn't changed since I first saw it 20 years ago. Casts come and go, some scintillating, some drab. But what keeps this dusty, busty dowager of a staging going is not young blood but tradition: the unison gasp of pleasure at the snowfall of Act III, a collective chuckle at the antics of Musetta's eminently kickable lapdog, and a private smirk at its uncanny resemblance to the muff. It's surprising no one calls out "She's behind you!" when Mimi reappears in Act IV. Which is very much at odds with the sharp snatched breaths and sudden softness of Nelsons' reading of Puccini's score – the most striking I've heard in its rhythmic flexibility, with the quietest and slowest of deaths and a constant sense of newness.

Any ensemble problems in this 23rd revival had disappeared by Monday's matinée, though the cast had yet to find a uniform solution to the gulf between Nelsons' fierce originality and Copley's fustily upholstered naturalism. While Jeremy White (Benoit) and Donald Maxwell (Alicondoro) ham it up with wig and dog, and Dukach and Viviani turn in stolid, unremarkable performances, Gerzmava, Ilincai, Smoriginas and Imbrailo conspire with Nelsons to bring something raw and tender to life. There's a delicacy and depth to their singing, desolate loneliness in Gerzmava's Mimi and an interesting twist in which Rudolfo is the real naïf. Scrunch up your eyes so the sets disappear and you can imagine what a production built around their talents could be like. Best to keep them scrunched, though. The production before Copley's premièred in 1899, so there could be another 40 years of revivals ahead.

There are few pleasures as reliable in the driftwood days between Christmas and New Year as a morning concert at the Wigmore Hall. Playing on Paul McNulty's sweet-toned copy of a 1795 Walter fortepiano, Melvyn Tan explored the pinball harmonic flourishes and baroque follies of C P E Bach's Fantasia in C and the delicately outlined suspensions of Haydn's Sonata in C. The same composer's Variations in F Minor wrought gentle magic from a dowdy theme in little off-beat gasps of dissonance, sugary trills and pungent chromaticism, while the E- flat Sonata saw a mellow, nostalgic Adagio framed by exuberant showmanship and winking syncopation. A fine end to Haydn's anniversary year.

'La Bohème': ROH (020-7304 4000) to 11 Jan

Tips for 2010

By Anna Picard

Mahler in Manchester: A bold six-month season co-curated by Mark Elder and the Hallé, Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic, and Douglas Boyd and Manchester Camerata opens with Mahler's First Symphony and a new work by Kurt Schwertsik. Bridgewater Hall (0845 345 0009), 16 Jan.

The Gambler: Prokofiev's garrulous Dostoevsky adaptation in a new production by Richard Jones. Roberto Sacca sings Alexei, Angela Denoke is Polina and John Tomlinson the General. Antonio Pappano conducts. Royal Opera House (020-7304 4000) from 11 Feb.

Pelleas et Melisande: Opera Holland Park reunites a winning team that includes soprano Anne-Sophie Duprels for its new production of Debussy's opera. Brad Cohen conducts the City of London Sinfonia. www.ohp.rbkc.gov.uk) From 1 June.

Artist to watch:

After years of ditzy soubrette roles Sophie Bevan's voice is developing an attractive lustre. Eagerly awaited: her Susanna in Garsington's Le Nozze di Figaro.

Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In my grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel