OPERA A consummate Mimi

Bohme / Rosenkavalier Royal Opera House Gheorgiu sounds almost reluctant to let the cadence go: the feeling is mutual
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The Independent Culture
Two consumptive heroines in one season: Angela Gheorghiu really cannot go on breaking hearts like this. Her Mimi in the current Royal Opera revival of La Bohme is at that point of development where it is hard to see exactly how it might be improved.

It's true that a good producer might focus her stillness and fragility on stage to even greater effect, and persuade her not to signal the emotion quite so "operatically". But the singing. When this Mimi directs her thoughts beyond winter with the words "when the thaw comes, the first sunshine, will be mine", it's not just Gheorghiu's creamy, evenly produced voice, but her mind and spirit that open to the prospect. She phrases with such musical instinct, shaping, turning, tapering, filling each idea. Sometimes she sounds almost reluctant to let the cadence go: and the feeling is mutual.

Her Rodolfo, a newcomer to the Opera House, is Johan Botha, a South African, beefy of countenance and voice. It's a bracing, open sound with clear potential for heroics but little, as yet, in the way of nuance. He stands squarely in the path of Puccini's most lyric phrases and he delivers. The big notes are fine (this Rodolfo and Mimi both give us the off-stage top C at the close of Act 1); but I would rather he sang with less capital and more interest. Style tends to be an inbred commodity, but maybe it'll come in time. Marie McLaughlin's riotous Musetta has the opposite problem: bags of personality and great instincts - but not too much voice at the present. Her support and intonation are plainly hurting. She should take stock before the problems get too firm a grip. She's too big a talent to squander.

Otherwise, this serviceable show goes efficiently enough through its paces. I still wonder why our starving Bohemians (well-led by the excellent Anthony Michaels-Moore's Marcello) should sacrifice their last baguette on a bread fight. But it's an episode that the conductor, Simone Young, whips into a frenzy of exuberance dramatically heightening the tactical shock of Musetta's arrival with the dying Mimi. Young is a bit of a dynamo. Her quick reflexes and keen sense of rhythm make for plenty of excitement: forthright orchestral colours, lively inner-part detail. But she was overly impulsive here, too often leaving singers and ensemble behind to pick up the dropped stitches.

Andrew Davis can be impulsive, too. The Prelude to Act 1 of Der Rosenkavalier took Octavian and the Marschallin's love-making to olympic levels. Even so, there's a sense of well-being about his conducting, every element of Strauss's richly endowed score - its dynamism and delectability - right there on the tip of his baton. John Schlesinger's pantomimic production - full of clichs - doesn't wear well, even when peopled so lavishly.

Anne Sofie von Otter was indisposed on the first night, leaving Ann Murray to make a miraculous overnight transformation from Despina to Octavian - and highly accomplished she was. Barbara Bonney gave us a peachily Viennese Sophie all the way up to a silvery top D, and Felicity Lott, gracious and light of touch, now inhabits the Marschallin to such a degree, it is hard to separate singer from character. Aage Haugland's big and ruddy Baron Ochs certainly looked the part - a pig farmer with airs - but delivered far too much of it in a kind of under-projected parlando. And that Act 2 wedding cake of a set. Faninal may be a man of dubious taste - but really.

Edward Seckerson

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