John Copley’s traditional 1974 staging of Puccini’s Parisian romance is back for yet another revival whose main point of interest is the return of Rolando Villazon as Rodolfo - a role he sang for the ROH in 2005. Sadly, the condition of his voice on this occasion was worrying. The top register felt stressed and diminished. Many notes were approached gingerly and then cut short. A few phrases were entirely dropped. Despite a game acting performance, this is not the vocal level he needs to reach to hold a position as an international tenor. [It has since transpired that Villazon has been suffering from acute bronchitis and was replaced for several shows by Ukrainian tenor Dmytro Popov]. Let’s hope it was just an off-night.
Stefania Dovhan (Musetta), Audun Iversen (Marcello), Rolando Villazon (Rodolfo) and Maija Kovalevska (Mimi) in La Boheme at the Royal Opera House, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska sings Mimi. Her voice has some stamina if not quite enough power or stability to make her mark as the luminous personality Puccini envisaged, though, like Villazon, she is more than presentable dramatically.
But some of the production’s other newcomers hit the spot. Norwegian baritone Audun Iversen’s full, rounded tone provided the basis for a warm and winning Marcello. Serbian bass-baritone David Bizic enters fully into the spirit of the production as Schaunard. Ukrainian-American soprano Stefania Dovhan has the looks and personality to command attention as Musetta, and much of her singing is bright and breezy. Best of all was the Argentine bass Nahuel Di Pierro, who seized all his opportunities as Colline and provided the evening’s vocal highlight with his Coat Song.
Two stalwart British artists - Jeremy White and Donald Maxwell - give flawless accounts of Benoit and Alcindoro respectively, and Sir Mark Elder’s conducting is precise, perceptive and flexible.