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La Boheme

Jennifer Rowley in La Boheme, Royal Opera House. Photo: Tristram Kenton

This is a fond farewell to John Copley’s 41-year-old production, revived almost every season since its Royal Opera House debut in 1974. Its retirement at the end of this run is not before time, but its remarkable longevity deserves to be celebrated – a tribute as much to Julia Trevelyan Oman’s lavish and detailed mid-19th century Parisian designs (which, with pleasing continuity, recycle at least one costume from the first ROH production of 1897) as to Copley’s staging, which conveys the romance, laughter and tears of Puccini’s most popular opera with clarity, vividness and affection.

Every great tenor and soprano of the past four decades has appeared as penniless poet Rodolfo and his doomed tuberculosis-suffering lover Mimi – Pavarotti, Domingo, Carreras, Alagna, Freni, Te Kanawa, Cotrubas, Gheorghiu, to name just a few. Recent casts have been more b-list, but the ROH is sending off its longest-running production in style with two of the hottest opera stars around. Russian soprano Anna Netrebko is so glorious vocally it’s easy to forgive her old-school synthetic emoting. Joseph Calleja, from Malta, has matured into an artist of substance – his thrillingly powerful, freely soaring tenor is the real deal. It’s a first-rank partnership, well-matched by impressive turns from Americans Jennifer Rowley (Musetta) and Lucas Meachem (Marcello). Conductor Dan Ettinger gives the singers plenty of space, and the ROH orchestra plays magnificently.

Copley’s is not the last word in La Boheme – and, in truth, the production often looks its age – but it will be a very tough act to follow.

Verdict
Opera superstars Anna Netrebko and Joseph Calleja ensure a great send-off for a venerable production

Production Information

Venue
Royal Opera House
City
London
Starts
May 23, 2015
Ends
July 16, 2015
Press night
May 23, 2015
Librettist
Giuseppe Giacosa, Luigi Illica (after Henry Murger)
Composer
Giacomo Puccini
Director
John Copley
Conductor
Dan Ettinger
Design
John Charlton
Set
Julia Trevelyan Oman
Costume
Julia Trevelyan Oman
Technical
Nic Harris (production manager), Christopher Porter (costume supervisor), Emma Turner, Jack Stookes, Jonathan Harden (stage management)
Cast includes
Anna Netrebko, Joseph Calleja, Lucas Meacham, Jennifer Rowley
Producer
Royal Opera House
Running time
2hrs 55mins