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La Boheme review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘Richard Jones’ successful new staging’

Michael Fabiano and Nicole Car in La Boheme at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Tristram Kenton Michael Fabiano and Nicole Car in La Boheme at the Royal Opera House. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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It is 43 years since the Royal Opera last launched a new La Boheme – the most frequently played opera at this address. John Copley’s old staging had exceptional staying power, and though some might think that it should have been replaced long ago, the deed has finally been done.

Director Richard Jones has already given the company many successes, and if Puccini’s sentimental (in the best sense) tale of love and death might not seem his natural territory, the show still has a good deal to recommend it. La Boheme contains comedy, too, as well as painfully realistic emotional tensions, and this new version emphasises these aspects without relinquishing a focus on its bittersweet romantic centre.

In some respects this is a traditional realisation, set in 19th-century Paris – some decades later, though, than the original’s ‘around 1830’. The attic in which the four young male artists work, starve and fool around, and the wintry environs of a sleazy bar at the gates of Paris, are both sparsely represented in Stewart Laing’s sets; but the stops are pulled out for a luxurious Cafe Momus surrounded by grander vistas of the city and where Simona Mihai’s outrageously flamboyant Musetta triumphantly steals the scene.

She’s brilliantly partnered by Marius Kwiecien’s forthright yet complex Marcello, while Nicole Car’s unusually strong-willed Mimi shows the young Australian soprano to have real star potential.

Michael Fabiano’s Rodolfo is less vocally charismatic – his tenor doesn’t quite blossom at the top as it should – but there are many rewarding details in his performance, as there are in those of his skilfully individualised flatmates, Florian Sempey’s jocular Schaunard and Luca Tittoto’s more earnest Colline.

Meanwhile, and with a little help from the orchestra and chorus, Antonio Pappano, the finest Puccini conductor of the day, ensures that the score comes over with exceptional vividness.

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Richard Jones meets the challenge of replacing a classic production head on