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1996, ROH London, La Bohème

La Bohème


Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Librettists: Giacosa and Illica, after Henri Murger’s novel Scènes de la vie de Bohème
Venue and Dates: Royal Opera House Covent Garden
11 October 1996 (3 performances)
Conductor: Christian Badea
Director: John Copley
Rodolfo: Luis Lima (2 performances)
Vicente Ombuena (3rd performance)
Mimì : Patricia Racette
Marcello : Simon Keenlyside
Schaunard : Bruno Caproni
Colline : Peter Rose
Musetta : Janice Watson
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden



Max Loppert for Opera, December 1996

The third sequence in the Covent Garden season-opening Bohème series was intended as a superstarry climax – three performances with the Dream Team of Gheorghiu and Alagna. But the plan went agley: they withdrew. In consequence, Patricia Racette, the final-cast Musetta, was promoted to Mimì, Luis Lima (from the first cast) took on two further performances as Rodolfo, and the young Spaniard Vicente Ombuena (who had made his house debut in this year’s Verdi Festival repeat of Nabucco) was brought in for the third.

Thus far it sounds a tale of woe, but for a change it’s one that ends happily: we are introduced to a quite marvellous Mimì……..

…. For this soprano I’d mount a Trittico tomorrow; more to the practical point, her Liù, Butterfly and (again) Mimì should be shown to us with all possible speed (in company, please, with a conductor more vocally attuned, less orchestrally show-off than Christian Badea). The fact that Ombuena was here a one-performance-only Rodolfo made his sincere involvement in the ensemble that much more satisfying. Less effective in honeyed wooing or nostalgic reverie than in high drama … he proved himself a useful rather than notably individual tenor. In purely vocal terms Simon Keenlyside (Marcello) and Bruno Caproni (a vigorous, Italianate Schaunard) might profitably have been invited to exchange roles; for all Keenlyside’s Mozart-baritone elegance and song-recitalist subtleties with words, his Marcello seemed a degree or so small-scale for Covent Garden. Peter Rose sang a fluent Colline but found no special touch of eccentric humour in the characterization.

Which leaves Janice Watson – who for me remains… a puzzlement. In face and figure she promises a Musetta with the sensuality of the young Simone Signoret, yet what comes across is demureness and holding-back, the pealing-laughter and high-kicking routines repeated as learnt by rote. As the revenant of Act 3 Miss Watson sang so beautifully … that all reticence was forgiven….

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