I spent a happy hour and a half this morning reviewing yesterday's opening night of La Boheme at Covent Garden, only for my browser to crash when I tried to publish the post, hence losing the lot. So this is a short version: Boheme remix.
Before kick-off, an announcement explained that Piotr Beczala, singing Rodolfo, had been 'suffering from a severe cold' (have you noticed, singers never have 'normal' colds, just 'severe' ones) and asked for our understanding. Maybe he'd been out in the cold playing golf too much. We all did 'understand', though, because his voice possesses a magical quality: a centre with a distinctive burnished orange glow and a clarity that lets the emotion shine straight through. Sadly, though, he had trouble with the top notes and cried off at the first interval, when management hauled second-cast tenor Teodor Ilincai out of the audience and whooshed him into costume. He jumped admirably into character with both feet and did a sterling job with the strength that Beczala hadn't been able to muster, but without quite the magic.
Andris Nelsons, 31-year-old Latvian darling of the CBSO, was making his Covent Garden debut, an experience the adrenaline-levels of which I can't even begin to imagine. The orchestra sounded wonderful under his baton, full of bounce and sparkle: the score 'flew' from the first note. Unfortunately, he and Russian soprano Hibla Gerzmava, an otherwise stupendous Mimi, seemed to have agreed to differ. Or maybe differed to agree. One way or another, several times they parted company. Individualism is great, but the stage of Covent Garden is no place for Latvia to re-seek independence from Russia and I think they should possibly be packed off to Copenhagen to renegotiate matters before tomorrow night (oh...maybe not such a great idea...).
The TV cameras were out in force and will be back tomorrow, so the team will have to sort out PDQ who is going to be Rodolfo the Red-Nosed Reindeer for all time. Full marks meanwhile to the characterful and rather hot Marcello, Gabriele Viviani, Jacques Imbrailo as Schaunard and a fabulous cameo from Donald Maxwell as Alcindoro. And Musetta's little white dog was on excellent form.
Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.
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