Opera review: La Bohème, Royal Opera House | Music | Entertainment

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The current production at Covent Garden is a first revival of the version Richard Jones directed last autumn and it benefits from several small changes, which combat the inconsistencies of the earlier version, and by having the strongest cast I have seen in this opera. 

The story opens with four young artistic men living in a garret in Paris, unconcerned about their poverty because of the nobility of their art.

The main character among them is the writer and poet Rodolfo, who is left alone finishing an article when his three friends go off to a cafe. Then Mimi walks in, her tiny hand is frozen and they fall in love, which changes his life.

Not enough, of course, for him to get a job and earn enough to pay for the proper medical treatment she needs, but that’s artists for you.

All four of the men are splendidly cast, with American tenor Matthew Polenzani superb as Rodolfo and Fernando Rado (Argentina), Duncan Rock (Australia) and Jeremy White (UK) giving terrific support in the lesser roles as his companions.

Rado was particularly impressive in his soulful aria towards the end when he sings farewell to the overcoat he is about to sell to raise money for Mimi. Sometimes seen almost as a comic item, this aria, when done as well as this, is one of Puccini’s most powerful.

Rado’s character Colline is bidding farewell not just to an old coat but to all the joys of youth.

Mimi is doomed, he knows it, and life will never be the same again.

As well as these four, we have a terrific Mimi in the Italian soprano Maria Agresta whose voice is almost too strong for a person saddled with a fatal illness. In the final scene, however, she perfectly displays her vulnerability and weakness.

Best of all, however, is the performance of Danielle de Niese as Musetta, the tart with a heart whose brash independence turns to soulful pity for Mimi at the end.

Musetta is a powerful and dictatorial women, gloriously played with great humour by de Niese, putting the seal on a great La Boheme.  

Box Office: 020 7304 4000 or roh.org.uk (in performance until July 20). 

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