The Mail on Sunday - Event - - CLASSICAL - DAVID MEL­LOR

La Bo­hème

Royal Opera House, Lon­don Un­til Oc­to­ber 10

The US pro­duces even fewer great ro­man­tic tenors than great pres­i­dents. But as with their pres­i­dents, they live in hope. Hence the OTT pre-public­ity for Michael Fabi­ano’s Rodolfo in Richard Jones’s sadly un­der­whelm­ing La Bo­hème.

The howls of en­thu­si­asm on open­ing night that greeted Fabi­ano’s cau­tiously com­pe­tent Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen sug­gested a claque at work. But they qui­etened down as it be­came ob­vi­ous that Fabi­ano is good, but not that good. Yet, any­way.

He has a truly Ital­ianate tone but not enough colour in the voice. He also lacks the kind of am­pli­tude needed to dom­i­nate a house as big as Covent Gar­den the way Joseph Calleja did at the Royal Opera in 2015. That, with Anna Ne­tre­bko as Mimi, was a much more full-blooded af­fair. In this one I kept want­ing to turn up the vol­ume, as a bunch of small voices failed to over­whelm, while also turn­ing down the gar­ish light­ing. Fabi­ano, if he keeps a level head and re­fuses to be crowned be­fore he is king, might yet make the re­ally big time. But none of the oth­ers will. Ni­cole Car as Mimi is bet­ter than a fel­low Aussie’s half-time ver­dict – ‘A strap­ping Aus­tralian girl bet­ter suited to A Town Like Alice than La Bo­hème’ – but not much. She’s re­ally too in­ex­pe­ri­enced for such a role here, and there’s no real ev­i­dence of a truly high-qual­ity voice. The Bo­hemi­ans are a dull lot, es­pe­cially Mar­iusz Kwiecien’s dour, uni­d­iomatic Mar­cello, while Si­mona Mi­hai’s Musetta in her big Café Mo­mus scene is just em­bar­rass­ing. We wanted Mae West and we got Theresa May. Even when she started wav­ing her knick­ers around, it wasn’t sexy. If you want an out-there Musetta, go to one of Joyce El-Khoury’s nights. Richard Jones and his team needed to be on top form to make us for­get the lon­grun­ning John Co­p­ley pro­duc­tion, which started in 1974 and was re­vived 25 times, with its mag­nif­i­cent sets by the late Ju­lia Trevelyan Oman. But they’re not. Act I is played out in a sort of flat-pack rab­bit hutch with a hole in the roof and a lad­der stick­ing through it, de­spite the Bo­hemi­ans sup­pos­edly be­ing in a gar­ret, freez­ing to death. Act II is a mess, with re­volv­ing sets that, de­spite their ob­vi­ous ex­pense, fail to cre­ate the at­mo­sphere of the old show. Jones’s pro­duc­tion is strangely old­fash­ioned. For a di­rec­tor of his ex­cep­tional tal­ent, this is a ma­jor dis­ap­point­ment, and a se­ri­ous missed op­por­tu­nity.

Michael Fabi­ano as Rodolfo and Ni­cole Car as Mimi

Wyn Pen­car­reg as Al­cin­doro and Si­mona Mi­hai as Musetta

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