La Bohème Is A Bohemian Rhapsody In Covent Garden

La Bohème, Royal Opera House ★★★★☆

By Mike C
La Bohème Is A Bohemian Rhapsody In Covent Garden La Bohème, Royal Opera House 4
© ROH, Photo: Tristram Kenton

Richard Jones's bold, bright and witty La Bohème brings added warmth and humour to this well-loved tale of doomed love among the 19th century's equivalent of hipsters.

Suitably enough we begin in what looks like a loft apartment, all stripped wood and exposed beams, albeit a chilly one as the heating's off. This triggers a fairly simple story of boy-meets-girl-then-loses-her-tragically. Written at a time when the world seemed just about to go mad, and now performed when it actually has, we need Puccini's apparently simple classic tale now much as ever.

Whether it works turns on if you'll buy Mimì and Rodolfo as lovers, and Charles Castronovo as the latter is part puppyish charm, part brooding man-boy under his beard — the contradiction on which the storyline is constructed. And a massive hand on her entry for Simona Mihai, standing in at the last moment for an unwell Sonya Yoncheva. Yes, she's sung Mimi before but they're big shoes and she fills them well. The boys are good too, with a genuine sense of camaraderie built in a few short minutes between Rodolfo and his bezzies — Marcello the painter (Andrzej Filonczyk), Colline the philosopher (Peter Kelner) and self-appointed king of bantz, Schaunard the musician, a puckish Gyula Nagy.

© ROH, Photo: Tristram Kenton

Lovers and best mates aside, the setting by Stewart Laing is magnificent — the crisp, spartan apartment gives way to a riotous assembly of a Parisian street. It's jarring at first after the quiet of the loft, but it makes sense as we tumble into the café where Musetta (the excellent Aida Garrifullina) arrives with a bang — as her knickers fly off the assembled diners' expressions of fascinated horror as if Kim Kardashian turned up at your local bistro and insisted on doing a floor show. The darker second half provides shade to the light and diminuendo towards Mimì's convincingly tragic end.

A work that is bold, full of artistry, colour and life, performed with brio and excellence — it's what the Royal Opera's for, really.

La Bohème, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Bow St, WC2E 9DD, £11-£230. Until 27 May

Last Updated 13 January 2020