No moonlight, no magic: Richard Jones directs a vanilla Bohème for the Royal Opera

Puccini: La bohème ***

The Royal Opera, 11th September 2017

New productions of La bohème don’t come around that often at the Royal Opera. John Copley’s venerable staging lasted for 43 years and the one before that – Peter Brook reviving a pre-war production – had a decent innings running from 1948. I doubt this new effort from Richard Jones will last half as long, not because it’s controversial in any respect but because it’s tepid. After his affectionate treatment of La fanciulla del West for ENO and his devastating Suor Angelica at this address, Jones’ Bohème tastes disappointingly vanilla.

Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Nicole Car (Mimì)
© ROH | Catherine Ashmore

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Prom 29: Twilight of the Old Believers as Semyon Bychkov leads a majestic Khovanshchina

Mussorgsky: Khovanshchina ****

Prom 29, Royal Albert Hall, 6th August 2017

At the end of Götterdämmerung, Brünnhilde rides her horse onto a pyre. Although his opera’s not quite as long, Mussorgsky trumps Wagner by sending a whole chorus to their immolation as Act 5 of Khovanshchina draws to its fiery close. The Proms didn’t run to a semi-staging of this epic slice of Russian history – just a few cheap disco light effects to suggest the Albert Hall was aflame – but Semyon Bychkov turned in a magisterial account of this rugged score, aided and abetted by some strong vocal performances.

Elena Maximova
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

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Tolstoy speed read: Ratmansky’s Anna Karenina with the Mariinsky Ballet

Shchedrin: Anna Karenina ***

Diana Vishneva (Anna Karenina)
© Alex Gouliaev

Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, 3rd August 2017

How does one condense a Tolstoy epic for the stage? Prokofiev squeezed War and Peace down to a four hour opera, although it still contains some 70 named characters in its sprawling synopsis. In Anna Karenina, choreographer Alexei Ratmansky takes a different approach, focusing almost entirely on the characters of Anna, her pent-up husband, Karenin, and her young lover, Count Vronsky. Filleting the novel to its bare essentials, his ballet, presented as the central strand of the Mariinsky’s London residency, feels like a speed read.

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Tears before bedtime: El-Khoury transcends Cairns’ chilly Glyndebourne Traviata

Verdi: La traviata ****

Glyndebourne, 1st August 2017

Glyndebourne’s production of operatic weepy La traviata left me dry-eyed when I saw it on tour back in 2014. I found the abstract setting cold and austere, the performances bland. Thankfully, I employed a caveat in the final paragraph: “Essentially, there’s nothing greatly wrong with Tom Cairns’ staging. I can imagine that, if cast with a stronger central trio, it could work well.” Et, voilà! The second cast of the summer (the first reviewed very favourably) saw the festival field three principals worthy of any major international opera house. The difference was palpable.

Atalla Ayan (Alfredo) and Joyce El-Khoury (Violetta)
© Robbie Jack

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One for sorrow: Claus Guth directs a taut, dark Clemenza di Tito at Glyndebourne

Mozart: La clemenza di Tito ***

Glyndebourne, 26th July 2017

A single magpie settles on a branch beside a lake. Two boys stalk through the long reeds. The older one hands the younger, fair-haired lad a slingshot and watches as he takes aim, aghast when the stone hits its mark and the magpie thuds to the ground. Using video projections in his new Glyndebourne production, Claus Guth fleshes out the backstory between Tito and Sesto, so we understand the sovereign’s inevitable act of forgiveness – the opera’s title La clemenza di Titorather gives away the denouement – when the emperor spares Sesto’s life after surviving an assassination attempt.

Richard Croft (Tito) and Anna Stéphany (Sesto)
© Monika Rittershaus

Read the full review on Bachtrack.

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