Call it the Covid effect. When I first saw Richard Jones’ La bohème during its premiere run, I found it technically assured but cold. Four years and one pandemic later, the unsentimental simplicity of the production has made a particularly potent emotional experience. Jones’ bustling Latin Quarter, a technical marvel of forced perspective, has now been stripped down due to social distancing, with no more than six customers in Café Momus. The end of Act 2, now set on an empty stage, was particularly poignant.

Gianluca Buratto, Joshua Guerrero, Cody Quattlebaum and Boris Pinkhasovich
© ROH | Tristram Kenton

Above all, this revival benefits from a young, committed cast. Though Bohème often serves as a star vehicle for the lead couple, the emotional potency of the piece depends on the feeling of camaraderie among the cast. As Schaunard and Colline, Cody Quattlebaum and Gianluca Buratto had presence in spades, fully believable in their frathouse bromance. Buratto goes from strength to strength, his resonant bass filling the house with ease and shading his Act 4 aria with touching dignity. Quattlebaum’s physicality made a nice foil, climbing around the garret with impressive agility and swirling around an impressive mane of hair that would make any Musetta envious.

Danielle de Niese (Musetta)
© ROH | Tristram Kenton

As the famously flirty coquette, Danielle de Niese steals the show with her antics in Café Momus, drunkenly climbing on tables and flashing her panties. While de Niese may not be the most vocally glamorous Musetta, she nicely charts the character’s development from outrageous party girl to concerned friend. Her post-breakup walk offstage at the end of Act 3 is particularly memorable – tragic without being scene-stealing. She spars nicely with Boris Pinkhasovich’s Marcello, who is particularly outstanding in his projection of the text. Pinkhasovich has a marvellous voice, with a mellifluous legato and presence. I can’t wait to see him return in bigger roles.

Joshua Guerrero (Rodolfo) and Anna Princeva (Mimì)
© ROH | Tristram Kenton

Joshua Guerrero has an undeniably exciting voice, with squillo and high notes to burn. He makes for an earnest, direct Rodolfo, and though his intonation tends to sag in his middle register he makes the most of the character’s emotional outbursts. His “Che gelida manina”, taken at a daringly slow tempo, was beautifully nuanced and displayed an admirable control of the line. But it’s Anna Princeva’s Mimì who is the real reason to see this revival. The Russian soprano is a much richer voice than we typically get in the role, and her repertoire includes Lohengrin, Trovatore, and Vespri siciliani. Her entrance makes an immediate aural impact, her dark coppery soprano flecked with melancholy. Hers is an immediately tragic Mimì, looking haunted from the beginning as if she knows her relationship with Rodolfo is doomed. Princeva is also able to shade her voice beautifully, practically whispering her final lines. Though neither Guerrero nor Princeva are particular stage animals, they were utterly disarming in their earnestness and showed great chemistry with one another.

The evening was overseen by Renato Balsadonna, who followed his singers admirably well while drawing sumptuous sound from the reduced orchestra. Top marks as well to the socially-distanced chorus and children’s chorus, adding a wonderful freshness to the performance. As any good Bohème should do, the audience was left sobbing by the end – an utterly winning revival.