In Jones's sometimes laugh-out-loud funny reading at Covent Garden, we are drawn in close to the arty crowd, and we are stricken when they are stricken. Opera-goers know what is coming from moment to moment – the attempts of four young intellectuals to keep merry, the trouncing of their landlord, the chance encounter with a lone seamstress neighbour, good times, bad times, and premature death.
For once, the famous garret really is cramped, a head-banging maze of joists and obstacles with a difficult door and cussed stove. And when the room-mates finally let rip and scrawl saucy caricatures over the inviting blank walls and timbers, it means that Mimì dies, not decorously and aesthetically, but under seamy covers and surrounded by lewd drawings. For, whatever some operas suggest, death from poverty is rarely on a velvet cushion, as we now know better than ever.
Danielle de Niese sings flirtatious Musetta at Covent Garden
There are high jinks aplenty, however, until the most shattering delay in all opera – while other onlookers realise that Mimi has died, her lover is slow to cotton on. Oh that cry of anguish! It hurts to think about it.
Covent Garden revives Jones's La Bohème as one of three early summer productions, with eight performances to socially distanced audiences. Two casts include Anna Princeva as Mimì and Joshua Guerrero as Rodolfo. Soprano Danielle de Niese sings flirtatious Musetta at most performances.
With a look as traditional as a tin of Quality Street, all boot, bonnets and bows, this Boheme nonetheless takes on a new relevance and poignancy in our challenged times.
'La Bohème' is sung in Italian with English surtitles to socially-distanced audiences, current Covid-19 restrictions permitting. The performance on 25 June is streamed (£16). Booking opens 10AM, Fri 7 May.
|What||La Bohème, Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
19 Jun 21 – 26 Jul 21, Eight performances to socially-distanced audiences, times vary
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|