La boheme, ENO at the Coliseum

La boheme is one of the most popular operas in the repertoire, and having been a regular opera goer for the last 15 years, I've clocked up many performances. When I checked back, I realised that on Saturday night I would come of age with Puccini's opera - my eighteenth performance!

Because of its familiarity to large swathes of the audience, it can often prove a difficult work for a company to pull off successfully. What ENO manages to achieve with this latest revival is the most coherent performance I've had the privilege to witness. It's rare when all the disparate elements come together in an opera performance, but when they do, as here, the results are simply overwhelming.

Barry Atkinson is once again in charge of reviving Stephen Pimlott's original production, and it has come up as fresh as paint, the emotional screw-tightening more painfully wrought than ever before. Despite Tobias Hoheisel's permanent set having to provide all the locations - the sense of student squalor and the Café Momus glamour - each act looks and feels right. And yet again ENO has assembled an ideal cast that not only look the part, but sing with clarity, feeling and pathos.

It really is the team effort of all involved which makes this an outstanding revival. As the two doomed lovers, Sandra Ford and Julian Gavin are near ideal. Ford goes from strength to strength, spinning Puccini's lines out with exquisite tone and colouring whilst Gavin brings an authentically Italian tone to the role of Rodolfo. Elizabeth Woolett was to have repeated her wonderfully brassy Musetta but succumbed to a throat infection at the dress rehearsal. Her understudy, Meryl Richardson was to have sung the role from the wings, but gallantly went on to make her ENO stage debut and her debut in the role - a double whammy if ever there was one! Musetta spends most of her time in a state of almost undress, walking on tables etc, and Richardson's account, under the circumstances, was sensational - it can't have been easy.

Ashley Holland, Dean Robinson and David Kempster are all individually characterised, well-sung Bohemians while, in the pit Michael Lloyd conducts an eloquent performance and, it hardly needs saying these days, the orchestra play like angels!

Another top-drawer, emotionally charged revival from ENO. Don't miss it even if you're on your 100th Boheme as this is one that will linger for a long time in the memory. Go see!

Keith McDonnell