San Francisco Opera Review: LA BOHÈME (SF Opera)

by Patricia Schaefer on November 15, 2014

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

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LES MIZ DIRECTOR JOHN CAIRD BRINGS LA BOHÈME TO SFO

San Francisco Opera’s crowd-pleasing rendition of La Bohème, which opened on Friday night, offers vocal enchantment unhampered by a boiler plate production. It’s hard to go wrong (in general) with Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera—a relatively light tragedy buoyed with easy-to-love characters, provocative music, and a lot of humor—but this latest production offers an appropriately youthful cast, whose musical execution is completely outstanding. Puccini takes care of the rest.

San Francisco Opera's La Boheme. Nadine Sierra (Musetta)and Dale Travis (Alcindoro). Photo by Cory Weaver.

The opera’s four-act libretto, written by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, is based on Henri Murger’s 1851 collection of short stories, Scènes de la vie de bohème. Despite their non-existent income and subsequent lack of heat, four artist friends exist in happy poverty (or at least they’re happy until it’s time to fall in love) within Paris’s Latin Quarter during the reign of King Louis Philippe (1830-1848).

San Francisco Opera's La Boheme starring Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Alexey Markov (Marcello). Photo by Cory Weaver.

The painter Marcello constantly battles with the beautiful Musetta, a commitment-phobe who seesaws between dating the poor painter and flirting with Paris’s upper-class bachelors. Equally dramatic is the central relationship between the writer Rodolfo and his neighbor Mimi, a consumption-suffering seamstress. The two garret-dwellers love each other fervently but must break up due to Mimi’s illness and Rodolfo’s inability to care for her (if you’re not acquainted with La Bohème you may recognize the storyline from a little musical called Rent).

San Francisco Opera's La Boheme. Hadleigh Adams (Schaunard), Christian Van Horn (Colline), Alexey Markov (Marcello) and Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo). Photo by Cory Weaver.

Alexey Markov and Nadine Sierra, as the stormy couple, Marcello and Musetta, have agile, powerfully sustained voices, while Michael Fabiano’s soaring, sensitive tenor as Rodolfo is unquestionably the highlight of the evening. Christian Van Horn sings Colline’s “Vecchia Zimarra” (The Coat Song) with memorable dignity, and Hadleigh Adams has great stage presence as the genial Schaunard.

San Francisco Opera's La Boheme. Hadleigh Adams (Schaunard), Christian Van Horn (Colline), Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo), Alexia Voulgaridou (Mimi) and Alexey Markov (Marcello). Photo by Cory Weaver.

Surrounded by such spot-on performances, the only lesser note is Alexia Voulgaridou, whose Mimi fades a bit in comparison to her comrades. A mousey Mimi, she convincingly portrays a frail operatic consumptive, but does not exude enough youthful urgency for “Sì, mi chiamano Mimì,” her Act I aria, and lacks the charisma necessary for her to be entirely convincing as the romantic object of Rodolfo’s desires.

San Francisco Opera's La Boheme. Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Alexey Markov (Marcello). Photo by Cory Weaver.

19th-century Paris is a cliché in itself, and John Caird, who staged the original Les Misérables, does nothing to update its typical presentation. Rodolfo and Marcello’s bohemian garret, rendered in soft blues and russets (lights by Michael James Clark) is cluttered with impressionist paintings and guttering candles (production design by David Farley).

San Francisco Opera's La Boheme. Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Alexia Voulgaridou (Mimi). Photo by Cory Weaver.

The snowy, holiday city streets of nighttime Paris give us all the usual: bustling crowds, rustic houses, cherubic children, paper lanterns, and a strikingly lush-voiced chorus (directed by Ian Robertson)—clustered together with shining faces, tamped down by drab woolens (costumes by Kristi Johnson). The staging always looks a little clumsy, second-hand and cluttered. There is nothing wrong with this atmospheric, straight-out-of-Dickens portrayal, but neither is there anything fresh or ambitious.

San Francisco Opera's La Boheme. Nadine Sierra (Musetta), Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo), Alexia Voulgaridou (Mimi) and Alexey Markov (Marcello). Photo by Cory Weaver.

Conductor Giuseppe Finzi guides the masterwork competently with balance and proportion, allowing the alternatingly dark and light score and its ornamental flourishes to shine. Thankfully, due to the music, this run-of-the-mill presentation avoids tedium. The score’s rich melodies—showcased by a number of truly remarkable vocal performances—dazzle in relief, and lift this production above the commonplace into very memorable, top-drawer territory.

Act II at Café Momus, San Francisco Opera's La Boheme. Photo by Cory Weaver.

The reviewed cast performs on Nov 14, 19, 22, 25, 29, Dec 2 and 5.

The cast featuring Leah Crocetto (Mimi), Giorgio Berrugi (Rodolfo), Ellie Dehn (Musetta) and Brian Mulligan (Marcello) performs on Nov 15, 20, 23 (m), 30 (m), Dec 3 and 7 (m).

Act IV of San Francisco Opera's La Boheme. Photo by Cory Weaver.

photos of opening night cast ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

La Bohème
San Francisco Opera
War Memorial Opera House
sung in Italian with English supertitles
scheduled to end on December 7, 2014
for tickets, call (415) 864-3330 or visit www.SFOpera.com

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