(‘La Bohème’ plays at the War Memorial Opera House through December 7. The cast reviewed here performs on Nov. 14, 19, 22, 25 and 29 and Dec. 2 and 5. An alternate cast performs on Nov 15, 20, 23, and 30; Dec. 3 and 7.)
Puccini’s “La Bohème” is perhaps the most popular opera of all time, a so-called “war-horse” for its reliability in attracting audiences. Although some literary types have called it silly and shallow and manipulative and some musicologists have called it second rate and derivative, it keeps on keeping on like nobody’s business.
As well it should.
The bohemian household of the poet Rodolfo, the painter Marcello, the musician Schaunard and the philosopher, Colline and the story of their loves offer some of the sweetest enchantment in the history of theatre. Puccini himself lived a flambouyantly bohemian life, and his love and understanding for these characters is evident in every note. No other work of art has more charmingly captured our image of the romantic young artist. Whatever its flaws might be, to profess no love for “La Bohème” is to declare oneself to be a stick-in-the-mud philistine.
The enchantment blooms nicely in the present production. The four young men are beautifully sung and acted by the impressive quartet of Alexey Markov (Marcello), Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo), Christian Van Horn (Colline) and Hadleigh Adams (Schaunard). Their boho comaraderie is convincing, they each create fully realized individual characters, and they are superbly cast.
In this production, the acting is as distinguished as the singing. Acting highlights include Marcello’s complex interactions with the lovely and flirtatious Musetta (an extraordinary Nadine Sierra), and Hadleigh Adams’ elegantly eloquent physical humor as Schaunard.
At the heart of the opera, for both music and acting, is the love story between Rodolfo and Mimi. Musically, Michael Fabiano’s Rodolfo owns this production. His soaring, viscerally thrilling tenor is flawless in aria after aria with singing that seems almost inhumanly perfect in execution. And his acting is on a par with his singing. Fabiano is an operatic superstar, and nothing in his performance disappoints. As Mimi, Alexia Voulgaridou, making her SF Opera debut, matches him well as an actress, but seems to be unhappy in her vocal performance with some of her higher notes sounding breathy and tentative and an occasional uncertainty regarding tempos. These problems were most evident in Act I, and much improved by Act II. In any case, they did not diminish the emotional impact of her final aria, which succeeded — as it must — in evoking tears for Mimi’s sad denoument.
Nadine Seirra’s fiery and sexy Musetta suffered no such difficulties. Her rendition of the famous waltz aria, “Quando me’n vo“, received an abundance of enthusiastic and well deserved bravas.
John Caird’s staging is always both picturesque and realistic, whether in the garret appartment, outdoors in the Latin Quarter, or by a city gate.
The minor characters and supporting chorus do excellent work, as does the orchestra under conductor Giuseppe Finze’s assured baton. Dale Travis, as both the landlord, Benoît, and Musetta’s sugar daddy, Alcindoro, finds comic gold.
Audiences will be pleased with this version of “La Bohème”.
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“La Bohème” by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, based on a novel by Henri Mürger, a co-production San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Canadian Opera Company. Conductor: Giuseppe Finze. Director: John Caird. Production Designer: David Farley. Lighting Designer: Michael James Clark. Chorus Director: Ian Robertson.
Marcello: Alexey Markov/Brian Mulligan. Rodolfo: Michael Fabiano/Giorgio Berrugi. Colline: Christian Van Horn. Schaunard: Hadleigh Adams. Benoît: Dale Travis. Mimi: Alexia Voulgaridou/Leah Crocetto. A Prune Vendor: Colby Roberts. Parpignol: Chester Pidduck. A boy: Ethan Chen. Musetta: Nadine Sierra/Elie Dehn. Alcindoro: Dale Travis. A Custom-House Sergeant: Bojan Knežević. A Custom-House Officer: Torlef Borsting.
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