When I arrived at the War Memorial Opera House recently to see “La Boheme,” I thought it might be nice to dine at the Opera House restaurant. I made my way through a festive crowd to the desk of the maitre d’.
“Do you have a reservation?” he asked pointedly.
“No, I’m afraid not,” I said. “I’ve come on a last minute whim. Can you find me a seat?”
“I don’t know,” came the reply. Then, lifting his hands and shoulders in a grand Gallic shrug, he opined: “You see, it is “La Boheme.”
I got his point. “La Boheme” is the most popular opera in the canon. For many, it is the only opera they know and love. It is to the Opera what Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is to the Ballet, or Beethoven’s Pastoral to the Symphony. If you’ve seen and heard of only one opera, it is probably Puccini’s sentimental gem.
A love story set among poets, and painters, and loose women, moving through the art studios and cafes of Paris, it is the very definition of charm.
Frankly, though, it would be cloying to sit through this too familiar story were it not a bona fide masterpiece, one of the greatest musical accomplishments in the repertoire. Listen, especially, for Puccini’s mastery of a conversational feeling for much of the singing, the use of repeated phrases that return at appropriate moments, the arias deeply embedded in the overall musical tapestry, and the incredibly rich orchestrations. Everything is contrived to tell the story and play upon the emotions. If you don’t cry at “La Boheme,” well, you were probably not destined to be an opera lover.
The key scene for lovers of La Boheme is the key scene for the lovers in La Boheme: the two arias in which Rodolfo and Mimi introduce themselves to each other. Sung beautifully, they are show stopping and heart breaking. Erika Grimaldi as Mimi and Arturo Chacon-Cruz as Rodolfo deliver the goods. Grimaldi made her San Francisco debut in last season’s Carmen in a controversial, finger popping performance as Micaela. As Mimi, she demonstrates her wide range as an actress, and sings with authority. Chacon-Cruz’s Rodolfo proves him to be a grand and romantic tenor.
With its outstanding company, straightforward staging, luscious sets, and the skilled baton of Carlo Montanaro, this “La Boheme” should delight both sophisticated and casual fans.
“La Boheme” will play two more performances (June 29th and a matinee on Sunday July 2nd) at the War Memorial Opera House. For further information, click here.
Rating: **** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“La Boheme” by Giacomo Puccini. Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. Produced by SF Opera. Director: John Caird. Carlo Montanaro. Production Designer: David Farley.
Mimi: Erika Grimaldi. Musetta: Ellie Dehn. Rodolfo: Arturo Chacon-Cruz. Marcello: Audun Iversen. Colline: Scott Conner. Schaunard: Brad Walker. Benoit: Dale Travis. Alcindoro: Dale Travis.