By Elsa Tranter
Photos by Cory Weaver, San Francisco Opera
Ah, the romance and tragedy of the bohemian life—it never fails to intrigue and leave us with a tear in the eye. Last night’s performance of San Francisco Opera’s final summer offering, Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème, was just the ticket. The final warhorse (after “Rigoletto” and “Don Giovanni”) was most successful in every way. It is based on the serial ‘Scenes de la vie de bohème” written by Henri Murger and published in 1849. Not much happens during the opera in terms of plot, but it certainly popularized and romanticized the bohemian life.
The director of this production was Englishman John Caird, who made his debut in San Francisco in 2014 with this opera. The production designer was fellow Brit David Farley (who also debuted in 2014). This production has also been seen at Houston Grand Opera and Toronto’s Canadian Opera company. The costumes were traditional to the time of the opera’s setting, mid 19th century. It was all of a piece with no jarring of the sensibilities in an attempt to be more ‘relevant’. Thank goodness for that!
To me the opera seemed to race by too quickly, with the scenery changes between acts I and II and between III and IV done almost instantly with the curtain up; the opera ended a mere 2 hours and 20 minutes after it started. I would have preferred to have a little more time to absorb the spirit of the evening (ever the bohemian wannabe).
American soprano Julie Adams, as Mimi, gave her first (of two) 2017 performances (having sung the role last year in the “Bohème for Families”. She was a genuine and believable heroine, with a clear and creamy voice and warmth and beauty in her smile. Most of her acting was credible—in the death scene at the end she seemed a little stiff. She is a former Adler Fellow who is sure to have a bright career ahead.
She was well matched with her Rodolfo, Mexican tenor Arturo Chacon-Cruz; his lyrical voice had plenty of charm and beauty as well and there was definite chemistry between them. Their closing first act duet, which we all remember as sung by Luciano Pavarotti and numerous sopranos, seemed sweet and touching in this performance.
American Soprano Ellie Dehn was a fetching and sparkling Musetta (a role she has also sung in Naples). She had plenty of wit and sassiness in her portrayal of the more sophisticated (and healthier) friend of Mimi.
The ensemble cast is completed by Norwegian baritone Audun Iversen as Marcello, current Adler Fellow bass-baritone Brad Walker as Schaunard, bass Scott Conner as Colline and veteran bass Dale Travis singing but Alcindoro and Benoit. The joy and hi-jinks of this youthful group was quite infectious on stage and made the opera feel very true to life. Of course there are moments of sadness and even tragedy, but the bohemian spirit prevailed.
The orchestra was conducted by Italian Carlo Montanaro; the connections between the pit and the stage weren’t always perfect, but the mood of the music and the energy of the singers carried the day. All in all it was a most enjoyable night at the opera. Four performances remain, June 23, 29 and 7:30 pm and June 25 and July 2 at 2:00 pm.
Elsa Tranter is a Bostonian who has lived in Berkeley for over 40 years and has been an opera goer for most of those years. She worked as a graduate student adviser at UC Berkeley and still attends Cal Performances regularly. Her favorite composer is Wagner and her favorite opera is Tristan und Isolde.