Puccini’s “La Boheme” is a perennial candidate for the title of world’s most popular opera. There are a couple of other contenders, bur none so peopled with likeable characters so in love with life, and so affected when one of them, Mimi, succumbs to a fatal illness..
The San Francisco Opera has a long record of performing this opera well and of casting world class singers in the major roles, particularly of the lovers Rodolfo and Mimi. To take three famous examples, each of the artists who were collectively known as The Three Tenors made their San Francisco Opera debuts as Rodolfo early in their careers – Luciano Pavarotti at age 32, Placido Domingo at age 28 and Jose Carreras at age 27.
[Below: Michael Fabiano as the would-be playright Rodolfo; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera ]
Another tenor phenomenon, Michael Fabiano, was the Rodolfo for the San Francisco opening night of John Caird’s co-production (with the Houston and Toronto opera companies).
One of the brightest of the rising young American opera stars [Rising Stars: An Interview with Michael Fabiano], earlier this year, Fabiano became the first artist to be named “artist of the year” in the same year by both the Richard Tucker and Beverly Sills Foundations.
[Below: Rodolfo (Michael Fabiano, left) gazes adoringly at Mimi (Alexia Voulgaridou, right) who has unexpectedly appeared at his doorway; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Fabiano has just turned 30, but Rodolfo is not his debut role with the San Francisco Opera. Like Carreras, he debuted here at age 27, although as Gennaro in Donizetti’s “Lucrezia Borgia” [See Fleming, Fabiano, Frizza Fuel San Francisco Opera’s Flaming, Fulfilling First “Lucrezia Borgia” – September 23, 2011.]
In a role that is considered at the border of the lyric tenor voice, which can be so effective in the passionate roles of Donizetti and early Verdi, and the weightier spinto voice, associated with the heavier tenor roles of much of later Verdi, Puccini and the verismo composers, Fabiano demonstrated masterful control in Rodolfo’s lyrical love passages, and evidence of power in reserve for when he ready to take on bigger tenor roles in the future.
[Below: Rodolfo (Michael Fabiano, front left) and Marcello (Alexey Markov, front right) discuss whether to burn a paper manuscript or oil paintings to help warm the room; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
(I suggest that is is relevant to a discussion of the youthful Fabiano, that during Pavarotti’s mid- and late 30s, Pavarotti performed at the San Francisco Opera in seven seasons in lyric roles – in operas by Donizetti and Verdi as well as “Boheme”, Then, at age 40, Pavarotti moved unambiguously into the spinto category in subsequent seasons here.
My comments relate to the choice of roles at the War Memorial Opera House, but, if one infers a prediction of future superstardom, I will not discourage it.)
Alexia Voulgaridou’s Mimi
Fabiano’s Mimi was the bright-voiced Greek soprano, Alexia Voulgaridou, in her San Francisco Opera debut.
Voulgaridou brought expressiveness to the role, affecting in her duets with Fabiano, arresting in the lushly melodic duet with the Marcello of Alexey Markov.
Nadine Sierra’s Musetta
Nadine Sierra, who, as a San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow appeared in roles in the 2011 season, returns in the principal role of Musetta, whose second scene ballad, usually called Musetta’s Waltz, is the most famous part of the opera.
I had reported on an extraordinary performance by Nadine Sierra at the 2013 Glimmerglass Festival [See Superlative: Anthony Roth Costanzo, Nadine Sierra, Ensemble Dancers Superb in Jessica Lang’s Visualization of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater – Glimmerglass Festival, July 20, 2013.]
Playing a quite different part that has both comic vitality in the Cafe Momus scene and poignant intensity at the death of Mimi in the opera’s finale, Sierra quickly established herself as an audience favorite.
[Below: Nadine Sierra is Musetta; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Sierra’s Musetta’s fiery relationship with Alexey Markov’s Marcello was nicely staged.
Alexey Markov’s Marcello
One assesses Marcello’s character not through introspective arias but through his duet with Mimi and his lively interchanges with Rodolfo and the Bohemians and with Musetta.
Here Markov’s artistry and Caird’s staging made for an effective presentation of this lead baritone role.
John Caird’s production and other cast and crew
Since I will be reviewing both casts, I will spend more time in the second review on the production itself, the sets of David Farley, the conducting of Giuseppe Finzi, and the other cast members, which include Christian Van Horn (Colline), Hadleigh Adams (Schaunard) and Dale Travis (Benoit and Alcindoro).
However, an amazing element of the production is the inventive scene changes between the first and second scenes (desginated acts in the opera) before the single intermission and the third and fourth sccnes (acts three and four) afterwards.
I recommend the John Caird production of “La Boheme” enthusiastically, as I do this cast.
(See also my review of the alternate cast at Review: Crocetto, Berrugi, Dehn, Mulligan Star in Well-sung, Intelligently-Acted “La Boheme” – San Francisco Opera, November 15, 2014.)