San Francisco Opera opens the final production in its summer season this weekend with one of the world’s most popular operas, Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème. This passionate and heartbreaking portrayal of love in the bohemian quarter of 19th century Paris brings to the stage of the War Memorial Opera House some of the most beautiful music ever written.
Carlo Montanaro conducts this co-production with Houston Grand Opera and Canadian Opera Company, which has sopranos Erika Grimaldi and Julie Adams sharing the role of Mimi, tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Rodolfo, and soprano Ellie Dehn as Musetta.
La Bohème – with a libretto by Luigi Illica and Guiseppe Giacosa – was written in 1895, and first performed in Turin on February 1, 1896. The opera was based on a novel by French novelist and poet, Henri Murger – Scènes de la vie de bohème – in which he wrote about a lifestyle which he new intimately. He himself figured as Rodolfo in the book, and the other characters were all friends of his – students who were fun-loving and witty, with a healthy disregard for authority, but whose lives were also tempered with sadness.
This staging of La Bohème, a revival of San Francisco Opera’s 2014 production, is by English director John Caird – winner of two Tony Awards, a Lawrence Olivier Award, a Drama Desk and three Outer Critics Circle awards. He is an Honorary Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Principal Guest Director of Sweden’s Royal Dramatic Theatre (Dramaten) in Stockholm. His list of productions includes highly successful shows such as Beggar’s Opera, Candide, Les Miserables, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Stanley and Daddy Long Legs, and he’s also the author of Theatre Craft, A Director’s Practical Companion from A to Z.
The design is by Olivier Award-winning artist David Farley – who also has an Evening Standard and a Critics Circle award to his credit – and whose portfolio boasts an extraordinary number of successful productions, including A Little Night Music, Daddy Long Legs, Sunday in the Park with George, Oklahoma and La Cage aux Folles. His gorgeous sets for this staging of La Bohème include a fascinating collage of canvases inspired by scenes of Belle Époque Paris.
Italian soprano Erika Grimaldi was offered the role of Mimi in La Bohème almost immediately after she won First Prize at the Comunità Europea competition in 2008. Since then she has sung the role at Opera de Oviedo in Spain, the Savonlinna Festival in Finland, at Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, and at Teatro Regio in Turin. She has appeared in a number of other roles at major opera houses such as Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich and Opéra National de Montpellier. Ms Grimaldi made her debut with San Francisco Opera in the Company’s 2016 production of Bizet’s Carmen, singing the role of Micaëla.
Two performances of La Bohème – on June 20 and 25 – will feature American soprano Julie Adams in the role of Mimi. A former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, Ms Adams was a winner of the 2014 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, won the 2015 George London Award, the 2015 Elizabeth Connell prize for aspiring dramatic sopranos, and was a recipient of a 2015 Sara Tucker Study Grant. This 2016-17 has also seen her appear as Kate Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Kristina in The Makropulos Case, and she covered for the role of Princess Jia in the world premiere of Dream of the Red Chamber for San Francisco Opera. Next season she’ll return as a guest artist in Francesca Zambello’s production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, singing Freia in Das Rheingold and Gerhilde in Die Walküre.
Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz appears as Rodolfo, a role he’s previously sung in Berlin, Bologna, Munich, Stockholm and Moscow. He made his first appearance with San Francisco Opera as the Duke of Mantua in the company’s 2012 production of Verdi’s Rigoletto – a debut described by the San Francisco Chronicle as one of “enormous grace, charisma and stamina”, adding “Here, clearly, is a singer of major promise.” The 2005 winner of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia Singing Competition, Mr Chacón-Cruz has acquired a repertoire which includes not only Rodolfo and the Duke of Mantua, but Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata, Pinkerton in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, the title roles in Les Contes d’Hoffmann and Massenet’s Werther, and Romeo in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.
Ellie Dehn, who made her debut with San Francisco Opera in 2010, has been described by The Wall Street Journal as “a charismatic soprano with great stage presence and a voice combining metallic clarity and sensual richness.” According to The New York Times, she “possesses a beautiful, bronzed and rich soprano”. Acclaimed for her versatility, Miss Dehn has appeared in many of the world’s finest opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Bayerische Staatsoper, Los Angeles Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Santa Fe Opera and Santa Cecilia.
Norwegian baritone Audun Iversen is Marcello, Colline is sung by Scott Conner, Brad Walker – a current San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow – is Schaunard, and Dale Travis – who has appeared with San Francisco Opera in fifteen seasons since 1988–89 – sings the roles of Benoît and Alcindoro.
Conductor Carlo Montanaro – music director at Teatr Wielki in Warsaw from 2011 to 2014 – made his debut with San Francisco Opera in the 2016 production of Bizet’s Carmen. His operatic repertoire also includes Lucia di Lammermoor, Nabucco, Aida, Tosca, La sonnambula, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Madama Butterfly and La Bohème, and he has led performances in many of the opera houses in his native Italy, such as La Scala, Milan, Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, the Arena di Verona, the Fondazione Arturo Toscanini in Parma, the Teatro Verdi in Trieste, dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome and the Teatro Comunale in Florence. He has also appeared at major venues such as Deutsche Oper in Berlin, Opéra de Monte Carlo, Opéra Bastille in Paris, the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv, the New National Theatre in Tokyo and Sydney Opera House.
Carlo Montanaro leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson), and members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus and San Francisco Boys Chorus, in Puccini’s La Bohème. The San Francisco Girls Chorus is led by Artistic Director Lisa Bielawa and Music Director and Principal Conductor Valérie Sainte-Agathe. The San Francisco Boys Chorus is led by Artistic Director Ian Robertson. Sung in Italian with English supertitles, performances take place at the War Memorial Opera House from June 10 to July 2. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.