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Artistry and love flourish in SF Opera’s ‘La Bohème’

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Arturo Chacón-Cruz and Erika Grimaldi are the love birds in San Francisco Opera’s 2017 production of “La Bohème.” (Courtesy Cory Weaver)
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Paris in February can be a city as chilly as it is costly, as it is in Puccini’s “La Bohème.” But San Francisco Opera’s strong cast of bohemians breathed warmth and life into its revived production of the crowd-pleaser that opened Saturday.

The John Caird-directed, David Farley-designed production, last seen at the War Memorial Opera House in 2014, employs a stage design that might be mistaken for a community theater set but satisfyingly presents a pastiche of the impoverished yet charming world of 19th-century struggling artists in the City of Lights. The set was neither lost in the shuffle nor in the way in the Act 2 Café Momus scene when the street throng can seem overwhelming.

Tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz made for a splendid Rodolfo, the impoverished poet who shares a Paris flat and playful rapport with three other equally poor artists and who falls in love with his ailing neighbor Mimi. Chacón-Cruz expressively conveyed affection toward Mimi in his Act 1 aria “Che gelida manina,” and he displayed richness and grace in his voice, whether in moments of happiness or despair.

Soprano Erika Grimaldi as Mimi matched Rodolfo’s ardor with melting tenderness of her own, especially when she followed up his comforting attempt to imbue warmth into her frozen hands with a plushly delivered “Mi chiamano Mimi.” The chemistry between Grimaldi and Chacón-Cruz was palpable from the inception of Mimi and Rodolfo’s love with their passionate Act 1 duet to the opera’s poignant end.

Baritone Audun Iversen provided vocal heft and dramatic vigor as the painter Marcello, one of Rodolfo’s roommates. Iversen was as compelling in his attempt to offer support to his friend Rodolfo’s relationship worries as he was in displaying his own amorous feelings and frustrations concerning his love Musetta.

As Musetta, soprano Ellie Dehn combined the requisite flirtatiousness and alluring voice for the Latin Quarter’s leading femme fatale. Dehn’s adoring yet coquettish Act 2 showpiece aria “Quando me’n vo” makes it clear to Marcello that she loves him, even as she boasts she is the center of Parisian popular attention.

Bass Scott Conner and bass-baritone Brad Walker provided solid, sturdy-voiced accounts as Rodolfo’s other roommates, philosopher Colline and musician Schaunard, respectively.

Conductor Carlo Montanaro’s steady hand drew a sensitive, nimble performance from the orchestra, while chorus director Ian Robertson’s laudatory work included contributions from members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus and San Francisco Boys Chorus.

REVIEW
La Bohème
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. June 15, June 17, June 20, June 23 and June 29; 2 p.m. June 25 and July 2
Tickets: $26 to $398
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

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