S.F. Opera 'Bohème' does double duty

Good things come in pairs at the San Francisco Opera's new production of Puccini's “La Bohème”: There are two casts and two family matinees, it’s presented in two parts with just one intermission, and its running time is two hours (and 20 minutes).

The world's favorite opera, a melodious drama of young love and heartbreak in Paris, is also San Francisco Opera's most frequently performed work, starting with the company's 1923 inaugural appearance in the Civic Auditorium.

Friday’s opening of a new production was the 230th performance of the classic. It also represented the first time the opera’s four acts were divided into two one-hour sections, shortening the length of the opera without cuts in the music.

David Farley's design for the co-production (with Houston Grand Opera and Canadian Opera) – period paintings of Paris suspended upstage that are raised and lowered – enables quick scene changes.

Two casts in the long, 13-performance run are identified by the day of their first performance (Friday or Saturday), rather than A and B. Conducting at all performances, Giuseppe Finzi led the orchestra on a special night on Friday and a pretty good one on Saturday.

The openings contrasted. Friday’s particularly energetic opening night seemed to showcase the ensemble; Saturday’s presentation, more conventional and laid back, emphasized individual voices.

On Friday, Greek soprano Alexia Voulgaridou made an impressive San Francisco debut as Mimi. She was vocally and dramatically well matched by tenor Michael Fabiano (as Rodolfo), whose San Francisco debut in “Lucrezia Borgia” was memorable.

The solid ensemble consisted of Russian baritone Alexey Markov in his San Francisco debut, as Marcello; Christian Van Horn (a busy bass-baritone here this season) as Colline; and Adler Fellow Hadleigh Adams as Schaunard. Van Horn and Adams sing in both casts.

Former Adler Fellow Nadine Sierra looked sensational as the flirty Musetta, but her appearance did not match her voice, which didn't quite fill the house. Smaller venues should fit her better.

On Saturday, Merola/Adler veteran Leah Crocetto (as Mimi), now appearing in major roles in the U.S. and Europe, sang big – but more to the audience than to Rodolfo, Italian tenor Giorgio Berrugi in his company debut. He had a few vocal problems at the beginning, but succeeded in the long run with more finesse than power.

Ellie Dehn as Musetta looked and sounded just right. Brian Mulligan as Marcello impressed with both voice and stage presence.

Veteran singer Dale Travis once again shone in the buffo double role of the landlord Benoit and Musetta's sugar daddy Alcindoro in all performances.

The San Francisco Boys Chorus and San Francisco Girls Chorus had their big moments, too, providing the musical backbone to the holiday celebration in the Latin Quarter scene.

REVIEW

La Bohème

Presented by San Francisco Opera

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19-20, Nov. 22, Nov. 25, Nov. 29, Dec. 2-3, Dec. 5; 2 p.m. Nov. 23, Nov. 30 and Dec. 7

Tickets: $25 to $370

Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

Note: Tickets to family matinees at noon Nov. 22 and 1 p.m. Nov. 29 are $15 to $100.

Artists appearing

Voulgaridou-Fabiano cast: Nov. 19, Nov. 22, Nov. 25, Nov. 29, Dec. 2, Dec 5

Crocetto-Berrugi cast: Nov, 20, Nov 23, Nov. 30, Dec. 3, Dec. 7

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