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Sopranos Debut in La Boheme

San Francisco
War Memorial Opera House
12/04/1999 -  and 7*, 9, and 11, December, 1999
Giacomo Puccini: La Boheme
Maria Bayo (Mimi), Luis Lima (Rudolfo), Ainhoa Arteta (Musetta), Earle Partriarco (Marcello), Giorgio Giuseppini (Colline), Alfredo Daza (Schaunard), Peter Strummer (Benoit/Alcindoro), Colby Roberts/Peter Büchi (A vendor), Daniel Harper/Jim Croom (Parpignol), Mario Sawaya/Jeremy Ragent (a Boy), Jere Torkelsen/Ken Johnson (Customhouse seargeant), Frederick Matthews/Cameron Henley (Customhouse guard)
Orchestra and Chorus of the San Francisco Opera, Emmanuel Joel (conductor)
Laurie Feldman (Stage, Director)

The debuts of two Spanish sopranos was reason enough for a revival of Puccini’s La Boheme as the last production of the millennium for the San Francisco Opera. Maria Bayo’s delicate touching Mimi and Ainhoa Arteta’s dynamic Musetta were two of the strongest, most satisfying performances of the season.
This revival featured Michael Yeargan’s sets and Walter Mahoney’s costumes first seen in the company’s outing of this operatic favorite at the Orpheum Theatre a few years back. Laurie Feldman’s staging retains a good deal of the original staging, but she has clearly put a good deal of thought into this revival. While not everything works perfectly, for the most part hers was a musical, intelligent staging with plenty of insight and attention to characters and details that put it well above some of the generic stagings see earlier this season.
The conducting on the other hand was neither musical nor intelligent. Emmanuel Joel veered from over-indulging his singers to burying his face in the score (to no avail) and ignoring the stage. Even the chorus sounded tentative and unsure with his erratic, flaccid conducting. While some of the principals were able to rise above it and give musically sound, confident performances, others were clearly hampered by it.
In her debut, Bayo exhibited a beautiful lyric soprano, sweet, full, expressive and capable of riding Puccinian swells with ease. Hers was a simple Mimi void of any diva-esque affectations or pretensions. Musically exquisite and filled with intelligent dramatic touches as well, Bayo exhibited extraordinary artistry coupled with technical finesse and a natural presence.
Arteta was an equally strong Musetta, focusing first on the exhibitionist for the Café Momus scene, but scaling the performance down neatly for a touching, supportive presence in the final scene. Arteta’s ability to hold together Musetta’s popular waltz despite the shapeless, unstructured conducting was tribute to her musicality as well as her keen theatrical instincts.
Tenor Luis Lima brought his Rudolfo back to San Francisco, as ardent and passionate as ever. If the voice is beginning to show signs of wear, particularly in the upper register, his portrayal remains convincingly youthful and heartfelt. Carrying in Mimi from the staircase and lying her on the bed in the final scene was just one of many moving moments in his finely honed portrayal.
Of the other Bohemians, Giorgio Giuseppini, making his U.S. debut, gave the strongest impression. His focused, resonant bass and compassionate performance gave Colline an depth and individuality not always present. Much of the time Earle Patriarco seemed unsure and tentative as Marcello, particularly in the ensembles. Perhaps a result of the lack of solid leadership in the pit, Alfredo Daza’s Schaunard occasionally had similar problems.
With ideal leading ladies and a convincing leading man, this La Boheme should have been a highlight of the season. But with the poor conducting, it was relegated to a passable revival. The appearances of Bayo and Arteta made it worthwhile however and with luck the San Francisco Opera will see fit to re-engage these artists on a regular basis.

Kelly Snyder



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