LA BOHÈME – Now at SAN FRANCISCO OPERA through December 7th

Oh, those Bohemians – always in-and-out with love!

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Fine Arts Critic
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

LA BOHÈME, composer Giacomo Puccini’s most beloved opera, is a sweet and savory Thanksgiving treat from San Francisco Opera. Directed by Harry Silverstein and as originally presented in 2004, the production benefits from the talents of an internaional and multiple cast – the opening performance featuring the famed Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu and Polish tenor Piotr Beczala. The pair will do another four performances – November 22nd, 25th, 28th, and 30th – under the baton of SF Opera music director designate Nicola Luisotti. Coming in as the second cast for three performances – November 29th, December 4th and 7th are Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska and Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja. Conductor Giuseppe Finzi, who will be making his San Francisco Opera debut, will lead the duo on December 4th and 7th. On Tuesday, December 2nd, soprano Melody Moore (former Adler Fellow who wowed the audience last season as “The Countess” in Don Giovanni) returns to sing “Mimi” and will be paired with Piotr Beczala. (See the cast lists below.) The spectacular traveling set designs of Michael Yeargan (A Streetcar Named Desire and Dead Man Walking), fashions by Walter Mahoney, and Duane Schuler’s amazing lighting effects – by candles, chandeliers, lanterns, and a silvery moon – are picture perfect, fantastical and heart warming.

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LA BOHÈME – PIOTR BECZALA (Rodolfo) and ANGELA GHEORGHIU (Mimí)

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Tenor Piotr Beczala, last seen in 2007 as “Tamino” in The Magic Flute, is an ideal leading man. A sweet-faced lover with a bright and pleasing lyric tenor, Mr. Beczala’s rendition of “Che gelida manina” (What a cold little hand) was simply stunning. In the duet finale of Act One, “O soave fanciulla” (Oh gentle child), Piotr is ardently persuasive, his vocal strength and lyrical phrasing a perfect match for every “Mimi” who will be coming his way to light her candle. Since 1992 and her spectacular debut at Covent Garden, soprano Angela Gheorghiu has kept the role of “Mimi” as one of the brightest lights in her repertoire. Though rather soft in her lower register, Ms. Gheorghiu’s exquisite phrasing and climactic moments in the arias of Act One, “Si. Mi chiamano Mimi”, and Act Three, “Donde lieta usci al tuo grido d’amore” were ecstatically applauded at this opening performance.

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The heat of the drama will warm us – Quinn Kelsey (Marcello) and Piotr Beczala (Rodolfo). Photo, Terrence McCarthy

Mr & Mrs Smith

An alumnus of the Merola Opera Program and making his San Francisco Opera debut, baritone Quinn Kelsey as the painter, “Marcello”, delivered an exuberant performance, and was particularly effective in the famous Second Act ensemble at the Café Momus, and the Fourth Act duet with Rodolfo, “In un coupe”. As “Colline”, Oren Gradus proves himself as one of the finest young basses in the world today. His velvety rich tones and controlled level of emotion were a perfect blending for the famed coat aria, “Vecchia zimarra, senti” – “Listen, old coat”. This season he will appear in the title role of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro at Seattle Opera and as “Ferrando” in Verdi’s Il Trovatore at Atlanta Opera and in Bilbao.

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OREN GRADUS (Colline) and BRIAN LEERHUBER (Schaunard).
Photos, Terrence McCarthy

A particularly brilliant performance was given by baritone Brian Leerhuber as “Schaunard”. In a role that might be labeled as “thankless”, Mr. Leerhuber’s handsome bearing, warm and swarthy vocals, dashing presence and appealing sense of humor raised “Schaunard” to a new and unexpected level. This season the lucky residents around Opera Cleveland will discover him as “Figaro” in Il Barbiere di Siviglia.

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PIOTR BECZALA (Rodolfo) and ANGELA GHEORGHIU (Mimí) – NORAH AMSELLEM (Musetta) and DALE TRAVIS (Alcindoro).
Photos, Terrence McCarthy

Rounding out the principal roles, soprano Norah Amsellem was a high-strung, wild and witty “Musetta”. Her extremely familiar aria from Act II, “Quando men’ vo soletta per la via” (When I walk alone in the street”) matched everyone’s expectations. Ms. Amsellem is a wonderful comedienne in addition to the demands of her more dramatic repertoire. She will be seen this season as “Violetta” at Deutsche Oper Berlin, as “Manon” at the Vienna State Opera; and “Liù” at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu.

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LA BOHEME – Act II. Photo, Terrence McCarthy

To order tickets on-line:
SATURDAY, November 22nd, 8:00 pm
FRIDAY, November 28th, 8:00 pm
SATURDAY, November 29th, 8:00 pm
SUNDAY, November 30th, 2:00 pm
TUESDAY, December 2nd, 7:30 pm
THURSDAY, December 4th, 7:30 pm
SUNDAY, December 7th, 2:00 pm

The Dramatis Personae:
MIMÌ: Angela Gheorghiu / Maija Kovalevska (11/29, 12/4, 12/7) / Melody Moore (12/2)
RODOLFO: Piotr Beczala / Joseph Calleja (11/29, 12/4, 12/7)
MARCELLO: Quinn Kelsey / Brian Mulligan (11/22, 11/29, 12/4, 12/7)
MUSETTA: Norah Amsellem / Tamara Wapinsky (11/29, 12/4, 12/7)
COLLINE: Oren Gradus / Kenneth Kellogg (11/29, 12/4, 12/7)

Visit Seán on YouTube:
Lorena Feijóo – A Look at “Giselle” with Seán Martinfield
SAMSON & DELILAH – Meet Seán Martinfield
CA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES – A Preview Look with Seán Martinfield

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See Related: FINE ARTS CRITIC SEAN MARTINFIELD

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Seán Martinfield is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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