Sunday, June 11, 2017

The One Thing I Can Comment About

A scene from Act IV of Puccini's "La Bohème."
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

I went to the final dress rehearsal of SF Opera's La Bohème the other night, and because it was a rehearsal, I am keeping mum about the singing and conducting. The show opened last night and I might link to reviews when they are published.

The only aspects of the production I will comment on are the ones that won't change from rehearsal to performance to the next bring up (presumably due within five years): the set and costumes.

The photo above is of the Act I and IV set, the garret in Paris where poet Rodolfo and his buddy Marcello the painter live. "A scene," yes, and you can pin it down to the few minutes between Mimi's entrance and the departure of Musetto, Colline, Schaunard, and Marcello to give Rodolfo and Mimi a few minutes alone together.

The production was new in the fall of 2014, and it has a major advantage over its predecessor set: The garret neatly transforms into the Act II streets-of-Paris set outside the Café Momus, and the Act III scene at the Barrière d'Enfer outside the café where Marcello is working transforms equally neatly back into the garret. So there's no need for a second intermission between Acts III and IV, saving time and perhaps money. (It's a short opera in any event and the set has to be taken down between performances.)

I'm glad that there is some easily identifiable advantage to the set, because it is otherwise undistinguished. It is incredibly drab! Marcello seems to have only shades of brown and gray on his palette, with some orange for sunsets mixed in. The whole set is brownish. The bohemians dress in shades of gray, brown, and a bit of blue. Musetta gets a nice splash of rose.

And that makes for visually boring couple of hours at the opera, I'm afraid. I hope that this production gets a little bit of a makeover; repainting it to make it livelier, or doing something to make the costumes more varied....I like having some visual cues about who is who when there are four men, only one a tenor, on stage. No need to go mad like the ridiculous Zef production the Met has been trotting out for decades, where the entire population of Queens plus a donkey* is on stage, but something? Anything?

UPDATE: Here's Joshua Kosman's review. I agree with every word, especially about the hurried and unpoetic conducting. And here is Steven Winn in SFCV.

* I made that up, but who knows? There could be a miniature donkey hidden among the 673 people on stage during Act II.


Chanterelle said...

I recall a donkey (pony, horse, some kind of equine quadropod) in act II, pulling Parpignol's cart.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Large dog?

Chanterelle said...

Actually I'm wrong about Parpignol's cart. But a 1981 review of opening night makes reference to Musetta's horse-drawn hansom cab.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh lord