Opera Warhorses

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Review: Crocetto, Berrugi, Dehn, Mulligan Star in Well-sung, Intelligently-Acted “La Boheme” – San Francisco Opera, November 15, 2014

November 16th, 2014

The night after the first San Francisco Opera performance of its co-production of “La Boheme” with Houston Grand Opera and Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company [see Review: Michael Fabiano, Alexia Voulgaridou are Vocally Splendid in John Caird’s Cleverly Conceived “La Boheme” – San Francisco Opera, November 14, 2014], the opera was presented again with a cast in which the four principal roles – Mimi, Rodolfo, Musetta and Marcello – were changed.

The alternate cast includes three artists familiar to San Francisco Opera audiences, Leah Crocetto as Mimi, Ellie Dehn as Musetta and Brian Mulligan as Marcello. Making his San Francisco Opera debut was lyric tenor Giorgio Berrugi. Over the next three weeks, the two sets of principal artists will alternate for the opera’s 13-performance run.

[Below: Mimi (Leah Crocetto, center, in bed) is dying, comforted by Musetta (Ellie Dehn, left), Rodolfo (Giorgio Berrugi, center, above) and Marcello (Brian Mulligan); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Leah Crocetto’s Mimi

Leah Crocetto, a former Adler fellow, possesses a voice with the beauty to caress Puccini’s timeless melodies and the requisite power needed to hold one’s own with the big Puccini orchestral sound.

This is Crocetto’s second principal Puccini role assayed at the Puccini-friendly War Memorial Opera House [see Luisotti Leads Superb “Turandot” Cast In David Hockney’s Treasured Production – San Francisco Opera, September 9, 2011],

Crocetto also is an accomplished Verdian [San Francisco, Naples Jointly Celebrate Verdi Bicentennial With “Manzoni Requiem” – San Francisco Opera, October 25, 2013] and has met the challenge of the intricate florid vocal composition of a Rossini opera seria [Stormy Weather, But Strong Performances from Pisaroni, Crocetto, Bardon, Sledge in Rossini’s “Maometto II” – Santa Fe Opera, August 2, 2012.]

[Below: Leah Crocetto as Mimi; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Giorgio Beruggi’s Rodolfo

Italian tenor Giorgio Beruggi was a compassionate Rodolfo, making a fine impression with an expressive lyric tenor voice and sensitive, empathetic acting.

His personal backstory is noteworthy. He was an award winning clarinetist in a Rome-based orchestra, when seven years ago, he committed to studying voice.

Within a few years, he became a regular lead tenor at the Dresden Semperoper, where, in 2011 he performed the role of Tamino in Mozart’s “Die Zauberfloete” in a performance conducted by Nicola Luisotti, who is music director of both the San Francisco Opera and the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples.

In early October 2014, Giuseppe Finzi, prior to his return to San Francisco to conduct Rossini’s “Cenerentola” and Puccini’s “La Boheme”, conducted Beruggi in Naples as Nemorino in Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore”. In May 2015, Beruggi is scheduled to return to Naples as the “other Rodolfo”, the lead tenor in Verdi’s “Luisa Miller”.

The confidence of the Luisotti-Finzi team in this rising star appears fully justified.

[Below: Giorgio Beruggi as Rodolfo; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


 Ellie Dehn’s Musetta

As Musetta, soprano Ellie Dehn at San Francisco Opera, has with distinction performed a trio of prestigious lead soprano roles in the three Mozart operas with Da Ponte libretti [see A Beautifully Sung, Engaging “Cosi fan Tutte” at San Francisco Opera – June 9, 2013 and Meachem, Vinco, Lead Cast of Imaginatively Staged “Don Giovanni” – San Francisco Opera, October 23, 2011 and Copley Directs, Luisotti Conducts, Sparkling “Nozze” Ensemble – San Francisco Opera, October 3, 2010.]

Dehn, who has been lauded for her portrayals of Mimi, was all one hopes for as Musetta, singing her great Cafe Momus aria brilliantly, alternating fun and fury in the opera’s second and third scenes (acts in Puccini’s score)  and sympathetic in the somber scene of Mimi’s death.

[Below Musetta (Ellie Dehn, right), in a time of grief, talks seriously with her sometimes lover, Marcello (Brian Mulligan, left); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Brian Mulligan’s Marcello

In yet another strong performance, the always-dependable baritone Brian Mulligan was a convincing Marcello, bringing the warm sound needed for the impoverished painter, whose moods alternate between the carefree and the conflicted. [See Rising Stars: An Interview with Brian Mulligan.]

The great third scene duet with Crocetto’s Mimi was memorable, as were the comic patter with his Bohemian roomies and the battles with his beloved Musetta.

[Below: the four Bohemian roommates try out their repertory of dance steps, from left to right Schaunard (Hadleigh Adams), Rodolfo (Giorgio Berrugi), Colline (Christian Van Horn) and Marcello (Brian Mulligan); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Hadleigh Adams’ Schaunard

Each of the 13 regular San Francisco Opera performances of “Boheme” (there are two budget-priced performances for families) share the same cast for the comprimario roles, each of which was superbly played.

New Zealand baritone and current Adler Fellow Hadleigh Adams is Schaunard. Beyond a secure vocal technique is evidence of a clear sense of the spirit and humor of the part, and the physicality to create a portrait of an intensely likable sidekick.

[Below: the neighborhood surrounding the Cafe Momus where the Bohemians share a table at the left; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


Christian Van Horn’s Colline

Christian Van Horn has emerged as the go-to basso for the San Francisco Opera in the last year or so, creating the roles of the Four Villains in San Francisco Opera’s mounting of their co-production of Offenbach’s masterpiece [see Matthew Polenzani Triumphs in Pelly’s Take on “Tales of Hoffmann” – San Francisco Opera, June 5, 2013.]

Earlier this season he has sung the roles of Oroveso [Review: Sondra Radvanovsky’s Stunning Season Opening “Norma” – San Francisco Opera, September 5, 2014], Count Ribbing [Review: A Stylishly Sung and Intelligently Staged “Masked Ball” at San Francisco Opera – October 4, 2014] and Alidoro [“Cenerentola” Review: San Francisco Opera’s Splendidly Sung, Sumptuously Staged Cinderella Story – November 9, 2014].

[Below: Musetta IEllie Dehn, left) and Marcello (center, second from left) continue their arguments as Mimi (Leah Crocetto, right) and Rodolfo (Giorgio Berrugi, second from right) are reconciled; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


John Caird’s Production and David Farley’s Production and Costume Designs

The John Caird staging is a loving reading of the opera, faithful in its details to the spirit of the piece, but capable of continuous surprise.

I have previously praised John Caird’s inventive productions [see Brandon Jovanovich Triumphant in Historic “Don Carlos” Production – Houston Grand Opera, April 13, 2012 and A New “Tosca” for Houston Grand Opera – January 30, 2010.]

[Below: the garret apartment of the Bohemians; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]


In this production, Caird teamed with Broadway set and costume designer David Farley. One of the many felicitous results of this collaboration is the spectacular scene changes, first from the Bohemians garret to the Cafe Momus. In this change, as Mimi and Rodolfo leave the stage singing a love duet in unison, all of Marcello’s paintings that adorn the wall ascend as the set breaks away and all the set’s elements turn.

Magically, and without a pause, the Cafe Momus neighborhood is before us. Puccini’s entire first and second acts are completed in 55 minutes.

After the Cafe Momus scene, there is an intermission, and then Puccini’s third act begins in a Parisian neighborhood adjacent to an official custom house.

This provides an opportunity for Mimi and Rodolfo to reconcile temporarily their differences and to leave the stage singing a love duet in unison, when all the features of the custom house neighborhood break apart and either ascend or turn, the result being the recreation of the Bohemians’ garret. The entire third and acts, balancing the first two acts, are also completed in 55 minutes.

But the technical brilliance of the scene changes is only one of many charming features of the production.

Puccini’s stage directions are faithfully observed, but enhancements of Puccini’s inventions are always evident.

One example may inspire close attention to everything that’s happening. When Marcello arrives at the Cafe, he brings a small stand for displaying a painting. That provides an opportunity for a conniving Musetta to annoy Marcello. Sbe crosses the stage, picks the painting up to embellish a point.

Then Musetta’s exasperated consort Alcindoro (amusingly played by Dale Travis) storms over and takes hold of the painting. That enrages Marcello who blows off any germs that Alcindoro left on it, and packs it away.

Other Cast and Crew

Also in the hustle and bustle of the Cafe Momus scene, the children’s chorus was charmingly sung and acted, Ethan Chen a soloist as A Boy. Chester Pidduck was Parpignol, Colby Roberts a Prune Vendor. Bojan Knezevic was a Custom-House sergeant and Torlef Borsting his officer.

Giuseppe Finzi conducted with obvious affection for Puccini’s great work. Ian Robertson is Chorus Master.


I recommend the production enthusiastically, noting that both of the alternating casts have abundant strengths.

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