La Bohème

MUSIC BY Giacomo Puccini

Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa


When an aspiring poet falls in love with a fragile seamstress, their intense passion is only matched by their youthful idealism. Can their tender relationship survive the cruelties of life? John Caird, the director of two of the biggest stage hits of recent years, Les Misérables and Nicholas Nickleby, brings his unique touch to this new production of Puccini’s beloved opera. Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi leads two superb casts. One is headed by the “warm, luminous tone and urgently communicative phrasing” ( of Greek soprano Alexia Voulgaridou in her Company debut, the “intensely expressive” Michael Fabiano (The New York Times) and Nadine Sierra, whose commanding artistry inspires “awe and delight” (San Francisco Chronicle). The other features Leah Crocetto, “a major operatic star” (San Francisco Chronicle), “stylish and brilliant” young tenor Giorgio Berrugi ( and the “passionately lyrical” Ellie Dehn (The New York Times).

For a complete listing of all performances of La Bohème at San Francisco Opera, visit our online performance archive.

Sung in Italian with English supertitles
Approximate running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes including one intermission

Pre-Opera Talks are free to ticketholders and take place in the Opera House in the Orchestra section, 55 minutes prior to curtain.

Co-production with Houston Grand Opera and Canadian Opera Company

Audio excerpts are from the 2008 performance of 
La Bohème with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Nicola Luisotti.
Quando m’en vo’”/Norah Ansellem (Musetta); “Che gelida manina”/Piotr Beczala (Rodolfo); End of Act II/Chorus; “Mi chiamano Mimì”/Angela Gheorgiu (Mimì); “O soave fanciulla”/Piotr Beczala, Angela Gheorgiu


Mimì Alexia Voulgaridou * NOV 14, 19, 22, 25, 29; DEC 2, 5
Mimì Leah Crocetto NOV 15, 20, 23, 30; DEC 3, 7
Rodolfo Michael Fabiano NOV 14, 19, 22, 25, 29; DEC 2, 5
Rodolfo Giorgio Berrugi * NOV 15, 20, 23, 30; DEC 3, 7
Musetta Nadine Sierra NOV 14, 19, 22, 25, 29; DEC 2, 5
Musetta Ellie Dehn NOV 15, 20, 23, 30; DEC 3, 7
Marcello Alexey Markov * NOV 14, 19, 22, 25, 29; DEC 2, 5
Marcello Brian Mulligan NOV 15, 20, 23, 30; DEC 3, 7
Colline Christian Van Horn
Schaunard Hadleigh Adams
Benoit, Alcindoro Dale Travis

Production Credits

Conductor Giuseppe Finzi
Director John Caird *
Production Designer David Farley
Lighting Designer Michael James Clark
Chorus Director Ian Robertson

* San Francisco Opera Debut


Christmas Eve

As Marcello paints, Rodolfo, unable to write, gazes through the windows at the smoking chimneys of the Parisian rooftops. The bohemians are suffering from the cold. Marcello is about to sacrifice one of the sparse furnishings to the empty stove when Rodolfo has an inspiration: pages of his drama will warm them. Colline returns from a fruitless visit to the pawnbrokers. As the fire dies, Schaunard saves the day by arriving with food, firewood, and pockets full of money. The table is already laid before Schaunard can announce that for Christmas they will dine out. The friends are about to leave when Benoit, the landlord, comes for the rent. The bohemians trick him into talking about his amours; then, feigning moral indignation, they throw him out, unpaid. The friends leave, but Rodolfo stays behind to finish an article he is writing.

Presently, there is a knock on the door. A young woman enters. She asks if she may light her candle and Rodolfo invites her in. As soon as her candle is lighted, she departs only to return moments later in search of her key. Rodolfo secretly finds and pockets the lost key. As they continue to search, their hands touch. He tells her of his life as a penniless poet. She enchants Rodolfo with a description of her modest existence as a seamstress. As she ends her narrative, the voices of Rodolfo’s friends rise from the street, urging him to hurry. Rodolfo goes to the window and tells them to meet later at the Café Momus. He turns to Mimì and declares his love, which she timidly admits is returned.

A holiday crowds mills about the small square in the Latin Quarter dominated by the Café Momus. Enjoying the Christmas spirit, the bohemians spend their money: Schaunard buys a horn, Colline an overcoat, and Rodolfo purchases a bonnet for Mimì. They meet at the café and order dinner, after Rodolfo has presented Mimì to his friends.

Musetta and Alcindoro, an elderly admirer whom she orders around like a pet poodle, take the table adjoining the friends. Marcello studiously avoids looking at Musetta, with whom he has recently broken up. Musetta tries to attract his attention by staging a temper tantrum. Raising her voice so that all may hear, Musetta delivers an oration on her beauty and its devastating effects. She decides it is time to rid herself of Alcindoro and feigns a terrible pain in her foot. Musetta sends Alcindoro off for a new pair of shoes. The merry making is dampened by the arrival of the bill. The bohemians search their pockets hopelessly until Musetta takes the bill from the waiter and deposits it together with her own. She announces that Alcindoro will pay both bills on his return. Alcindoro returns with Musetta’s new shoes and is confronted with the bills.

At dawn, the city’s early risers begin their daily routines, while the revelers in a tavern continue the night’s festivities. Mimì asks directions of a sergeant who points out the tavern decorated with Marcello’s paintings. She asks the innkeeper to send Marcello out to her. Tearfully, she appeals to him for help. She refuses to go into the tavern because Rodolfo, who has left her, is inside. Marcello promises to talk to him. Rodolfo attempts to justify his cruelty to Mimì on the grounds of her coquettishness, but Marcello sees through the pretext. Rodolfo admits that the still loves Mimì, but says he cannot endure watching her health fail because of his inability to provide for her. Coughing and violent sobs betray Mimì’s presence. Rodolfo takes her into his arms, while Marcello charges into the tavern to investigate the cause of a burst of Musetta’s brazen laughter. Mimì says goodbye to Rodolfo and tells him they must part without bitterness. They quickly realize that they cannot go through with the separation. Their decision to stay together until spring is made against the background of violent quarreling between Musetta and Marcello.

Sadly reminiscing about their broken love affairs, Marcello and Rodolfo try to work. Both try unsuccessfully to appear pleased that their former companions are flourishing. Schaunard and Colline arrive with frugal provisions and a more cheerful outlook. They fall upon the food and stage a mock ball which is followed by a simulated duel. At the height of their clowning, Musetta appears. Mimì is waiting on the stairs; she is seriously ill. Rodolfo rushes to Mimì and brings her in. Musetta sends Marcello to pawn a pair of earrings and bring back a doctor. Colline bids a fond farewell to his overcoat which is destined for the same fate as Musetta’s jewels. One by one the friends find discreet reasons to leave. The lovers are alone. Feeble attempts at their former banter are succeeded by reminiscences of their love. Musetta returns with a muff to warm Mimì’s hands. Marcello announces that a doctor is on the way. Mimì falls asleep as Musetta murmurs a prayer. Rodolfo notices that a change has come over his friends, who already know what he only now realizes: Mimì is dead.

La Bohème and the Comédie Humaine

John Caird

A note from the director of La Bohéme

Henri Murger was twenty-three years old when he started writing Scènes de la vie de bohéme—and he knew very well the world he was describing. Murger was living it day by day and the characters were his intimate friends, so there is a raw authenticity to his efforts that requires an interpreter to take these young characters and their plight very seriously—despite its lack of a coherent dramatic structure.
Nothing very much happens in La Bohéme—or nothing of any great importance. Four young artists share a garret apartment; two of them have lovers, one of whom is seriously ill. These relationships founder, from jealousy and infidelity, and then one of the girls dies. It is all very real and intensely sad, but not the stuff of genuine tragedy. In fact, the essential tone of La Bohème is comedic. Although dirt poor and struggling artistically, these students take life in its stride. They are witty, ironic, mocking and irreverent, dismissive of authority, and caustic about middle class values. Were it not for the intensity with which they suffer emotionally, Bohème would be an outright comedy with a sad ending. But this is comedy with a distinctly French ingredient, the same essential mixture of emotions that Balzac achieved in his Comèdie Humaine: genuine laughter, sometimes angry, sometimes joyous, but always mixed with tears. Just beyond every sad thought, a joke is waiting to assault us; just behind every joyful experience lurks a bitter regret.
Herein lies the true genius of Puccini’s achievement. He has managed to find a musical language that perfectly reflects Murger’s comedic world. Puccini has given every one of Murger’s characters a musical specificity that allows them to move from laughter to tears and back again with effortless ease. And the orchestral background is full of the most lovingly crafted detail in support of their emotional journeys.
For this production, we have chosen to imagine that the characters of the opera may act as our interpreters. If Schaunard, the composer, is represented in the pit by Puccini himself, the scenic world that the students inhabit is as if painted by Marcello. Every surface of the set is a canvas drawn from the same rich and chaotic pictorial world as that of Toulouse-Lautrec— a contemporary of Puccini and an artist who was also obsessed with Paris’s bohemian underworld.
We only get a brief glimpse of the lives of the artists in Bohème, so we can only guess the ends of their stories. But we can be allowed to imagine that they turn out to be genuinely influential artists in their own right. The lives of so many artists start out in desperation, poverty, and disappointment before they realise their full potential. And their intimate friends and muses, if they survive, can bear witness to the reality of their early struggles.
The two muses in Bohème are very different aspects of this witness. Musetta is an intensely practical young woman who knows that she must sell herself in order to live in any sort of comfort, despite the fact that she adores Marcello; if he had the money to support her she would no doubt be faithful to him. Mimì is a different case altogether. The minute she walks into the garret, she brings mystery, beauty, and stillness with her. Puccini allows himself to linger over her dreams and those of Rodolfo, and these dreams provide us with the emotional heart of the work. Murger and Puccini are both saying the same thing, one with words and the other with music. Life can be harsh, and unfair and horribly brief, but it can always be mitigated by beauty: the beauty of a face, or a dream, or a mind, or a melody. Love and art are more powerful than death.

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Everything You Know About La Bohème is Wrong

William Berger

All the clichés may have been right a hundred years ago (probably not), but they are assuredly tired and wrong now. If we’re going to continue to hold La Bohème at the core of operatic repertory – and we should – then the narrative surrounding the opera needs to evolve.

La Bohème is the world’s most performed opera. Popularity, of course, brings with it a directly proportionate level of critical contempt, and La Bohème earns its fair share. However, the real barriers to a proper appreciation of this opera aren’t the venomous statements of its detractors as much as some of the patronizingly simpering of those who claim to love—or at least tolerate— it. Every review will contain a touch of this condescension. They will call La Bohème an “audience favorite,” an epithet whose subtext suggests that the bourgeois audience is an uneducated lump that requiring bland musical pabulum. A recent review stated “We don’t love La Bohème for its intellectualism.” We don’t love Wagner operas for their intellectualism either. That critic probably values Wagner’s intellectualism to justify his discussion of it, but he loves it for the same reason anybody loves anything, Puccini included: because it expresses something about his own experience that he finds difficult yet imperative to express. Always question a critic’s real meaning when you come across the phrase “audience favorite.”

Critics aren’t the only people who make indulgent statements about La Bohème. Even fans have fallen into a lazy pattern when discussing this piece. You know the statements I’m talking about, because you’ve heard orread them dozens of times, even (and especially) if you’re new to opera: We love La Bohème for its sheer passion and romance; it’s the perfect first opera for the operatic newcomer; it’s easy to understand, as operas go; it’s realistic and believable; young people will like it because it’s about young people… and so forth. Let’s unpack these one by one so we can reassemble them on a higher level.

First there’s the love and passion label. I suspect this is a nicer way of saying “don’t be intellectual about this opera.” Many operas portray love and passion (whatever that means) well, and actually La Bohème ranks behind many others in erotic terms. If you think about, there is—notable within the context of Puccini’s catalogue—no actual sex on stage in La Bohème. If we are to understand the extended Puccinian love duet as a convincing theatrical analogue of the sex act (and we should), then Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly, and La Fanciulla del West (not to mention the uncompleted Turandot, meant to climax with opera’s ultimate love/sex duet) are all sexual almost to the point of pornography, while La Bohème is notable for its lack of a love duet. (I know, there’s “O soave fanciulla” at the end of Act I, but I contend this is not meant to be understood as a consummation. For one thing, they tell us so, when Mimì brushes off Rodolfo’s attempted kiss and tells him, rather cleverly, that if he takes her to dinner and a night out, he might get some of what he craves later on.) So, the incurable romantic might say, “maybe they’re not having sex in Act I, but they’re falling in love, and it is opera’s ultimate falling-in-love moment.” But is it? Is that what’s really happening in Act I? I believe Puccini is telling us something else entirely, something more nuanced and complex. Rodolfo’s Act I aria “Che gelida manina” is largely comprised of musical reminiscences from the beginning of the act. Why? If you’re one of Puccini’s detractors, you’ll say this is Puccini being lazy with his tunes. Musicologist Joseph Kerman, in his famous diatribe against Tosca, says that particular opera concludes with the big theme from the tenor’s earlier aria because the orchestra “plays the first thing that pops into its head.” It’s a neat trick: fault Puccini for coming up with gorgeous melodies too often, and then fault him for not coming with a sufficient number of gorgeous melodies. (It’s like the old schtick of the two guys complaining about a restaurant: “The food here is terrible!” “…And such small portions, too!”) But if we listen to the music of La Bohème with the same respect we would render to a Wagner score, we find much. The aria builds up using snippets of the conversation (casual talk can have supreme significance in the world of La Bohème) Rodolfo had with his roommate Marcello when they were engaging in witty banter about their poor but picturesque bohemian lifestyle. In other words, Rodolfo’s talking about himself, using expressions he’s tested out on his wingman “bro” (Marcello) for use on a hot chick when one comes along. (Note Rodolfo’s excitement when he realizes the knock on his garret door is coming from a woman, “una donna!” He might as well say “It’s show time!” and the subsequent glorious aria is his well rehearsed audition piece rather than a spontaneous expression of love at first sight).

Now for the second canard: La Bohème is the perfect first opera. It is a great first opera because it’s a great opera. The same is true for any other great opera (including, yes, Alban Berg’s 20th- century Wozzeck), provided the performance is good and the production is not too self-serving. I believe it’s time to put the idea of La Bohème as the definitive first opera to rest, because it is truly misleading to think of this opera as a gentle bridge to the harder, meatier stuff. It simply is no longer true, if indeed it ever was. A hundred years ago, people might have found the use of melody in La Bohème to be more comprehensible to their ears, trained on participatory singing in parlors, choirs, and public gatherings, than, say, Wagner and others. However, in the subsequent century those Wagnerian techniques have become more familiar through modernist music (not to mention film and television soundtracks, which have a direct lineage from Wagner) and participatory singing has become rarer. In my experience, operatic newcomers comprehend Wagner’s musical language better than Puccini’s. Part of this is Puccini’s vaunted economy of expression. When Wagner intends for you to grasp a point, oh you’ll grasp it alright. Puccini makes his points more quickly and with the fewest possible notes. Consider how the two composers handle the notion of redemption in musical terms. In Wagner’s scores, an entire evening can be devoted to the mystical journey of salvation from suspension to resolution (Tristan und Isolde and Parsifal being supreme examples). In Puccini, a single moment will cover the same territory, and these moments become increasingly concise over his career: from the shimmering metamorphosis of the love theme from minor to major sequences in the intermezzo of Manon Lescaut (1893); to the one-measure, four-note minor-major journey that is the central motif of La Fanciulla del West (1910); to the single half-step ascent in the piccolo that signifies the righteous death of Liù in Turandot (written in 1924, and, rather poignantly, the last notes Puccini wrote). Perhaps there are shortened attention spans in our day. That sort of economic expression eludes more people today than Wagner’s expansive music, no matter how challenging Wagner may appear to musical analysts.

Even the relative shortness of Puccini’s operas is easier on our backsides than on our ears. Yet people will find other reasons to call La Bohème “easy,” including textual ones. Young people, they believe, appreciate its subject matter of, well, young people. I disagree. Young people appreciate it because it’s good, but the tragedy in La Bohème is not one aimed specifically at young people. In fact, if we look beyond the surfaces, it becomes clear that the tragedy is actually one that resonates most powerfully with people who have lived a few years. Let’s take an unflinching look at the real tragedy—the one that really makes us choke up—in La Bohème. It’s not what most people think it is.
People say the realism in La Bohème makes it approachable (and therefore appropriate for young people and newcomers to opera). But the realism of this opera is a source of more confusion than comfort. For one thing, it is a verismo opera, and verismo does not denote realism in any English-language sense. This genre of opera, derived from literature, seeks truth (verità in Italian). Truth and that which passes for reality, as everyone knows, are not the same thing. Nor should verismo opera be too easily lumped together with its ancestor, literary Naturalism. That literary genre had specific goals, including the political: using the grungy realities of the everyday life of average people to reveal injustice and inequality in modern life. The unpleasantries of contemporary urban life, (prostitution, poverty, disease), were all marshaled by Naturalists such as Zola, Ibsen, Strindberg, and others. To be sure, many of these features seem present in La Bohème, and yet there are important differences too. Note the erudite, windy language used by Rodolfo and his friends, full of pomp (“I bow before my king,” says Rodolfo to the paltry coins in Act I; Schaunard calls dancing a “choreographic action” in Act IV). These are not poor people; they are educated bourgeois who at the moment have no money. Rodolfo even tells us in Act II about his “rich uncle” who, if “God is reasonable” (and what does he mean by this? Will a reasonable God kill off his uncle and provide Rodolfo with an inheritance?) will enable Rodolfo to buy Mimì a better necklace than the coral one she is admiring. In fact, Rodolfo and his fellow bohemians are nothing other than urban hipsters—choosing to live outside of bourgeois society in order to enjoy artistic and sexual independence in the hub of uber-hipness, Paris. We learn more about Rodolfo’s rich uncle and about all the bohemians in the source novel, Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger. Rodolphe, as he is called, has a working-poor uncle, another in the country, and dreams of another who leaves him an entire territory in Peru, including the female inhabitants (money and women are often conflated in this world). Schaunard mentions an uncle who is a good judge. At the end of this novel, Mimì is dead, as in the opera, but much else has died as well. Musette [sic] marries a postmaster and achieves respectability. Colline, too, inherits money and makes “a good marriage.” Marcel [sic] and Rodolphe are swallowed into the official system as well.

This, I believe, is the real tragedy of La Bohème. The dreams of youth crash with the realization that self-proclaimed genius and youthful individualism are not enough.  It reminds me of the old television commercial for Amy Tang’s novel The Joy Luck Club: “She wanted to be different. She didn’t want to be like her mother. And then one day she realized… that made her just like her mother.” My late, outspoken mother used to complain that Rodolfo loved Mimì so much, he would do anything for her—except get a job. I think it’s the death of Mimì that makes him realize he, too, will have to get a job just like everyone else. His good looks and good poetry were not enough to save Mimì or achieve any other dreams. The tragedy of this opera is not hers (everyone dies, in life and opera both) but his, and therefore ours. Everyone has made tragic compromises in life. This is part of the reason I maintain that La Bohème is even more tragic for audiences with a few decades under their spreading belts than for eagerly cultivated young audiences. Older people remember post-college horny poverty as the “glory days”: young people who are actually living them tend to find the phase much less fabulous. So it is the bohemian lifestyle—the vie de bohème of both the novel and opera titles—that is the true tragic heroine of the opera, and that is one which all of us have lost and whose loss we all mourn to some extent.

The score bears out my contention. When Mimì dies, it is sad—we hear a “shiver” and the orchestra wanders harmonically unanchored into any one key (as if to say something’s vaguely wrong, but neither we nor the characters on stage are sure exactly what yet). It is only when Rodolfo finally figures out what has happened that the orchestra thunders out the unforgettable chords in the inherently sad key of c-sharp minor. (This is the key of the evocative adagio first movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata; other readers might also recognize this key from Led Zeppelin’s equally moody song “No Quarter,” with the lyric “walking side by side with death…”). The orchestra demands heartbreak not for Mimì’s death but for the bohemians’ realization that something is gone. It’s the lifestyle they had clung to in the desperate belief that they could be different from their bourgeois parents and uncles; that they could live on art and their own cleverness and good looks and abundant sex energy shared outside of wedlock. La (vie de) bohème is over. It’s time to do the thing you had been avoiding, literally and figuratively, since at least Act I: it’s time to pay the rent.

This doesn’t say that Rodolfo is heartless, merely that he’s human. This is why I believe his aria “Che gelida manina” is not truly falling in love at first sight, with its references to previous conversations he had had with his friend. What he’s doing in that aria is coming on to Mimì, just like any frat boy in a bar (albeit with somewhat more impressive technique). He wants casual sex, not love. But despite his smooth moves and supposed rejection of bourgeois values, he falls in love. He becomes more invested than he had ever intended, and finds out, (at least by Act III, and certainly by the end), that one gets mired emotionally as well as economically. Free love, it turns out, is anything but…. Love, too, demands the rent.

I won’t insist that everyone agree with my ideas about the true depth of La Bohème. I will, however, insist that people either allow that it does have tremendous depth far beyond the standard hackneyed conventions, or that they attend good performances of it with minds opened wider than mouths until they can speak of La Bohème with the unreserved respect it merits.

William Berger is a writer and radio producer for the Metropolitan Opera. His books include Wagner Without Fear, Puccini Without Excuses, and Verdi With a Vengeance.


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Consuming Consumption

Thomas May

“But if she’s dying of that dreadful disease, how could she still sing such gorgeous music?” It’s a question opera-goers often get asked when trying to describe what happens at the climax of one of the most beloved works in the repertoire. In the famous scene from the film Moonstruck, the character played by Cher—who is seeing La Bohème for the first time—notices the paradox and declares, “I didn’t know she was going to die!”

But Mimì’s tragic demise isn’t a medical documentary: it’s depicted in the context of a cultural and artistic tradition in which a wide range of diseases—whether of the body or of the mind— carried powerful symbolic meanings. Influenced by the legacy of Italian opera as well as by Wagner, Puccini was intimately familiar with the sudden madness of Donizetti’s Lucia of Lammermoor, the innocent sleepwalking of Amina in Bellini’s La Sonnambula, and the mysteriously festering “wound” that torments Amfortas in Parsifal.  Susan Sontag, in her landmark deconstruction of the use of “illness as metaphor,” observed that “sickness has a way of making people ‘interesting’—which is how ‘romantic’ was originally defined.”
Puccini’s own fragile heroine Mimì takes her place as the last in an iconic lineage of nineteenth-century operatic heroines who suffer and die of tuberculosis (TB), following Verdi’s Violetta in La Traviata and the fatefully music-loving Antonia in Offenbach’s Les Contes dHoffmann. That lineage entailed a romanticized depiction of what was, after all, a horrifyingly commonplace condition in Europe at that time, accounting for up to one in six deaths in France by the early twentieth century.
Such “romanticizing” is a complex, many-layered phenomenon. Sontag points out that by the nineteenth century, the model of disease as a “punishment” for transgressions had been refined into the idea that disease “expresses character.” TB in particular was portrayed as “the disease that makes manifest intense desire; that discloses, in spite of the reluctance of the individual, what the individual does not want to reveal.” Specifically in terms of female sexuality, “having TB was imagined to be an aphrodisiac, and to confer extraordinary powers of seduction.”
In a fascinating essay for the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases titled “At the Deathbed of Consumptive Art,” the epidemiologist David H. Morens explains that artistic depictions of the disease sought to make sense of such a widespread phenomenon “in popular terms, first as romantic redemption, then as reflection of societal ills”—all the more because “medicine had little to offer anyway.” The final suffering of the courtesan Violetta Valéry becomes transfigured by Verdi’s music, transforming what was a shocking realism for contemporary audiences into a cathartic experience.
Dr. Deborah Gold, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, describes the medical reality of the disease: “Tuberculosis is an airborne bacterial infection that begins in the lungs and can spread to any part of the body—the brain, skin, spine, liver. When left untreated, the disease may cause an overwhelming inflammatory response resulting in intractable fevers, chills, night sweats, and dramatic weight loss. In the era before medications were available to treat TB, some of those infected literally withered away; hence the common name for the disease, consumption.”
By the time Puccini composed his version of the stories based on the earlier Parisian characters brought to life by Henri Murger (who himself died of TB in 1861), a medical breakthrough had occurred. In 1882 the microbiologist Robert Koch announced his discovery of the causative bacterial agent of tuberculosis. Does the new awareness of TB as highly contagious explain Rodolfo’s behavior in wanting to break up with Mimì? Is his guilt-ridden claim—“I'm the reason that this fatal illness is attacking her” — in fact a projection of his fear that he might contract the disease?
In depicting Mimì's situation, Puccini and his librettists emphasize the stark reality of her poverty. While the cause of her disease (never actually mentioned) was now understood, there still was no cure. Even Violetta has a doctor to comfort her, but Mimì must rely on the kindness of her friends. “Opera and tuberculosis have entered a new era, recognizable today, in which tragedy is seen as experiencing loss but is not understood in an artistic or philosophical sense,” writes Morens. Even more: “Mimì dies surrounded by a philosopher, a poet, a painter, a musician, and a singer—the arts had become powerless against tuberculosis.”
TB is curable today because of medications developed after the Second World War. Before that time, there was only palliative treatment for the disease, and sufferers were sent away to sanitaria for relaxation and fresh air—as in the setting for Thomas Mann’s epochal novel The Magic Mountain (1924). “In reality, a diagnosis of tuberculosis, even in the early days, was not necessarily a death sentence and patients were known to improve” says Gold. 
Yet despite modern advances, tuberculosis is far from eradicated. “It’s such a huge worldwide problem that is most prevalent in the developing world. That being said, the rate of TB in San Francisco County is the highest in the state, and is one of the highest rates in the country.  Most of the cases occur in individuals who were born in countries in which TB is endemic,” according to Gold. “TB is often latent and those infected may not suffer any symptoms.  If the infection does become active, it is usually easily diagnosed and is often curable. We rarely see people dying of TB in the developed world.”

San Francisco Opera thanks Dr. Gold and the staff at Kaiser Permanente for contributing to this article. Kaiser Permanente has been a Corporate Sponsor of San Francisco Opera for eight seasons.  Their support of the Companys free, annual Opera in the Park concert has been a wonderful gift to countless opera fans.  In the current season, Kaiser Permanente has graciously underwritten the La Bohème for Families workshops, helping families build a better understanding of the opera before they attend the performance.

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"This Bohème is a double-dip delight.... a terrific evening at the opera!"

  –San Francisco Chronicle
"Under the baton of Resident Conductor Giuseppe Finzi, the Opera Orchestra provided a fluid, beautifully colored complement to the onstage proceedings."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
"This Bohème caps a knockout season!"

  –San Jose Mercury News
"It's an opera of heightened emotions, and the cast brought Puccini's timeless melodrama to life with just the right blend of youthful vitality, dramatic fervor and inspired vocalism."

  –San Jose Mercury News
"Soprano Alexia Voulgaridou was a lovely, affecting Mimì. Her pure, sweet tone and articulate phrasing expressed the consumptive character's frailty and ardor in equal measure."

  –San Jose Mercury News
Leah Crocetto’s Mimì is "large-scaled and most persuasive when she unveiled a huge torrent of vibrant sound in Act 3 and brings emotional depth to the deathbed reminiscences of Act 4."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
Michael Fabiano gave "a heroic depiction of the moonstruck poet, with muscular sound, impeccably placed high notes and an air of romantic ardor that lent weight and power to everything he sang."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
Giorgio Berrugi was "bright and silvery of tone, sweetly puppyish in demeanor. In the Act 1 aria “Che gelida manina,” Berrugi leapt nimbly to the climactic high C."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
"Marcello was magnificently handled both nights—on Friday by the smooth-toned Alexey Markov in a first-rate debut, and on Saturday by Brian Mulligan, who shaped the part with feral intensity."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
"As the flirtatious Musetta, both Nadine Sierra on Friday and Ellie Dehn on Saturday delivered handsomely in the famous Act 2 waltz, “Quando m’en vo.’"

  –San Francisco Chronicle
"Conducting with great sensitivity, Finzi elicited a lush, enveloping orchestral sound in the big moments that buoy the opera and supported the singers at every turn."

San Jose Mercury News

"Under Finzi's baton, the orchestra roiled, sang, and pulled a great ensemble performance in its wake."

–San Francisco Classical Voice
"Michael Fabiano was a brilliant Rodolfo; his firm, ringing tenor filled the house in "Che gelida manina," the Act I aria he sang to Mimì with stunning emotional power and great beauty moments after they'd met."

San Jose Mercury News
"As the vain Musetta, soprano Nadine Sierra brought crystalline tone to her Act II show-stopper, 'Quando me'n vo.'"

San Jose Mercury News
Alexey Markov makes "an ebullient Marcello."

San Jose Mercury News
"Brian Mulligan impressed with both voice and stage presence." ­

–San Francisco Classical Voice
"Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn "gave a robust account of Colline's Coat aria."

San Jose Mercury News
"Hadleigh Adams was a nimble Schaunard."

San Jose Mercury News
"Dale Travis did a deft double turn as the landlord Benoît and Musetta's sugar daddy, Alcindoro." 

  –San Jose Mercury News


  • Fri 11/14/14 7:30pm

  • Sat 11/15/14 7:30pm

  • Wed 11/19/14 7:30pm *

  • Thu 11/20/14 7:30pm

  • Sat 11/22/14 7:30pm *

  • Sun 11/23/14 2:00pm *

  • Tue 11/25/14 7:30pm

  • Sat 11/29/14 7:30pm *

  • Sun 11/30/14 2:00pm

  • Tue 12/2/14 7:30pm

  • Wed 12/3/14 7:30pm

  • Fri 12/5/14 7:30pm

  • Sun 12/7/14 2:00pm *

*OperaVision, HD video projection screens featured in the Balcony level for this performance, is made possible by the Koret/Taube Media Suite.


Company Sponsors John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn are proud to support this production. This production is made possible, in part, by the Burgess and Elizabeth Jamieson Fund and San Francisco Opera Guild. Giuseppe Finzi's appearance made possible by Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, Chairs, Amici di Nicola of Camerata.

Cast, program, prices and schedule are subject to change.