West Bay Opera’s ‘La bohème’ finds a modern setting in San Francisco

“La bohème,” the popular opera by Giacomo Puccini, is a tale of poor bohemians in 1830s Paris.

“It was during the reign of Louis Philippe, a time of great excess and great income equality, worse than before the French revolution,” said West Bay Opera’s José Luis Moscovich during a recent interview. “The poor had gotten much poorer, the middle class was really strapped, and the rich were living extravagantly.

“In 1830, Paris had yet to see the improvements that were to come in the 1870s,” Moscovich said. “It was still a medieval labyrinth. There was a piling up of people in rental spaces. They were very poor, there was poor sanitation. Artists were constantly being pushed out, unable to get a footing in the cultural capital of Europe.”

When Moscovich wanted to find a more modern setting for the opera, he found a perfect place: today’s San Francisco.

“The parallels are striking,” Moscovich said. “Here we are in San Francisco, people are being pushed around, people are living in tent cities, not just in San Francisco, but also in Palo Alto (where West Bay Opera is based). There are people who aren’t able to afford basic food and services, in the wealthiest region in the world, because of Silicon Valley.”

According to San Francisco’s biannual census, there are more than 7,000 homeless people in San Francisco, and there are many thousands of homeless, including people living in cars and recreational vehicles, all over the Bay Area.

Including on Lambert Street in Palo Alto, near the West Bay Opera building.

“La bohème” is about Mimi, a starving embroiderer, and Rodolfo, a writer who has been forced to burn his manuscript to stay warm. They fall in love, but their story takes tragic turns.

“It has a universal theme, it’s a love story,” said Moscovich, “but the backdrop is very relevant. It’s good to relate to the story in more than one way. It isn’t just a love story.”

Placing the tale in San Francisco will certainly help the audience recognize the opera’s powerful social themes.

West Bay Opera is renowned for its creative, powerful visuals in its sets, and the stagings for “La bohème” are meant to clearly evoke San Francisco.

For the first act, instead of the 1830s Paris garret, there will be an attic in a Castro District Victorian house. It will have views of Twin Peaks and the Sutro Tower.

Act II takes viewers to North Beach, “a place that has a long history of catering to sailors, when it was a harbor,” said Moscovich. “The Carol Doda strip show is gone now, but the neon signs are still there. It’s where they (Rodolfo and Mimi) go on Christmas Eve. The café has the same name as in the (original) opera — Cafe Momus.”

Act III visits another well-known San Francisco spot. “In the original, you have the entry point to Paris, a customs office,” said Moscovich. “We don’t have that here, so we’re going to use Civic Center Plaza — City Hall with the big dome — with people …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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