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S.F. Opera brings Puccini outdoors across the Bay Area

The San Francisco Opera rolled into Los Gatos over the weekend to give residents a taste of “La Bohème.” The scaled-down production included singers, sets, costumes and the rest, but there were a few things missing — like tickets, seats, walls and a roof overhead.

This was populist opera alfresco, designed to make Puccini’s beloved masterpiece easily available — both physically and conceptually — to new audiences.

On Sunday, March 26, under balmy blue skies, it seemed to be working as intended. An estimated 600 attendees sprawled on the grass in the town square, with the public library as a benign backdrop, to watch Rodolfo, Mimì and the other impoverished Bohemian artists fall in love, quarrel, make up and die.

The response was enthusiastic.

“I had never seen the opera before, so I really appreciated the way they made it more accessible,” said Los Gatos resident Kylie Clark. “I also liked the way they put some English in — and it’s so impressive the way they can do that with their voices!”

“Bohème Out of the Box,” part of the company’s centennial season, was conceived as a way to bring opera out of the War Memorial Opera House and into far-flung communities of the greater Bay Area.

The box in the title is a single, easily portable staging area, open to the audience like a schoolchild’s shoebox diorama. In director Jose Maria Condemi’s nimble staging, the action moves from inside the box to both the top and the ground level in front, conjuring the crowded tenements in which the Bohemians make their lives.

Those run-down apartments are Parisian in the original. But in this version, compressed to just over an hour and sung in a mix of English and Italian, the action has been deftly whisked away into a semblance of the contemporary Bay Area.

The composer Schaunard now plays in a punk band, and the philosopher Colline hosts a podcast about politics and culture.

“It’s tough being an artist in this city,” one of the characters proclaims. “Everything is so expensive, and work is hard to find.” . . .

– San Francisco Chronicle


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