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Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Courtesans and clowns, starving artists, high living and low comedy, love and death. Puccini's soaring music and Baz Luhrmann's vision. Put all this together and you have the Broadway-bound production of La Bohème. Mom and I took the bus to the Curran Theatre in San Francisco to see it today, a few days before the trial run ends and the whole show moves to New York.

I grew up knowing nothing about opera except what it wasn't. It wasn't rock and roll. It wasn't television or the movies. It wasn't in English. In fact, until I heard that Luhrmann, who directed three movies I love (Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge), was bringing this particular opera to a mass audience, I had little interest in finding anything out about opera at all.

When I learned that this was to be part of our Best of Broadway season package, I rented the DVD of Luhrmann's Australian production of La Bohème and fell totally in love with it. I still don't know if I'll ever love any other operas as well as this one, my first, but I've watched others and liked them just fine. It must be mostly the music that appeals to me, because I saw a traditional presentation of it on stage last month and thought it was very good.

But this show we saw today was incredible, beyond anything I even expected after seeing the Australian version. The sets are not only amazing, but the stage crew that moves them around becomes part of the total experience. You already know it's fake snow, right? So why not have a guy dressed in black at the top of a scaffold sprinkling snow down on the actors?

It worked for me anyway. And when the lights go on for Act II, you're immediately transported to Paris's Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve, with all the bustling activity and so much life you can't even take it all in. It was one of the most amazing transformations of a stage I've ever seen.

And those voices! You can't even fully appreciate the music unless the voices blaze their way into your soul. Somehow the singers we heard today (one of three rotating casts) made us feel the joy, passion and pain that their characters experienced. It was a great day at the theater.

Speaking of the theater, unlike other San Francisco houses, the Curran wasn't built as a movie palace. It's kind of fun to note that the stage we were seeing today has seen performances by Will Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier and other bright lights of the stage. The Lunts once trod those same boards. It gives me a chill just thinking about that now.

It wasn't until the bus pulled out of Petaluma on the last leg of our trip home this evening that I remembered. I hadn't thought about money problems at work or the election debacle all day long. I didn't even realize how much I needed a day to get away from all that, but this one took me all the way to Paris. It was good therapy after the way this week started.


Storm clouds.

On top of everything else, we had lunch at a five-star restaurant, Farallon. I'm not sure what gives a restaurant all those stars, but the elaborate undersea décor was striking (jellyfish chandeliers!), the food was excellent (I had the bay scallops), and the service was perfect, right up until the moment they forgot to bring us our dessert. I wasn't having any, but Mom had to get hers to take home in a bag. If we'd had more time it wouldn't have been a problem, but we had to catch the bus to the theater. Besides, food is a good thing, but it wasn't the reason we were in the City today.

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