Chicago Opera Review: LA BOHÈME (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

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by Kristin Walters on January 25, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

RELIABLE CROWD-PLEASER ONCE AGAIN, WELL, PLEASES THE CROWD

Puccini’s La Bohème has succeeded numerous times at Lyric Opera since its first performance in 1954, but their newest production is fresh and satisfying. First of all, it’s hard to go wrong (in general) with La Bohème, a relatively light tragedy buoyed with easy-to-love characters, provocative music and a lot of humor. It is no wonder that the Lyric sees no need to update it. They have employed solid singers, borrowed Michael Yeargan’s newer (1997 to be exact), detail-rich set from the San Francisco Opera and allowed conductor Emmanuel Villaume to work his magic with the score. Puccini takes care of the rest, along with lively direction from Louisa Muller.

Kristin Walters' Stage and Cinema review of LA BOHÈME-Lyric Opera of Chicago

If you’re not acquainted with La Bohème you may recognize the storyline from a little musical called Rent. Despite their non-existent income and subsequent lack of heat, four artist friends exist in a happy poverty within Paris’s Latin Quarter. Or at least they’re happy until it’s time to fall in love. The painter Marcello constantly battles with the beautiful Musetta, a commitment-phobe who seesaws between dating the poor painter and flirting with Paris’ upper-class bachelors. Equally dramatic is the central relationship between the writer Rodolfo and his neighbor Mimi, a consumption-suffering seamstress. The two garret-dwellers love each other fervently but must break up due to Mimi’s illness and Rodolfo’s inability to care for her.

Kristin Walters' Stage and Cinema review of LA BOHÈME-Lyric Opera of Chicago

Ana Maria Martinez has a long history as Mimi (Vienna, Houston, Berlin, Santa Fe, and San Juan), so her arias are incredibly polished, but she portrays Mimi as a little wise beyond her years instead of young, naïve and scared. It will be interesting to compare Anna Netrebko’s performance come March when the starring roles are recast.

Kristin Walters' Stage and Cinema review of LA BOHÈME-Lyric Opera of Chicago

Dimitri Pittas’ Rodolfo is incredibly sympathetic and likeable, yet sometimes to a fault. It’s not easy to grasp the darker side of his emotions. When Mimi complains that he has become ill-tempered and jealous, it’s not believable and Rodolfo’s complexity is muted. Perhaps in March, Joseph Calleja, Gramophone’s 2012 Artist of the Year, will play Rodolfo a little darker and more brooding.

Kristin Walters' Stage and Cinema review of LA BOHÈME-Lyric Opera of Chicago

As the supporting couple Marcello and Musetta, Lucas Meachem and Elizabeth Futral do not settle for second fiddle. They are at all times magnetic, attracting each other along with the audience. Futral has enjoyed a wonderful career so far, starring as many of opera’s favorite characters, most notably Violetta from La Traviata. In the program Futral has expressed her excitement for new roles; prancing around the stage as the coquettish Musetta, her freshness and vivacity clearly come through. As her on-stage lover, Lucas Meachem takes Marcello’s comically inclined character very seriously and lends an endearing depth to the emotionally explosive painter.

Kristin Walters' Stage and Cinema review of LA BOHÈME-Lyric Opera of Chicago

Andrea Silvestrelli and Joseph Lim round out the group of bohemians as the commanding Colline and the jovial and generous Shaunard, respectively.  As for the costumes, Walter Mahoney’s color palette is subtle yet rich, expansive yet cohesive, and it is a visual delight when the ensemble, including many talented young people from Chicago Children’s Choir, gathers in the square.

It’s true Lyric could have taken more creative liberty with the show, but why risk it when everyone will love it anyway.

Kristin Walters' Stage and Cinema review of LA BOHÈME-Lyric Opera of Chicago
photos by Dan Rest/Lyric Opera of Chicago

La Bohème
Lyric Opera of Chicago
scheduled to end on March 28, 2013
for tickets, call 312.332.2244 ext 5600
or visit Lyric Opera

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