Opera Review: LA BOHÈME (Lyric Opera of Chicago)

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by Barnaby Hughes on October 7, 2018

in Music,Theater-Chicago

PUCCINI’S PARISIAN OPERA
ROMANCES AND ENCHANTS

Lyric Opera’s 64th season opened with fizz, frocks, and fanfare last night. Once the red carpet had emptied and the evening’s audience settled into their seats with tumblers of wine, the curtain rose and the music began — and what a magical experience it was. The ladies in glamorous gowns, the men in tailored tuxedos, even the awkward teenagers, were swiftly forgotten in the sheer pleasure of Puccini’s La Bohème. From the lush orchestration of the score to the emotional performances of the youthful cast, the night shone as bright as day, illuminating hearts and quickening desires.

Making his Lyric debut, Venezuelan conductor Domingo Hindoyan presented audiences with the evening’s first visible face and a foretaste of delights to come. Tall, dark, and handsome, Hindoyan interpreted the score sensitively and serenely, building up the drama to rapturous ecstasies and winnowing it down to private moments eavesdropped-upon, as appropriate. This reviewer hopes to see him again at the podium soon.

A co-production between Lyric, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and Teatro Real Madrid, La Bohème is directed by Richard Jones and features set and costume designs by Stewart Laing. The British duo offer a contemporary rendition of the classic opera that is attuned more to expressions of love and loss than to details of time and place. The period is evoked well-enough, but in a way that enables the action to be almost timeless and yet completely present. The characters, moreover, are brought out in their full individuality, but also representing common types still current, such as the struggling artist and the girl next door.

The opera’s libretto, written by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, is based on Henri Murger’s 1851 collection of short stories, Scènes de la vie de bohème. Portraying the lives of young bohemians living in Paris’s Latin Quarter during the reign of King Louis Philippe (1830-1848), the opera focuses on the relationship between the writer Rodolfo and Mimi spun out over four acts, beginning with how the two meet and ending with Mimi’s premature death. A secondary plot concerns the painter Marcello and his relationship with the coquettish Musetta. The inability of each artist to support his lover financially provides the conflict upon which the plot hinges, slamming shut the door of hopeful romance and turning the deadbolt of tragedy. Thus, the first two acts are full of fun and festivity, whereas the final two are poignantly sad and somber.

American tenor Michael Fabiano makes a promising Lyric debut as Rodolfo. Although he portrays the essence of his character with depth and sympathy, his singing could have been more polished, especially at the top of his range, which sounded a little strained. Much more captivating is his costar Italian soprano Maria Agresta, seen last season as Liu in Turandot. As Mimi, Agresta proves herself once again an accomplished performer of Puccini’s music, delicately singing the famed aria “Si, mi chiamano Mimi.” The lover’s duet “O soave fanciulla” that follows it soars perhaps too heroically, but does neatly set the stage for the boisterous scene that follows.

Although Fabiano and Agresta have the most stage time, it is Australian soprano Danielle de Niese as Musetta and American baritone Zachary Nelson as Marcello that steal the show with their tempestuous relationship. Well-known internationally, De Niese’s charisma, sex appeal, and silky voice are dynamically displayed in Act II as she struts across tables singing her waltz “Quando m’en vo.” Nelson in his most prominent role yet at Lyric is naturally bewitched. His warm tone and excellent diction, of course, make their own satisfying and compelling contribution to the evening. Add to that the Lyric Opera Chorus and the Chicago Children’s Choir and the result is a supremely memorable and uplifting production.

In La Bohème, Lyric gets everything right: an audience favorite to start the season given a fresh and faithful production packed with familiar faces and rising stars. If you liked it as much as this reviewer, be sure to tell your friends about it. Better yet, go see it again and take them with you. There are more performances in January. Also, get ready for Mozart’s Idomeneo, starting Oct. 13.

photos by Todd Rosenberg

La Bohème
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive
ends on January 25, 2019
(NOTE: Due to a stall in ratification talks with the
musicians’ union, two cancelled shows have been
rescheduled for Jan 29, 2019, at 2 and Jan 31 at 7)
for tickets, call 312.827.5600 or visit Lyric Opera

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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