OPERA NEWS - La Bohème
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In Review > North America

La Bohème

Lyric Opera of Chicago

In Review Boheme Chicago lg 119
Maria Agresta and Michael Fabiano in Lyric’s Bohème
© Lyric Opera of Chicago

LYRIC OPERA 2018–19 season opened in grand style on October 6, with the local premiere of director Richard Jones’s boldly conceived new mounting of Puccini’s Bohème, a coproduction with Teatro Real and Covent Garden. The excitement quickly collapsed into despair on October 9, when the Lyric Orchestra and the Chicago Federation of Musicians announced a strike in protest of substantial contractual reductions proposed by company management. Lyric announced the cancellation of all future performances, including the scheduled premiere of Idomeneo on October 13, pending successful contract negotiations. October 14 brought a collective sigh of relief, as the musicians ratified a new labor agreement. Bohème performances resumed on the 17th, with the premiere of Idomeneo following on October 18. 

The Bohème opening brought the welcome company return of Maria Agresta, in a radiant performance as Mimì. The delectable Italian soprano’s voice is not particularly large, but it is graced with a lovely, shimmering quality and a rounded upper register that allows her to soar above ensembles with seeming effortlessness. She is a sensitive interpreter and intelligently employed a subtle compression of tone for expressive effect that was notably affecting in “Donde lieta uscì.” Her Rodolfo was Michael Fabiano, in a much-anticipated Lyric debut. The American tenor, who sang the premiere of this production last season in London, was in admirable form and delivered his music with ample, ringing sound and strong top notes. “Che gelida manina” was rewarded with an earsplitting ovation. Dramatically, Fabiano often appeared to be in an emotional bubble, with little affective connection to the other characters, including his warm, winsome Mimì. Zachary Nelson brought a luxurious, masculine baritone to his engaging and distinctly hormonal Marcello; suffice it to say, he was the cutest guy in the garret. Director Jones’s take on Musetta (here a tipsy hoyden who tempted Marcello by tossing her panties in his face) was over the top, but Danielle de Niese, another holdover from Covent Garden, sang beautifully and threw herself into the assignment with total commitment. The Chicago crowd adored her.

Adrian Sâmpetrean’s bass is light for Colline, though lovely to hear; “Vecchia zimarra” was nicely shaped and heartfelt. Ricardo José Rivera was a winning Schaunard. Jake Gardner deftly essayed both Benoît and Alcindoro. There was a bright-toned Parpignol from Mario Rojas. Geoffrey Agpalo, Nikolas Wenzel and Ronald Watkins ably sang as the Peddler, Sergeant and Guard. All choral forces were in fine order.

The settings and costumes by Stewart Laing were snowy and traditional enough to appease purists while fielding a contemporary visual edge. Lighting grids and the mechanics of the stage snow were visible throughout. Act II brought some real theatrical dazzle, as multiple set pieces spun about in dizzying array to variously suggest a Latin quarter filled with intriguing shops, a promenade with gleaming streetlights and a toney Café Momus with glittering crystal and elegant table linens. (Lord knows how the Bohemians could afford the place.) There were occasional directorial oddities. People kept grabbing the presumably red-hot stove-pipe, and Laing’s unusually stark garret featured a ladder poking through an open skylight; given the cold, one couldn’t help wondering why nobody closed the damn thing. The mock swordplay in Act IV was fruitlessly jettisoned in favor of a bawdy graffiti party. There was a certain want of charm and romance, but the show certainly wasn’t dull. 

Conductor Domingo Hindoyan led a disciplined if rather unsentimental account of the score in his company debut. The orchestra played superbly. —Mark Thomas Ketterson

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