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Lyric Opera of Chicago
Pittas and Martínez in La Bohème at Lyric Opera of Chicago
© Dan Rest 2013
Lyric Opera's revival of Puccini's perennial — and ubiquitous — masterpiece La Bohème (seen Jan. 13)won success thanks to a quartet of principal singers who left the audience entirely convinced that these young people onstage were authentically in love.
Ana María Martínez contributed a radiantly vulnerable Mimì, consistently employing her darkly-textured lyric soprano with great sensitivity to dynamics and text. "Donde lieta uscì" emerged as the centerpiece of her interpretation, particularly with a delicate fining away of tone in the final phrases. Her Rodolfo was Dimitri Pittas in his Lyric debut. Act I found the young tenor a trifle strained in "Che gelida manina," sung in the original key with a certain want of grace and dynamic variation; thereafter, his voice opened up appreciably for a honeyed, ardently felt quartet and final act. Lucas Meachem was a handsome, hormonal Marcello who skillfully balanced the tricky amalgam of volatility and tenderness the role ideally requires, and he sang beautifully to boot. Musetta proved to be an excellent assignment for Elizabeth Futral. The soprano was adeptly poised between her coloratura youth and lyric maturity vocally, and her onstage sexual chemistry with Meachem was palpable.
Chicago audiences have long experienced the opera through Lyric's classic mounting by Pier Luigi Pizzi, which can be seen on DVD thanks to its utilization on Live from the Met some thirty-five years ago. This season the company decided to shake things up by importing Michael Yeargan's less antiquated production from San Francisco. SFO's settings are equally traditional (the Act III snow scenes are virtually interchangeable) but lovely, particularly when a set of panels framing the claustrophobic garret opens to reveal a moonlit sky in "O soave fanciulla." Nostalgia buffs may miss the comfy old Pizzi, but it was nice to have a different look at the piece. Louisa Muller's direction was no great shakes, but it was sensible. Musetta's entrance could have been punched up a bit, and an obsessive bit of business with Mimì's bonnet somewhat marred the final tableau, but Muller made real people of everyone involved.
The Bohemians were rounded out by Joseph Lim's appealing Schaunard and Andrea Silvestrelli's Colline, who delivered as poignant a rendering of the coat aria as could be imagined. Bernard Holcomb was the Parpignol; Will Liverman and Evan Boyer were the Sergeant and Customs Guard, respectively. Dale Travis continued his reign as Lyric's Benoit/Alcindoro extraordinaire, and his horror at receiving the bill at Momus is as funny as ever.
Conductor Emmanuel Villaume favored rather expansive tempos, and some might desire more sparkle in the garret interludes, but the orchestral textures were beautifully rendered. There were a couple of blips from the winds initially, but all settled in soon enough. Both adult and children's choruses were in fine fettle, right down to the cute kid crying for his "tromba!" If this was not the absolute strongest Bohème in Lyric's history, it was of solid international standard, and it made you cry.
MARK THOMAS KETTERSON
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