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Performances

Michael Fabiano and Maria Agresta [Photo © Todd Rosenberg]
23 Oct 2018

A New La bohème Opens Season at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2018-19 season with Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème. This new production, shared with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and with the Teatro Real, Madrid, features an accomplished cast and innovative scenic approaches.

A New La bohème Opens Season at Lyric Opera of Chicago

A review by Salvatore Calomino

Above: Michael Fabiano and Maria Agresta [Photo © Todd Rosenberg]

 

The lovers who meet in Act One, Mimì and Rodolfo, are sung by Maria Agresta and Michael Fabiano. The second pair of lovers Musetta and Marcello, estranged until the close of Act Two, are portrayed by Danielle De Niese and Zachary Nelson. Additional members of the Bohemian group of friends are represented by Adrian Sàmpetrean as Colline and Riccardo José Rivera as Schaunard. The roles of Benoît and Alcindoro are performed by Jake Gardner. The Lyric Opera Orchestra is conducted by Domingo Hindoyan; the Lyric Opera Chorus is prepared by its Chorus Master Michael Black, and the Chicago Children’s Chorus is prepared by Josephine Lee. The production is directed by Richard Jones with sets and costumes by Stewart Laing and lighting by Mimi Jordan Sherin. Messrs. Fabiano, Rivera, Hindoyan, and Laing make their house debuts in these performances.

From the start of Act One the pacing among the group of male voices is lively and filled with the urge to make the most of the circumstances under which they live. Mr. Nelson’s rich, focused baritone is an ideal voice for the painter Marcello. His vocal projection, stylish delivery, and facial expressions underline a total identification with the character portrayed. Nelson’s banter with the writer Rodolfo about the attractions of Paris despite their frigid interior is delivered with lyrical gusto. In the role of the poet Rodolfo Mr. Fabiano sings with a truly Italianate warmth and a comfortable sense for legato. His top pitches with forte emphasis are used, at times, to delineate the volatile personality of the poet. Messrs Sâmpetrean and Rivera add to the bounce and color of the quartet, which performs this act against a stark white and black backdrop representing the garret. Once they have dispensed with the landlord Benoit, the group determines to continue their spirited mood in the Parisian outdoors. Rodolfo agrees to join their revelry after further attempts at writing, yet Mimì’s interruption at the door stage rear proves to be a fateful distraction.

Ms. Agresta is a marvel of touching ardor and lyrical expressivity. Both principal singers have become sufficiently identified with their roles, so that they succeed in giving a fresh, credible interpretation to this work. Fabiano sings with a continuous line of impassioned declaration, his voice rising and falling in keeping with the import of Puccini’s music. Agresta matches this sense of character portrayal by imparting a tentative shyness to initial lines, a technique which renders her ultimate participation in the duet more joyous. Both singers use piano shading to enhance their portrayals and to underscore the lovers’ growing commitment. By the close of the act thy have transformed the spare stage with their hope in new love.

Acts Two and Three are appropriate scenic opposites in this production. The ebullient and overpopulated stage of the Café Momus in Act Two extends the burgeoning passion with which the previous act had concluded. Arcades and outdoor passage-ways suggest the bustle of Parisian streets. Costumes are now more in keeping with an 1830s milieu. The bustle of figures at the tables stage-front allows the new lovers to blend in to the public society while at once sharing their intimate thoughts. This atmosphere also allows for the reconciliation between Marcello and Musetta, the latter arriving with her current companion. In the role of Musetta Ms. De Niese is brash and determined. She sings her waltz, perched on a café table, with a languid tone, inserting occasional pitches sharp to emphasize her growing emotional state. Her final gesture used to recapture the devotion of Marcello succeeds and seems fully at odds with the delicate innocence that has been traced for the first pair of overs. A more closely etched emotional identification informs the atmosphere of Act Three. Nelson’s importunate exchange with Mimi upon her return to see Rodolfo suggests his own emotional commitment now as well as his concern for Rodolfo. Once they are reunited Agresta and Fabiano sing of past, present, and future in ethereal shades of sadness, denial, and potential reconciliation. This duet remains, as it should, one of the production’s highlights, since the tone established enhances the poignancy of the final act.

In Act Four, now a mirror of the opening scene, all the principals focus on the deteriorating health of Mimì. The dedication of Musetta is admirably sung with graceful line by De Niese while Fabbiano’s Rodolfo seems to stave off the reality of illness until the final moments. Agresta’s voice rises with the self-denial of a final burst of strength, and wafts into the angelic repose of her final moments. Her performance captures the essence of the complex figure of” La bohème.”

Salvatore Calomino

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