Dimitri Pittas portrayed Rodolfo and Ana Maria Martinez portrayed Mimi in the first cast of Lyric Opera of Chicago's "La Boheme." The second cast is in place for March 9-28 performances. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
♦ March 9-28 (second cast)
♦ Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago
♦ Tickets, $34-$256
♦ (312) 322-2244; lyricopera.org
♦ This is a Lyric Opera of Chicago
Updated: April 9, 2013 11:06AM
It’s the fail-safe opera, one that requires no genius in the pit, no innovative direction, no great stars onstage.
No matter how many times we’ve seen it, we know that in the last minutes of Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme,” as Mimi is about to die or as Rodolfo is shielded from her death, we’re going to cry and not much else that has happened is going to matter in retrospect.
So it was when “La Boheme,” in a new production replacing Lyric Opera of Chicago’s relic from 1972, opened Jan. 21 at the Civic Opera House.
However, this staging is a 1996 import from San Francisco (when that company was using a Broadway-size theater during earthquake-proofing of its home).
Michael Yeargan’s winning sets are “new” but still wholly traditional. What else is one supposed to do — what else should one do? — with “Boheme”?
In the pit, Lyric has a passionate and serious conductor, Emmanuel Villaume, who lets the score be as sentimental as it is, but not more so, and who brings out the genius of craftsmanship and tunefulness that have kept this work alive for almost 120 years.
The Metropolitan Opera staff director with a highly operatic-sounding name, Louisa Muller, animates Mark Lamos’ original concept and has a sense of how to make the performers playing these young bohemians actually seem like young bohemians.
Let’s hope her unneeded fussiness in the last scene from opening night can be toned down or dropped altogether.
Lyric has offered a double cast for the show.
Megastars Anna Netrebko and Joseph Calleja take over the lead roles for the six March performances.
The supporting cast, which is the same throughout the show’s run, is charming and strong.
The leads for the January-February run had their merits.
As Mimi, soprano Ana Maria Martinez at first seemed too mature for her part, but this could be due to Walter Mahoney’s period-true mid-19th century costumes.
Her voice and manner opened up in Acts 3 and 4. Her “Donde lieta usci,” proposing that she and Rodolfo part without rancor, was very fine, and her death scene was touching.
In his Lyric debut, tenor Dimitri Pittas simply did not have the power, range or magnetism for Rodolfo’s solo numbers, but he was a caring partner as a singer and character.
Baritone Lucas Meacham is a natural Marcello vocally and theatrically.
While local favorite Elizabeth Futral does not have the megaphone that Musetta’s vocal part requires, her stage performance is convincing throughout.
And these two North Carolina natives make an excellent “second couple.”
Italian bass Andrea Silvestrelli is luxury casting as the philosopher Colline in the quartet of young garret-dwelling men.
Ryan Opera Center baritone Joseph Lim shows potential and a winning stage presence as Schaunard.
Veteran Lyric character bass-baritone Dale Travis handles Benoit the landlord and Alcindoro, Musetta’s sugar daddy, with his customary insight.
Duane Schuler’s wholly atmospheric lighting, guest chorus master Ian Robertson (also of San Francisco), the Chicago Children’s Choir and the group’s director Josephine Lee round out the pleasant cast.
Mimi always proposed waiting for spring as her life philosophy. You’ll cry when she dies here.
Perhaps some fireworks will be added to the production in March.
Andrew Patner is critic at large for WFMT-FM (98.7).
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