Boy meets girl, girl croaks: Lyric Opera's La Bohème

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Dimitri Pittas, Ana Maria Martinez
  • Dan Rest
  • Dimitri Pittas, Ana Maria Martinez
OK, you probably know the story: Penniless young artists and writers on the loose in the frigid garrets and intoxicating cafes of 19th-century Paris. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, she dies. The libretto swings between the tragically melodramatic and the merely sappy—an ode to an overcoat is rendered as the heroine approaches death. But the music couldn't be more heartrending: it's Giacomo Puccini's beloved La Bohème, currently up at Lyric Opera.

This is a fetching, traditional production, with sets by Michael Yeargan on loan from the San Francisco Opera. Everything is exactly as it should be, from the love nest that opens dramatically to the sky at exactly the right moment to the bohemians' favorite cafe on a Latin Quarter street mobbed with munchkins from the Chicago Children's Choir.

And it's the perfect date-night opera for this season—the snow that falls on the lovers, Rodolfo and Mimi, as they reunite for a glorious quartet with their squalling counterparts Marcello and Musetta, matches what you're likely to encounter on Wacker Drive on your way home.

But, if you haven't yet purchased tickets, note this: The two leading roles have been double cast. Soprano Ana Maria Martinez is Mimi and tenor Dimitri Pittas is Rodolfo through February, then Anna Netrebko and Joseph Calleja will take over for six performances in March. Netrebko—a hot ticket—has never sung at Lyric, and her arrival is much anticipated. Initially, the March performances were made available only to subscribers, but they'll go on sale to the general public February 8.

In the meantime, Martinez delivers vocally as the fragile Mimi, and she and Pittas make a believable—if not hugely exciting—pair of lovers. Baritone Lucas Meachem is great as Marcello, as is bass Andrea Silvestrelli as another of Rodolfo's buddies, Colline. Soprano and Ryan Center alumna Elizabeth Futral is Marcello's girl, Musetta; baritone and current Ryan Center member Joseph Lim rounds out the boys' club.

Sensitively lit by Duane Schuler, it's directed by Louisa Muller; Emmanuel Villaume conducts the always-excellent Lyric Opera orchestra. When I attended, WFMT's velvet-voiced Carl Grapentine gave a preperformance lecture (at 6:30) that made early arrival worthwhile. Performances continue tonight and various dates through March 28. Call 312-332-2244.

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