It's perhaps an act of courage that, at 62, Italian soprano Mirella Freni is reprising for Lyric Opera the part of Mimi in La boheme, the Puccini tearjerker in which she made her Lyric debut 32 years ago. Her voice isn't as radiant, full-bodied, and supple as it once was, but she knows how to mask the wear and tear by not forcing it too much. At her best, of course, she's still capable of emitting the limpid flow of exquisite sound that helped make her reputation as the most musical among the prima donnas of her generation. And she's also remarkable for her theatrical flair, her ability to seem psychologically grounded in any role she undertakes. Freni's Mimi is a lost soul, a dreamy-eyed romantic too much in love with the notion of love, and in the productions with her that I've seen, she's always managed to transcend the opera's maudlin tawdriness and give Mimi an innate nobility of spirit. For this Lyric revival she's paired with up-and-coming Italian tenor Vincenzo La Scola as Rodolfo. Superbly trained in bel canto technique, La Scola, who's 39, is often compared to Pavarotti and Carlo Bergonzi, who served as a mentor. La Scola and Freni have already appeared in La boheme elsewhere--an intense partnership that recalls Pavarotti in his early collaborations with Joan Sutherland. Also in the cast are Nicolai Ghiaurov as the sardonic philosopher Colline and Lyric's own Juliana Rambaldi as the flirtatious Musetta. Bruno Bartoletti conducts--his last podium gig before he retires as the Lyric's artistic director. Saturday, Wednesday, and next Saturday, November 15, 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 312-332-2244. TED SHEN
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Mirella Freni photo by Christian Steiner/ Vincenzo la Scola photo uncredited.