La Boheme, Chicago Lyric Opera, December 1992

Fresh talent awakens `La Boheme' revival
John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, 14 December 1992

Time was when Lyric Opera treated "La Boheme" rather like a loss leader
during the Christmas shopping season, trusting the popularity of the
Puccini work to carry performances seemingly cobbled together from
whatever mediocre singers happened to be around the theater at the time.

No more, apparently. Lyric's revival of its well-worn, 20-year-old
production, running through the holidays and for most of January at the
Civic Opera House, shows evidence of having been carefully rethought and
freshened. Several promising newcomers in major roles helped to make
Saturday night's opening a fine mixture of youth and experience. If not
the most moving "Boheme" one has ever experienced, the bittersweet tale
of young love and loss in Paris' Latin Quarter nevertheless had enough
good Italianate singing to satisfy most of the Puccinians in attendance.

The clear vocal standout of the evening was Giuseppe Sabbatini, the
Italian tenor who was making his American debut. The voice may not be
large, but it is attractive, fine-grained and even throughout its range,
slightly metallic in timbre, high in placement, effortlessly produced.
The man seems born to sing Puccini. His musicality and strong technical
control gave pleasure throughout, never more so than in Rodolfo's two
big arias, where Sabbatini balanced ringing fortes with sweet
pianissimos. This Rodolfo was just volatile enough to make a credibly
possessive poet-lover.

Lucia Mazzaria, the plumpish Mimi, did not exactly look fragile even if
she did muster a degree of brave pathos for the final scene. Her
soprano, dangerously stretched by the slow tempo of her Act I aria,
tended to spread under pressure and turn pinched at the top. Her best
singing came in the soft phrases of "Donde lieta usci," very affectingly
shaped as Mimi took inventory of the lovers' domestic bliss.

Jonathan Summers sang a firm, experienced, if rather humorless Marcello
but was able to strike no dramatic sparks whatsoever off Cynthia
Lawrence's brassy Musetta. Having evidently been encouraged to play
Musetta as more shrewish than charming, she delivered a strident
waltz-song to a veritable army of gaping Christmas Eve revelers.

Other residents of the bohemians' garret included James Michael
McGuire's athletic, warmly sung Schaunard, and an appealingly
dark-voiced Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, in his U.S. debut, as the
philosopher Colline. One wishes he had opened up a bit more for the
overcoat aria. The roles of Benoit and Alcindoro, so inimitably taken in
many previous Lyric outings by Italo Tajo, were divided here between
Andrew Foldi and Philip Kraus; good as they were, one missed Tajo's
comic touch.

There was a welcome absence of stodgy routine from conductor Bruno
Bartoletti, who drew a continuous flow of warm lyricism from the
orchestra and yet took fully into account the delicious little
hesitations and quickenings of phrase that give Puccini's score its
enduring emotional truth.

Stage director Lorenzo Mariani, in his American debut, kept the dramatic
action moving smoothly and efficiently within the aging, if still
functional, Pier Luigi Pizzi sets. Several new bits of business,
including a stilt-walking harlequin in the Cafe Momus act, could not be
considered improvements.


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