La bohème successfully returns to Lyric Opera of Chicago

  • This new coproduction is onstage from January 10 to January 31, after its tremendous success at Lyric last October. On this photo: Danielle de Niese, Zachary Nelson, Ricardo Jose Rivera, Adrian Sampetrean, Michael Fabiano, and Maria Agresta.Courtesy of Todd Rosenberg

    This new coproduction is onstage from January 10 to January 31, after its tremendous success at Lyric last October. On this photo: Danielle de Niese, Zachary Nelson, Ricardo Jose Rivera, Adrian Sampetrean, Michael Fabiano, and Maria Agresta.Courtesy of Todd Rosenberg

Natalia Dagenhart
Updated 1/18/2019 10:39 AM

You can be rich and famous but at the same time lonely and unhappy. On the other hand, you can be poor and unknown but have real friends who never leave you alone, find love that brightens your sky, and be a creative and passionate person who enjoys life. Sounds almost unrealistic, as many people think that happiness equals money and money equals happiness, but in Puccini's La bohème that's the reality. And even if one of the main characters, beautiful and sensitive Mimì, dies at the end of the opera from tuberculosis, she experienced the whole spectrum of human feelings and emotions, particularly deep love, before her death.

Lyric Opera of Chicago is happy to bring to its stage the second series of the performances of Puccini's La bohème. This new coproduction is onstage from January 10 to January 31, after its tremendous success at Lyric last October.

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This celebration of love, youth and hope is heard in every note composed by Puccini. Lyric Opera of Chicago is happy to demonstrate all the beauty of this opera, which is considered to be one of the most popular and one of the most performed operas in the world. This is a new coproduction between Lyric Opera of Chicago, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and Teatro Real Madrid.

This new coproduction highlights the talent of many extremely acclaimed and widely appreciated professionals who made La bohème shine with unique theatrical innovations. "After forty six years, a new vision of this universally beloved work was long overdue on our stage. Lyric's new coproduction packs a tremendous emotional punch," wrote General Director, President and CEO of Lyric Opera of Chicago Anthony Freud in Lyric Notes. "I'm thrilled to welcome back for two productions this season Richard Jones, an extraordinary director. I've always appreciated Richard's ability to reach the emotional heart of whatever piece he directs. He does this in La bohème, exploring the music and text in remarkable detail."

La bohème is an opera in four acts sung in Italian with projected English translations. At Lyric, they are proudly presented by Kenneth Chalmers, who is Head of Surtitles at London's Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and are funded in part by a generous grant from the Lloyd E. Rigler-Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation. This production also features set and costume designer Stewart Laing, lighting designer Mimi Jordan Sherin, chorus master Michael Black, children's chorus master Josephine Lee, Chicago Children's Choir, and also numerous designers, directors and stage actors whose talent helped to make this coproduction unique and unforgettable.

Lyric's new coproduction of La bohème brings to stage many popular names and gathers a full house, and it is interesting to learn about how Puccini wrote this masterpiece that has been beautifying the operatic world for more than a century already. The opera came to life through obstacles and difficulties. Puccini decided to base this opera on a work called La Vie de Bohème written by French novelist Henri Murger. It consists of stories that are set in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1830s and romanticize Bohemian life. However, his decision to base his opera on this work caused him problems with Ruggero Leoncavallo, one of his strongest rivals, who also chose to compose an opera based on this work. Strongly supported by Italian librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa who wrote the libretto, Puccini finally finished working on La bohème that successfully premiered at the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, on February 1, 1896. Interestingly, Leoncavallo's version opened after Puccini's and was not successful.


At Lyric Opera of Chicago, La bohème was first performed on November 6, 1954. La bohème is set in Paris in 1837--38 and tells about the impulsive spirit of love among young Parisians. Although poor and infamous, the main characters are happy, spontaneous, youthfully optimistic and light-minded. Faced with poverty and instability, this group of young creative people finds a way to survive and even find love and good times full of humor and laughter.

The main roles include four young friends, among them Rodolfo, a poet, Marcello, a painter, Schaunard, a musician, and Colline, a philosopher, who live in a small apartment and have a difficult time keeping it warm during cold Parisian winters and finding money to eat. Schaunard makes some money and brings wood, food, and wine. Benoît, an old man who is their landlord, comes to collect the rent but the young friends ridicule him for his inappropriate stories about women. It is Christmas Eve, and Marcello, Colline, and Schaunard head to Café Momus, while Rodolfo is staying at home to finish his article. Mimì, a pretty but very ill young seamstress, knocks at his door and asks for a light for her candle. Rodolfo falls in love with Mimì, and soon they head to the café too.

Marcello's ex-girlfriend, young and beautiful singer Musetta, appears accompanied by Alcindoro, her rich aging admirer. Musetta provokes Marcello to give her attention again, fools Alcindoro leaving him and making him pay for her and her friends. Later in the opera, Mimì and Rodolfo are about to separate because of Rodolfo's jealousy, although Mimì's illness worsens. Musetta and Marcello argue and leave each other, while Mimì and Rodolfo decide to stay together until spring. Both men eventually leave their girlfriends, feel jealous and angry at them but still miss them. When Musetta enters their room accompanied by dying Mimì, everyone is trying to help the poor sick girl. Musetta asks Marcello to sell her earrings to pay for Mimì's medicine, and Colline wants to pawn his overcoat. When left alone, Mimì tells Rodolfo how she loves him. At the end of the opera the audience is brought to tears as Mimì dies.

This new coproduction returns to Lyric with the same outstanding cast as for the October performances. Of course, the central role of Puccini's captivating and tragic love story is the role of Mimì, which is performed by acclaimed Italian soprano Maria Agresta. Being considered one of the most remarkable Italian singers of her generation, Agresta has been previously seen at Lyric in the role of Liù in Puccini's Turandot during the season of 2017/2018. The role of Mimì is very important for Agresta and is one of her signature roles. The singer was highly praised for performing Mimì at the Metropolitan Opera during her company debut in 2016 and also at La Scala, the Opera National de Paris, London's Royal Opera, and at other major opera houses. Lyric's audiences fall in love with touching and sincere Mimì as Agresta demonstrates in this role a strong, yet intimate and sincere voice with extremely brilliant high notes and poetic stage presentation. She skillfully uses her rich and colorful voice to carefully build flawless musical phrases.


The romantic and high-spirited role of Rodolfo is presented by famous American tenor Michael Fabiano. This sensational young singer portrayed Rodolfo last season at Covent Garden in London. Being a winner of the Richard Tucker Award and the Beverly Sills Artist Award, Fabiano has been seen in major opera houses around the United States and in the world. His Rodolfo impresses Chicago audiences with his tender emotions, extremely professional artistic presentation, rich timbre and fabulous vocal techniques. Rodolfo goes through various emotions during the opera and becomes extremely jealous during his relationship with Mimì due to his own need to feel loved. Fabiano portrays these feelings very delicately understanding that his character really loves Mimì. His voice and overall presentation is so sensitive and sincere that audiences relate to his character and feel his pain when Mimì dies.

Australian-born, California-raised soprano and Emmy Award winner Danielle de Niese was recently sick but came back to the stage on Sunday, January 13. She demonstrated the whole beauty of her voice and extraordinary acting skills in the extremely bright and outgoing role of Musetta. Besides shining at Lyric Opera of Chicago in four roles since 2007/2008, De Niese has starred in the role of Musetta at London's Royal Opera House last June and has been seen on major opera stages in the world. "Musetta is somebody you can't ignore. She's somebody with depth and goodness," said De Niese for Lyric Notes. "Her understanding and humanity thread through the acts. I've enjoyed finding those human moments -- why does she sing this? What happened before she got into this scene? ... The push-pull of relationships feels so dramatic when you're in love. La bohème is authentic to the spirit of what love is."

Acclaimed American baritone Zachary Nelson successfully performs the role of Marcello, who spends the majority of his time pining after Musetta. Nelson has been seen at Lyric in the role of Ping in Puccini's Turandot last season and Donner in Wagner's Das Rheingold during 2016/2017. Romanian bass Adrian Sâmpetrean performs Colline and sounds especially sincere when he wants to pawn his overcoat at the end of the opera. Sâmpetrean, who has rapidly risen to international prominence, has been seen at the Opéra de Monte Carlo, the Opéra National de Paris, the Opéra de Bordeauz, Rome's Teatro dell'Opera, and at many other prestigious stages. Puerto Rican baritone Ricardo José Rivera successfully portrays Schaunard in this opera. He is a first-year member of Lyric's Ryan Opera Center and has been seen already at the International Vocal Academy of Rome, sung several recitals with the American Masters of Opera Academy in Moscow, and performed at Tel-Aviv's International Vocal Arts Institute. Distinguished American bass-baritone Jake Gardner portrays both Benoît and Alcindoro, finding the right vocal and artistic colors for both characters. The bright and outgoing performance of this world-renowned singer beautifies this opera.

Acclaimed Venezuelan-Swiss conductor Domingo Hindoyan leads all but the January 31 performance, which will be conducted by Stefano Sarzani in his Lyric debut. Hindoyan made a pre-season appearance leading the 2018 Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park concert. Chicago music lovers shouldn't miss Hindoyan's Lyric Opera debut conducting La bohème. The international career of Maestro Hindoyan shines with his successful appearances at many opera houses around the world, and conducting Puccini's La bohème became a great highlight in his professional life. In Lyric Notes, the conductor praises La bohème's "great music, great libretto, and perfect structure. It attaches itself immediately to the musical memory of everyone who hears it. Its melodies stay in your mind, thanks to the simplicity, emotion, and its contrasts. Puccini often repeats the same themes, which serve as reminders of certain ideas -- friendship, love, the Bohemian life, fatality. They come in different tempos, in different harmonies and colors and context."

Don't miss your chance to see Lyric's new coproduction of La bohème, the opera that will captivate your heart with glorious music and spectacular voices. This opera ends tragically, but it still will be remembered as a triumph of love, youthfulness and a strong desire to live and be happy.

The La bohème performances will run through January 31. For tickets, please go to or call 312-827-5600. Single tickets start at $39.

Natalia Dagenhart

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