Lyric Opera of Chicago
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  • by Giacomo Puccini
  • In Italian with projected English texts.

    New-to-Chicago production. Owned by the San Francisco Opera Association.

  • Running time: 2h 21m

Whether it's your first opera or you've seen it a hundred times before, Puccini's magic never fails to cast its entrancing spell.

Golden melodies transport you to Paris's Latin Quarter, where young artists struggle to make ends meet in icy cold garrets. But passions run hot because everyone's in love.

Yearning, ecstasy, and despair—you hear it all in the music! The score so exquisitely conveys the essence of every character that you'll feel like you know each of them personally. You'll laugh as the saucy femme fatale Musetta drives her painter beau mad with jealousy. You'll cheer when the fragile seamstress Mimì and her ardent poet Rodolfo find true bliss in each other's arms. And you'll cry when tragedy strikes and he loses her in the end.

Lyric Opera presentation generously made possible by Donna Van Eekeren Foundation, Exelon, Margot and Josef Lakonishok, and the Mazza Foundation.

Starring

  • Ana María Martínez

    Mimi

    Ana María Martínez

    January-February

    "Breathtakingly beautiful to see and hear," (Houston Chronicle) Ana María Martínez entranced audiences as Marguerite in Lyric's Faust.

  • Anna Netrebko

    Mimì

    Anna Netrebko

    March, Lyric debut

    "Anna Netrebko simply has it all–a voice of astounding purity, precision and scope...plus a dazzling charisma." San Francisco Chronicle

  • Dimitri Pittas

    Rodolfo

    Dimitri Pittas

    January-February, Lyric debut

    Dimitri Pittas: "A huge talent, who sounds like a young Domingo." Opera News

  • Joseph Calleja

    Rodolfo

    Joseph Calleja

    March

    Joseph Calleja: "While the Met has offered a superb collection of tenors as Rodolfo, the jewel in the crown is surely Calleja…a radiant voice."  Concertonet.com

Elektra - Christine Goerke

Mimì
Ana María Martínez
Jan-Feb

Elektra - Emily Magee

Mimì
Anna Netrebko*
March

Elektra - Jill Grove

Rodolfo
Dimitri Pittas*
Jan-Feb

Boheme - Joseph Calleja

Rodolfo
Joseph Calleja
March

Elektra - Roger Honeywell

Musetta
Elizabeth Futral† †

Aida - Raymond Aceto

Marcello
Lucas Meachem

Aida - Kocan

Colline
Andrea Silvestrelli

Aida - Kocan

Schaunard
Joseph Lim

Aida - Kocan

Benoit/Alcindoro
Dale Travis

Aida - Joel

Conductor
Emmanuel Villaume

 

Boheme - Louisa Muller

Director
Louisa Muller*

 

Aida - Halmen

Set Designer
Michael Yeargan

Costume Designer
Walter Mahoney*

 

Aida - Joel

Lighting Designer
Duane Schuler

 

Ian Robertson

Guest Chorus Master
Ian Robertson

 

*Lyric Debut
† current member, Ryan Opera Center
† † alumnus/ alumna, Ryan Opera Center

LA BOHÈME—THE STORY OF THE OPERA

ACT ONE 

As Marcello works on a painting, Rodolfo gazes through the window at the smoking chimneys of Paris. It is Christmas Eve, and the two are freezing. Marcello is about to sacrifice a chair to stoke the stove when Rodolfo declares that the manuscript of his play will warm them. As the manuscript burns, the young men enjoy the heat. The philosopher Colline returns, followed shortly thereafter by the musician Schaunard, who arrives with food, firewood, and money. For Christmas the friends decide to dine out. A knock at the door brings Benoit, the landlord, who wants the rent. He is plied with drink and persuaded to talk about his amours. Feigning indignation at these confessions from a married man, the four friends throw Benoit out. Rodolfo’s roommates depart, leaving him to finish an article. He promises to join them soon.
Rodolfo has just realized he is not in a writing mood when another knock at the door reveals a lovely young woman, asking if Rodolfo can light her candle. He invites her in but she suddenly faints, exhausted. Rodolfo revives her and offers wine. Once the candle is lit, she leaves, only to return moments later – she has dropped her key. A draft extinguishes her candle, and the search is conducted in darkness. Rodolfo finds and pockets the key without informing his companion. As both continue searching, their hands touch. Rodolfo suggests they stop looking until the moon provides better light (Aria: Che gelida manina). He tells her he is a penniless poet whose dreams make him a millionaire. His guest is Mimì (Aria: Mi chiamano Mimì), who works as a seamstress. She looks forward each year to spring’s flowers and sunlight.
Rodolfo’s friends’ voices rise from the street, urging him to hurry. He shouts down that he will meet them at the Café Momus. He gazes ecstatically at Mimì in the moonlight (Duet: O soave fanciulla) and kisses her, but she pulls away, reminding him that his friends are waiting. When Rodolfo hesitates to leave her, she suggests they go together. The pair leave arm in arm. 

ACT TWO 

A holiday crowd attends to last-minute Christmas shopping. When the bohemians meet at the café, Rodolfo introduces his friends to Mimì and she shows them a bonnet he has bought for her. The group orders some supper.
Musetta and her aged “protector,” Alcindoro, arrive at the café. Marcello avoids looking at Musetta, a former flame with whom he had quarreled. She tries to attract his attention by behaving outrageously, and then by explaining to everyone what a charmer she really is (Waltz: Quando m’en vo). Determined to rid herself of Alcindoro, Musetta pretends to have a painful shoe, and sends the old man off to buy another pair. Her reconciliation with Marcello is interrupted by the arrival of the bohemians’ bill. They search their pockets hopelessly until Musetta combines their bill with hers, informing the waiters that Alcindoro will pay both. Now minus one shoe, Musetta and her friends join the crowd following a military procession out of the square. Returning with the new shoes, poor Alcindoro is faced with the bill. 

ACT THREE 

On a snowy February morning, the city’s early risers begin their daily routine, while a tavern’s revelers continue the night’s festivities. When Mimì appears, she asks a servant from the tavern to send the painter Marcello out to her.
Mimì appeals to Marcello for help (Duet: O buon Marcello, aiuto!). She refuses to come inside, since Rodolfo is there. He has left her, after jealous accusations that she knows he did not mean. Through the window Marcello sees Rodolfo looking for him. When Rodolfo emerges, Mimì – hidden from view – observes him with anguish as he argues with Marcello. He attempts to justify his cruelty on the grounds that Mimì is a coquette (Aria: Mimì è una civetta), but Marcello questions his sincerity. The truth comes out: Rodolfo still loves Mimì, but his own poverty makes his inability to care for her unendurable. Mimì’s coughing and sobs reveal her presence and Rodolfo rushes to her, while Musetta’s laughter sends Marcello storming into the tavern.
Mimì says goodbye, telling Rodolfo they should part without bitterness (Aria: Donde lieta uscì). A porter will come for her few possessions, but if Rodolfo wishes, he may keep her bonnet to remember their love. The two plan to remain together until spring. Meanwhile, Marcello and Musetta exchange insults (Quartet: Addio, dolce svegliare). 

ACT FOUR 

Marcello and Rodolfo try to work. Each has seen the other’s beloved, sumptuously dressed and clearly flourishing. Both men halfheartedly express pleasure at this news, but their misery is obvious (Duet: O Mimì, tu più non torni). Schaunard and Colline arrive with a meager meal. The four make the best of things with a mock ball and a simulated duel. Their clowning is cut short when Musetta bursts in; she has brought Mimì, who is terribly ill. Once the bohemians have made her comfortable, they learn from Musetta that, having left her lover, Mimì has returned to Rodolfo in order to die near him.
Musetta asks Marcello to pawn her earrings and find a doctor. Colline bids farewell to his overcoat, also destined for the pawn shop (Aria: Vecchia zimarra). Everyone finds discreet reasons to leave, allowing Mimì and Rodolfo a few moments alone (Duet: Sono andati?). Musetta returns with a muff for Mimì’s hands, and Marcello announces that a doctor is on the way. Musetta is preparing medicine and murmuring a prayer as Mimì falls asleep. Rodolfo suddenly senses that a change has come over his friends, who already know what he only now realizes: Mimì has died.

BEAUTIFUL BOHEMIANS

Ana María Martínez and Anna Netrebko light up the stage at Lyric

By Magda Krance

We might as well admit it – there’s something about La Bohème that just gets us.

No matter how often we’ve seen and heard Puccini’s heartfelt tale of hopeful youth entangled in love and loss in 19th century Paris, we always sigh happily (and wistfully) at the luscious, lilting score and the charming, impetuous young lovers. We so want things to work out for them all, and for awhile it seems they just might.

At the center of the story is, of course, Mimì, the sweet seamstress who enchants the poet Rodolfo when they meet over an extinguished candle – a poignant metaphor for her eventual fate. But at least for the short term, Mimì and Rodolfo light each others’ lives, and warm all hearts in the process.

Puerto Rican soprano Ana María Martínez (Jan.–Feb. dates) has previously thrilled Lyric audiences as Marguerite/Faustand Nedda/Pagliacci (debut), and has earned acclaim in more than 10 productions of La Bohème since her 1996 role debut at The Minnesota Opera. At Santa Fe Opera in 2011, Opera magazine reported that “the great performance of the festival was the poignant, sterling Mimì of Ana María Martínez: every phrase glowing and beautifully sculpted with admirable stylistic mastery.”

Martínez will reprise her Mimì in Munich (as well as her Rusalka) this fall before arriving at Rodolfo’s door in Chicago in January. Most recently Martínez has starred as Antonia/Les contes d’Hoffmann at the Opéra National de Paris, Alice Ford/Falstaff at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and Amelia/Simon Boccanegra with Los Angeles Opera.

Describing her journey with this beloved character, Martínez notes that at the beginning, “Mimì’s trying to muster every ounce of courage she has to knock on that door. I feel the butterflies that she probably feels at the thought that the guy she so wants to meet will disregard her completely – with the added pressure that it’s Christmas Eve, when no one wants to be alone. She’s an old 20 – which comes from loneliness, illness, and a life of struggle and work.”

Martínez has always loved La Bohème “and it always made me sob, even as a child. I just felt tremendous grief and loss from the first time we see Mimì. And yet, her first knock on Rodolfo’s door is the beginning of her life. Mimì is so full of love – for springtime, for the first rays of sunshine, the first flower, for life itself. She is love. There’s no such thing as a poker face with Mimì; she’s completely vulnerable all the time, and your voice must serve and portray that vulnerability. Puccini gives you ample opportunity to shade and nuance her words, and I always aim for a bel canto approach to try to bring that to the forefront.”

As fragile as Mimì’s health is, “there’s a stillness about her that comes from her tremendous inner strength,” Martínez says. “She never feels sorry for herself; her heroic quality is her core. Everything she does comes from that very strong center that I don’t even think she’s aware she has. She stands out from the other characters because she’s so quiet. She’s a very honest woman, she’s genuine – there’s no pretense. She’s simple, clean, refreshing – and soothing. She’s a balm to my soul when I step into her shoes. I think everyone feels that, even in the audience when they hear her music. It’s a tremendous experience. She is very shy around others, but she has an active inner life – an imagination that’s expansive. Rodolfo is the poet, but when she expresses her feelings it’s a thousand times more poetic than anything Rodolfo comes up with!”

Martinez looks forward to her first “onstage date” with her leading man, Dimitri Pittas (Lyric debut), and also with Elizabeth Futral, who portrays the flirty Musetta. “I’ve adored her singing since she won the Met Auditions when I was at Juilliard – I remember hearing her and falling in love with her voice,” Martínez recalls. “Mimì adores Musetta instantly when they meet because she would love to be that free. There’s a beautiful harmony between the women personally; there are certain moments where that chemistry can be maximized, and it’s not only musical.” Of her other onstage colleagues, she exclaims, “I know them all and I adore them! I love Andrea! and Dale! and Lucas! It’ll be a month of joy. What a gorgeous group!” That would be Andrea Silvestrelli/Colline, Dale Travis/Benoit and Alcindoro, and Lucas Meachem/Marcello, all of whom, like Futral, will sing all performances of La Bohème at Lyric. Emmanuel Villaume will conduct and Louisa Muller (Lyric directorial debut) will stage the San Francisco Opera Association production with set designs by Michael Yeargan, costumes by the late Walter Mahoney (Lyric debut), and lighting by Duane Schuler.

It’s a challenge to sing Mimì without damaging the voice, Martínez notes. “You have to find ways to show you’re coughing without actually coughing, through body language.” La Bohème rekindles memories of her own student days at Juilliard: “We improvised parties, and those who wanted to be the center of attention would act out incredible displays. There were people singing, playing instruments, cooking, staying up till all hours, talking and philosophizing. If you’ve had a free-spirited experience in your student years, you can truly relate to these wonderful bohemians.”

Russian soprano Anna Netrebko (Mar. dates) has long topped the wish lists of many Lyric subscribers, and for good reason. As the San Francisco Chronicle has declared, “Here is a singer who simply has it all: a voice of astounding purity, precision, and scope, extensive dynamic and tonal range, imagination, insight, and wit – all combined with a dazzling charisma that makes it all but impossible to look away when she is performing.” Happily, Netrebko’s company debut is imminent.

She has triumphed repeatedly at the Metropolitan Opera since her 2002 debut (Natasha/Prokofiev’s War and Peace), most recently in the title roles of Manon, Anna Bolena, and Lucia di Lamermoor, and also as Mimì, one of her signature roles. Netrebko’s schedule for 2012-13 includes La Bohème at the Salzburg Festival and La Scala; in 2008 she starred in a beautiful feature film Bohème with Rolando Villazon/Rodolfo and Lyric’s own Nicole Cabell/Musetta.

Netrebko’s summer commitments precluded an extensive interview. She did, however, share her recollection of her introduction to Puccini’s beloved opera. “The first time I saw La Bohème was in the movie version with Mirella Freni. I didn’t immediately identify with Mimì. At first, I wanted to play Musetta. I was a twentysomething, so naturally I wanted to pull up my skirt and show off my legs! [Netrebko did portray the coquette Musetta at San Francisco Opera in 2000.] Also, at the time I wouldn’t have had the depth of character to take on Mimì, which is a more challenging role to portray dramatically. For a long time I didn’t think that I wanted to play Mimì, but then it came suddenly about six or seven years ago, and I learned it in a couple of months for a performance at the Mariinsky [in St. Petersburg].”

At Lyric, Netrebko’s Rodolfo will be Joseph Calleja, who was previously acclaimed here as Alfredo/La traviata. Asked what makes the opera special to her, Netrebko was as shy as Mimì: “What makes this opera special to me is the amazing combination of truth and fakeness.” She demurred when asked to elaborate. And when asked how she sees and portrays Mimì, she replied coyly: “You will see when I’m onstage.”

Indeed we shall. We might as well admit it – we’ll be smiling and dabbing our eyes collectively (and often simultaneously) when La Bohème returns to Lyric in this new-to-Chicago production. We are tremendously lucky to have these two luminous, passionate, beautiful sopranos bringing their incandescent Mimìs to life at Lyric this winter.

On the Record

Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera, recommends these performances.

On CD

Netrebko, Villazon, Cabell, Daniel, Kowaljow; Bavarian Radio Orchestra, cond. de Billy (Deutsche Grammophon)

Freni, Pavarotti, Harwood, Panerai, Ghiaurov; Berlin Philharmonic, cond. Karajan (Decca)

Freni, Gedda, Adani, Sereni, Mazzoli; Rome Opera, cond. Schippers (EMI Classics)

Sung in English
Haymon, O'Neill, McLaughlin, Opie, Miles; Philharmonia Orchestra, cond. Parry (Chandos)

Of special historical interest
Callas, di Stefano, Moffo, Panerai, Zaccaria; La Scala, cond. Votto (EMI Classics)

De los Angeles, Björling, Amara, Merrill, Tozzi; RCA Victor Symphony, cond. Beecham (EMI Classics)

Tebaldi, Bergonzi, Bastianini, D'Angelo, Siepi; Accademia di Santa Cecilia, coned. Serafin (Decca)

Albanese, Peerce, McKnight, Valentino, Moscona; NBC Symphony, cond. Toscanini (Opus Kura)

On DVD

Netrebko, Villazon, Cabell, Daniel, Kowaljow; Bavarian Radio Orchestra, cond. de Billy, dir. Dornheim (Kultur)

Scotto, Pavarotti, Niska, Wixell, Morris; Metropolitan Opera, cond. Levine, dir. Melano (Deutsche Grammophon)

Stratas, Carreras, Scotto, Stilwell, Morris; Metropolitan Opera, cond. Levine, dir. Zeffirelli (Deutsche Grammophon)

Cotrubas, Shicoff, Zschau, Allen, Howell; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, cond. Gardelli (Kultur)

Freni, G. Raimondi, Martino, Panerai, Vinco; La Scala, cond. Karajan (DVD – Deutsche Grammophon)

Suggestions for Further Reading

The Complete Operas of Puccini by Charles Osborne, Da Capo Press, 1983.
A very accessible guide, containing splendid introductions to all the operas. 

Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème (Cambridge Opera Handbooks) by Arthur Groos and Robert Parker, Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Essays include extensive documentation of the opera's genesis and libretto development.

La Bohème: Giacomo Puccini , edited by John Nichols, Riverrun Press, 1982.

Last Acts: The Operas of Puccini and his Contemporaries  by James Keolker, Opera Companion Publications, 2000.

The Letters of Giacomo Puccini: Mainly Connected with the Composition and Production of His Operas , edited by Giuseppe Adami and translated by Ena Makin, Kessinger Publishing, 2007.
Behind-the-scenes correspondence offers insight into the creation of Puccini's works.

Monsieur Butterfly: The Life of Giacomo Puccini by Stanley Jackson, Stein and Day, 1974.

The Operas of Puccini by William Ashbrook, Cornell University Press, 1985.
Detailed examinations of individual operas highlight both dramaturgy and biography.

Puccini: A Biography by Mary Jane Phillips-Matz, Northeastern University Press, 2002.
As with her celebrated text on Verdi, Phillips-Matz gives an extraordinary degree of informed detail.

Puccini and His Operas by Stanley Sadie, MacMillan Reference Limited, 2000.

The Puccini Companion , edited by William Weaver and Simonetta Puccini, W.W. Norton and Company, 2000.
Wide-ranging essays cover biographical, social, musical, and dramatic topics.

Puccini: His International Art by Michele Girardi, translated by Laura Basini, University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Encyclopedic study traces the composer's career and oeuvre.

Puccini: His Life and Works by Julian Budden, Oxford University Press, 2005.
One of opera's foremost scholars provides an invaluable study of Puccini and his world.

Puccini the Thinker: The Composer's Intellectual and Dramatic Development by John Louis DiGaetani, Peter Lang Publishing, 2001.
Puccini's treatment of social, economic, religious, and literary issues is explored.

Puccini Without Excuses: A Refreshing Reassessment of the World's Most Popular Composer by William Berger, Vintage Books, 2005.

Verdi and Puccini Heroines: Dramatic Characterization in Great Soprano Roles by Geoffrey Edwards and Ryan Edwards, Scarecrow Press, 2003.
New perspectives on these compelling female characters come from a discussion of text, music, and staging.

La Bohème

La Bohème
by Giacomo Puccini

© 2012/13 Lyric Opera Commentaries 2012 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Produced by Mark Travis. Daniel Goldberg, Associate Producer.

La Bohème Audio Preview

Sir Andrew Davis previews La Bohème

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La Bohème Discovery Series

Some people say La Bohème is a comedy with a sad ending; for others, it's a heavenly romance. Regardless of how it's viewed, it's the most popular opera of all time! Ana María Martínez (Mimì), Dimitri Pittas (Rodolfo), and conductor Emmanuel Villaume talk about this melody-filled Puccini jewel.

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