Years ago, when singer-songwriter and editor Renaldo Migaldi was one of the brainy, quirky editorial assistants and fact-checkers who used to interrogate every about-to-be-published word at the Reader, he heard me lament the arrival of fall as the harbinger of winter and said that was exactly the reason he welcomed it. Why?
“Because everything I like to do best happens then.”
He had a point: as the leaves fall, the Chicago cultural calendar springs into full bloom, offering a rich array of indoor pleasures, including a new season at Lyric Opera. The opening show this year is one of the most produced in the repertoire—Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème, in a new production boasting a cast to die for. (And, since it’s 19th-century opera, someone will die onstage, movingly, of course.)
As you probably know, this 1896 opera about a group of struggling artists living the scandalously bohemian life in Paris in 1830 was the inspiration for Jonathan Larson’s 1996 pop-rock Broadway musical Rent, about a group of struggling artists living the scandalously bohemian life in New York at the end of the 20th century. Both the opera and the musical portray unfettered young love and tragic death by disease. In Larson’s show the culprit is AIDS; in Puccini’s, it’s tuberculosis.
What La Bohème has that Rent doesn’t is some of opera’s most sublime music. Puccini was a master at seduction through sound. And Lyric’s version of this coproduction with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and Teatro Real Madrid has a cast that promises to make the most of it. I was at a Ravinia Festival concert last month when tenor Michael Fabiano stepped in as a last-minute substitute after two other tenors fell ill in succession—and turned a potentially disappointed audience into raving Fabiano fans. He’ll be making his Lyric Opera debut as the poet Rodolpho. Soprano Maria Agresta, a standout as the slave girl in last season’s Turandot, will be his ill-fated lover, Mimi. The two of them, singing selections from this opera, were a highlight of Lyric’s recent concert in Millennium Park, as was gorgeous soprano Danielle de Niese, who, in a frosting-on-the-cake piece of casting, will take on the role of their friend, the free-wheeling flirt, Musetta.
La Bohème will have five fall performances at Lyric Opera, beginning October 6, and six more in January, when we’ll really need them. v