Matt Damon hit it out of the park with his ridiculously accurate impression of Brett Kavanaugh during the opening skit of the season opener for “Saturday Night Live.” Of course, now that Kavanaugh’s on the Supreme Court, it’s not so funny anymore. Perhaps that’s why, on Oct. 6, Midwesterners seeking a break from the breaking news headed to the Lyric Opera of Chicago for the season opener “La bohème.”
Unlike the privileged students of Georgetown Prep and Yale, the group of friends featured in Puccini’s popular opera are struggling artists (played by Zachary Nelson, Adrian Sâmpetrean, Ricardo José Rivera, Jake Gardner, and a scene-stealing Danielle de Niese) in 19th-century Paris. Their stories come from Henri Murger’s “Scènes de la vie de bohème,” which was translated into the libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa.
Sung in Italian with English translations projected above the stage, this recent retelling stars an arresting Maria Agresta as the ill-fated heroine Mimì, alongside Michael Fabiano in his Lyric Opera debut. Also making his Lyric debut is conductor Domingo Hindoyan, who led the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra, recently nominated for Best Opera Orchestra by the International Opera Awards, on opening night.
The Lyric joined forces with London’s Royal Opera House-Covent Garden and Teatro Real Madrid to create the global co-production directed by Britain’s Richard Jones, with costumes and not-so seamless scenery by English designer Stewart Laing.
Another Bohemian getaway can be had via Christopher Wheeldon’s “Swan Lake.” Inspired by the paintings of Edgar Degas, the classic tale is reset in 19th-century Paris as dancers prepare for the opening night performance of “Swan Lake.”
By creating a ballet within a ballet, the Joffrey cleverly contains the traditional tragedy of its heroine to fiction (albeit within a fiction). While audiences walk out of “La bohème” with a lasting impression of Mimì dying, those who see “Swan Lake” are more apt to consider the dancer playing a dying character instead. It’s a subtle distinction that diffuses a patriarchal culture that arguably associates female suffering with entertainment.
Add Jean-Marc Puissant’s costumes, Adrianne Lobel’s sets, and Tchaikovsky’s sublime score (performed by the Chicago Philharmonic, conducted by Scott Speck, Music Director of The Joffrey Ballet), and audiences are in for a treat.
Initially performed in 2014, this exquisite adaptation opens the Joffrey Ballet’s new season. “We are thrilled to bring it back after five years for another run in Chicago,” says Ashley Wheater, The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director of the Joffrey.
For tickets ($69-$239) to “La bohème” (Oct. 6*-20 & Jan. 10-31) at Chicago’s Lyric Opera House, visit lyricopera.org. Tickets ($35-$195) to “Swan Lake” (Oct. 17-28) at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University are available at joffrey.org.
*At press time, performances of “La bohème” were briefly canceled due to a strike by the Lyric Opera Orchestra that has now been ended with a new contract. Just goes to show, there’s no escaping breaking news after all.
Top photo: “La Boheme” at Lyric Opera Chicago Photo © Todd Rosenberg, 2018; Middle photo: Christopher Wheeldon’s “Swan Lake” Photo © Cheryl Mann, 2014