Italian soprano Serena Farnocchia and Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones took over as the leads in Puccini’s “La bohème” on November 9 and for the rest of what has thus far been a troubled run for Lyric Opera after Romanian superstar soprano Angela Gheorghiu was publicly fired for going AWOL during the rehearsal process and her understudy Elaine Alvarez ended up stepping in for her at the last minute. All of that backstage drama and the possibility that the production might not have gone on at all because of a potential strike by the American Guild of Musical Artists was averted by a last-minute contract settlement, but the production’s opening was still an understandably unstable and unsteady affair. Happily, things are faring better with the new leads, who are far more vocally and dramatically suited to their roles, giving the production a much-needed boost. It is now possible to see what retired Italian soprano Renata Scotto has in mind in her company directorial debut: a back-to-basics “bohème” that has removed the escalating snowballing excesses of a 35-year old production that has gone back to the simple but tragic love story. Farnocchia and Jones have extraordinary chemistry as Mimi and Rodolfo and Scotto never lets us forget where the center of attention should always be, all characters clearly fixated on the rise and fall of the couple’s relationship. Remaining caveats include that Sir Andrew Davis needs to tone down the Lyric Opera Orchestra, which is often overpowering the singing and, conversely, baritone Quinn Kelsey’s Marcello, which is usually lost in the mix with his colleagues whether in ensemble or duets, needs to be projecting more precisely, though perhaps the role is simply too low for him since the same thing happened opening night. And am I alone in thinking that soprano Nicole Cabell, for all of her gifts, has much too bright and shrill of a sound for Musetta? (Dennis Polkow)
At the Civic Opera House, Wacker Drive at Madison, (312)332-2244. This production is now closed.