It’s not easy to get a star the magnitude of Rumanian superstar soprano Angela Gheorghiu to sing in Chicago, and in fact, it has only happened on one previous occasion, when she and her husband, tenor Roberto Alagna, sang a spectacular “Romeo and Juliet” at Lyric Opera eight seasons ago. As is common at Lyric, the current production of Puccini’s “La boheme” revolves around a single star singer, which left the company in a precarious position when Gheorghiu went AWOL last week to be with her husband in New York. Retired Italian soprano Renata Scotto, making her directorial debut with Lyric and no stranger herself to diva demeanor, had egg on her face having to lead rehearsals without her star and the company decided to “fire” Gheorghiu hours before last Friday’s final dress rehearsal rather than risk a heated diva dual that could leave one or both divas taking a dive. This left Gheorghiu’s understudy, Cuban-American soprano Elaine Alvarez, in the even more precarious position of having to step out for Gheorghiu before a large house last Friday (Lyric treats its final dress rehearsals as a patron perk) to such loud boos that Lyric general manager William Mason interrupted the public rehearsal to chastise the crowd. There were no such boos at Monday’s opening, thanks in part to sympathy that had been generated for the company by the subsequent public release of the juicy details of the firing, and the fact that Alvarez did a credible, if not a memorable, job under the circumstances. The end result was a “boheme” that, with the exception of Italian tenor Roberto Aronica’s Rodolfo, the most notable performance of the evening, was stacked with Ryan Center singers and alumni that would be the envy of any regional opera house, but unfortunately, was not operating at the peak standard of an internationally renowned company. As previously scheduled, Italian soprano Serena Farnocchia and Welsh tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones take over for the November dates: stay tuned. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Civic Opera House, Wacker Drive at Madison, (312)332-2244. This production is now closed.