An important point not to overlook in Puccini's La bohème, the four-act story of a group of starving artists in Paris, according to Italian tenor Ivan Magrì is that these young people have decided to live in poverty, seeing it as part and parcel of the artistic experience.
Of course that same bohemian determination leaves them freezing in their apartments and as reality intrudes, some of the art is sacrificed in the form of a drama burned to help them keep warm.
Magri, making his HGO debut, sings the role of Rodolfo, in a Houston Grand Opera production also starring the very popular Nicole Heaston as the doomed Mimi. It will be the second production in which HGO has returned to the Wortham and judging from the acoustics at The Flying Dutchman , the return is a most welcome one.
The story begins on Christmas Eve. Rodolfo and his friends dodge their much overdue rent, planning to go out on the town. Rodolfo stays behind to finish some work, neighbor Mimi comes in asking for help relighting her candle and the mutual attraction is instantaneous. This despite the fact that Mimi is so sick she nearly faints and drops the key to her own room. Love ensues but it's a star-crossed one; Rodolfo finally admits that the grinding poverty they're in has made Mimi's health even worse.
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Magrì, speaking through a translator, said that he loves this opera because of the passion, the comedy and drama; its exploration of love, joy and sadness. "It has an immortal quality. It's very relatable. Actually it has everything."
Coming from an artistic family, Magri said he had a lot of support when he decided to go into operatic singing, although no one else in his family was a singer. "My mother's family were actors and poets."
Asked about a breakthrough role that catapulted him to the top ranks of attention-getters, Magri said that wasn't the way his career has developed. Instead he just slowly built up the respect for his work as he sang leading roles with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, the Berlin State Opera and others. He's won international competitions including the Riccardo Zandonai International Competition for Young Opera Singers.
Performances are scheduled for October 26 through November 11 with alternate casts from the HGO studio artists and graduates on November November 1, 6 matinee, 8 and 11 matinee. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Friday Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sundays at the Wortham Center, 501 Texas. Sung in Italian with English projections. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit hgo.org. $20-$245.