THE WASHINGTON OPERA'S second offering of the season, Puccini's "La Boheme," is a good, old-fashioned, two-hanky production. What saves it from three-hanky fate is the wonderful comic relief provided by Pamela South's broad and naughty Musetta and by the antic interplay of the four young bohemian gentlemen as they suffer gladly the discomforts of cold, hunger and thirst in their pursuit of various artistic muses.

Yoko Watanabe is an appealing Mimi, succumbing to the ravages of consumption just as her love for Rodolfo seems destined to conquer all. If her voice retains its opulence in miraculous defiance of her disease, it is to the greater glory of Puccini's music if not the veracity of the plot. As she finally does die, her whispers themselves have a resonance that many lesser singers could envy.

Antonio Ordonez, who sings the role of Rodolfo with conviction and considerable vocal beauty, comes into his own dramatically as a convincing lover only in the last act, where his body language suddenly loses its mechanical awkwardness and begins to seem natural. Gaetan Laperriere, Andrew Wentzel and Christopher Robertson as Rodolfo's buddies Marcello, Colline and Schaunard are wonderfully appealing and as strong dramatically as they are vocally. Don Bravo is delightful in his brief roll as the landlord and James Ramlet is a fine duped Alcindoro.

Director Roman Terleckyj, working with the elaborate Menotti production, has made the busy street scene in Act II an arena of so much interesting crowd stuff and so many little vignettes with their own short plots that it is hard to pay attention to the progress of the story. The hubbub is wonderful, however, and the chorus and children's singing have astonishing vitality and rhythmic integrity.

WASHINGTON OPERA -- Puccini's "La Boheme." Continuing Friday, Saturday, Sunday (matinee), Tuesday and Nov. 24 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Most performances are sold out by subscription, but some returned tickets are available; call the Washington Opera box office at 202/416-7800.