About the Show
The story is set in Paris in the period around 1830.
Rodolfo, a poet
Mimì, a seamstress
Marcello, a painter
Musetta, a singer
Schaunard, a musician
Colline, a philosopher
Benoît, their landlord
Alcindoro, a state councillor
Parpignol, a toy vendor
A customs Sergeant
Character Name Pronunciation
Rodolfo - roh-DOHL-foh
Mimì - mee-MEE
Marcello - mahr-CHEH-loh
Schaunard - shoh-NAHR
Colline - koh-LEE-neh
Musetta - moo-ZEH-tah
Benoit - behn-WAH
Alcindoro - ahl-cheen-DOH-roh
Parpignol - PAHR-peen-yohl
Act 1: On Christmas Eve, in their freezing Parisian garret, Marcello, a painter, and Rodolfo, a poet, burn one of Rodolfo’s scripts to keep warm. Their roommates Colline, a philosopher, and Schaunard, a musician, arrive. Schaunard has made some money and brings provisions and cash. When Benoît, the landlord, arrives to collect the rent, they trick him into confessing his love affairs, then push him out in mock indignation. The friends leave to celebrate. Rodolfo stays behind to finish an article. A neighbor, Mimi, knocks at the door, looking for a light for her candle. They talk of life and art and fall in love.
Act 2: In the Latin Quarter, crowds jostle and bustle. Rodolfo introduces Mimi to his friends at the Café Momus. Marcello's old girlfriend, Musetta, arrives with her wealthy admirer, Alcindoro. She wants Marcello back, entices him, and sends Alcindoro off to buy her a new shoe. Marcello and Musetta embrace. When the bill arrives, everyone slips away, leaving Alcindoro to pay for all of them.
Act 3: A couple of months later, Mimi, now quite ill, seeks out Marcello at a tavern where he and Musetta now live. Rodolfo has left her and is staying at Marcello’s. When Rodolfo comes out, Mimi hides. Rodolfo tells Marcello that he left Mimi because she is a flirt, but finally admits that he is terrified by her illness and too poor to help her. Mimi’s coughing gives her away, and she and Rodolfo agree to separate, but then decide to stay together till spring. Meanwhile Marcello and Musetta quarrel fiercely.
Act 4: Some months later, Marcello and Rodolfo are pining for their lost loves, who have found rich new admirers. Schaunard and Colline arrive with food, followed by Musetta, who has found Mimi wandering the streets, deathly ill and pleading to see Rodolfo once more. They bring her in, settle her, and go off to pawn various items to buy medicine. Left alone, Rodolfo and Mimi reminisce. The others return, and Mimi quietly dies.
What or who are Bohemians?
Bohemia is a region in the Czech Republic, and its nomadic natives – a group that we often call Gypsies – were known as “Bohemians” in French. The term “Bohemian,” however, also came to mean anyone who behaved in strange ways and didn’t live their lives as most people do. Artists, writers, musicians, philosophers – these people shared certain traits with gypsies and therefore came to be known as “Bohemians.” All have a vagabond lifestyle and are known for their merry poverty and disregard of money and steady work in pursuit of freedom and relationships.
An opera in four acts. Sung in Italian with English Supertitels.
Music by Giacomo Puccini.
Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Based on Scenes de la vie de bohéme by Henri Murger
Premiere: Turin, Feb. 1, 1896
In 1893, Giacomo Puccini engages composer Ruggero Leoncavallo in a public quarrel over the right to create an opera based on Henry Murger’s episodic novel Scénes de la vie de Bohéme. Leoncavallo had already started work on his La Bohéme, claiming Puccini had earlier said he was not interested. When Puccini changed his mind, he said merely, “So. There will be two Bohémes.” Angered, Leoncavallo went on to complete his opera, which premiered at La Fenice in Venice almost a year and a half after the first performance of Puccini’s La Bohéme. It was moderately successful, but never became popular. It did hold the distinction however, of being the vehicle in which Enrico Caruso scored his first major triumph.
Puccini’s first major theatrical success came early in 1893 with his third opera, Manon Lescaut. With this opera, Puccini clearly found his authentic voice as a musical dramatist. In the same year, he began work on La Bohéme. He employed librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa to perform the intricate task of reducing Murger’s sprawling novel into a manageable libretto. Illica and Giacosa later admitted the work had been the most difficult of their careers. Illica’s first distillation of the novel ran no fewer than twenty acts. The book was filled with an abundance of comic and dramatic episodes, and to reduce it to four acts took more than three years of intense labor. During that time, their difficulties were compounded by the composer’s constant criticisms, as well as numerous changes of direction and modifications. Bickering became so fierce at times, the librettists threatened to resign from the project.
Delays were due in large part to Puccini’s obligation to undertake several extensive promotional tours in connection with the success of Manon Lescaut. In keeping with his characteristic loss of confidence in his subject, he also spent a good deal of his time toying with an opera title La Lupa, which he later abandoned.
To put off the trial by fire that most new operas endured at La Scala in Milan, La Bohéme was premiered at Teatro Regio in Turin on Feb. 1, 1896. The theater’s new conductor, 28-year-old Arturo Toscanini, led the performance. The opera was received by the audience with only polite applause, while the critics assessments ranged from outright condemnation to mild approval. The lukewarm reception was thought to be due to the premiere’s timing. The critics and Italians in general were becoming enamored with the French and German repertory, particularly Wagner’s operatic music. The Turin audiences, fresh from the first Italian performances of Götterdammerung conducted by Toscanini, were in the mood for a new opera composed in a grander style, a weightier work, as opposed to that with traditional Italian lyricism.
Soon after the first performance, Puccini made various adjustments to the score, notably adding the “bonnet” episode in Act II. As the Turin season progressed, enthusiasm grew, with 24-sold-out houses. Within the following year, La Bohéme was performed in every opera house in Italy. Soon there was scarcely a house in the world that was not performing it. Unauthorized performances were given throughout Europe, including a heavily cut English version done at the Comedy Theater in Manchester, England.
La Bohéme has become one of the three or four most often performed works in the repertoire and is the most popular Italian lyric stage work after Verdi’s Aida.
The reasons for La Bohéme’s enduring popularity are varied. But in the view of many commentators, the success of the opera is due to Puccini’s most perfectly achieved score in which the musical style is most suited to the subject matter. La Bohéme is a highly individual work, distinctive from the styles of his other opera. It has a light poetic quality, creating an aura, mood, and imagery all its own. Even though Puccini repeats himself more than do most composers, he was never again to compose anything like La Bohéme.
The United States premiere was performed by the Dal Conte Royal Italian Grand Opera during a visit to the Los Angeles Theater in California. The Metropolitan Opera first presented La Bohéme on Dec. 26, 1900, with Nellie Melba and Albert Salèza. Luigi Mancinelli conducted.
About the composer
When La Bohème premieres in 1896:
- Utah is admitted as the 45th U.S. state.
- H.L. Smith takes the first X-ray photograph.
- The Ford Quadricycle, the first Ford vehicle ever developed, is completed, eventually leading Henry Ford to build the empire that "put America on wheels".
- Queen Victoria surpasses her grandfather King George III as the longest reigning monarch in British history.
- U.S. presidential election, 1896: Republican William McKinley defeats William Jennings Bryan.