Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème
A group of young Bohemians commune together in poverty, but passion emerges when a chance encounter causes Rodolfo to fall in love with the enchanting Mimi. Yet Rodolfo worries that his destitution will only quicken Mimi’s lessening health. A tale of joy and sorrow, of love and loss, the timeless boy-meets-girl love story of La bohème sings meaning into the small mementos and chance encounters that come to define our very lives.
Puccini first settled on the subject of a Bohemian opera in 1893 and his interest in the material was strengthened following a well-publicized argument with rival composer Ruggero Leoncavallo. Thus the premiere of La bohème on February 1, 1896 at the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy was highly anticipated among the public. Interestingly enough, this first performance garnered a subdued reaction from the audience and polarized responses from critics, yet the opera quickly gained traction throughout Italy and four more opera houses had mounted their own productions in the following season. In October of 1897, the opera had also reached the shores of North America with Los Angeles hosting the American premiere. Puccini’s famous Bohemian work first appeared at Opera Omaha in the 1967-68 season and has since been performed on eight different occasions. With its November 2016 production, La bohème will tie with another Puccini opera, Madama Butterfly, as Opera Omaha’s most frequently produced title.
Leave it to the Critics:
Despite the great success that La bohème found among audiences across the globe, a number of critics succeeded in finding areas for complaint. Some found the sweet nature of the plot off-putting, having expected something more along the dark and dramatic lines of Puccini’s earlier success Manon Lescaut. Others found his music unsophisticated and too easily enjoyed, mocking the apparent lack of difficulty in the writing and finding the musical content to be, on the whole, unintellectual. The esteemed Benjamin Britten, in fact, put pen to paper in 1951 and wrote of La bohème, “after four or five performances I never wanted to hear [it] again. In spite of its neatness, I became sickened by the cheapness and emptiness of the music.” Sensibilities of the critics aside, audiences have continuously fallen in love with this opera thanks to the scoffed at sweetness of the story and its flowing melodies, which though simple, are nonetheless poignant.
Name that Tune:
La bohème is monumental in that it marks the emergence of Puccini as a fully mature composer. His original style utilizes short motifs to represent characters, themes and moods to underscore or highlight certain aspects of the opera’s plot. Through his use of these motifs, Puccini allows the audience a glimpse into the minds and emotions of his characters, giving them room for development beyond what is contained within the libretto. It’s no wonder then, with Puccini coming into his own as a composer, that La bohème contains some of opera’s most memorable arias. Among these is “Che gelida manina” the Act I introduction of Rodolfo and his dreams and the famous love duet “O soave fanciulla.”