Saturday, January 19, 2008

La Bohème

La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini takes place mostly in the winter, but the score is so bursting with vitality and effervescence that it speaks longingly of spring. On the surface, the opera appears to be romanticizing what is basically a rather tawdry story. Young people shacking up in studio apartments, while it may now be the norm, in 1896 was regarded as "bohemian," on the fringe of society. But because La Bohème is great art, its meaning and appeal can relate as much to the here and now as ever it did to the past.

The characters in La Bohème are gifted, impulsive, and poor. They live for the moment, for love and for art, with marriage and commitment as an afterthought, if thought of at all. Their lackadaisical lifestyle degenerates into bickering, as the men are unable to take care of the women they love. The women turn to the arms of wealthy lovers for sustenance, losing honor as well as true romance. Sacrifices are made, and prayers are offered, but too late to save the relationships, or the life of the heroine.

According to this website:

Puccini’s La Boheme is a story of young love set in the bohemian culture of 1830s Paris. The bittersweet tragedy centers around an optimistic group of friends surviving on limited means. Rodolfo, a poet, shares a garret with his artist friend. Mimi is a seamstress living in a neighboring apartment. Mimi and Rodolfo meet and fall instantly, madly, in love. But the diva is already desperately ill with tuberculosis and not long for the world.

The libretto, by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, is based on Henri Murger’s novel Scènes de la vie de Bohème and was the inspiration for the Broadway musical Rent.

Puccini injected the joie de vivre of his student days into the vibrant score, as well as his searing insight into the human passions which, when allowed to spiral out of control, produce nothing but unmitigated tragedy. As one article says:

As for Puccini, La Bohème portrayed many of his own personal experiences. Giacomo Puccini When he was in his twenties and attending the conservatory in Milan, he was like the bohemians in his opera story - a starving young artist. Pietro Mascagni, who later composed Cavalleria Rusticana and L'amico Fritz, was Puccini’s roommate. They lived in a garret where they were forbidden to cook, pooled their pennies to buy necessities, and dodged their creditors. And like Colline in the fourth act of the opera, Puccini once pawned his coat for money - but not for such a noble cause – he was taking a young ballerina out on the town!

The rapture and hope of young love are captured in the famous duet O soave fanciulla and in the provocative "Musetta's Waltz," Quando me n’vò. The final scene is profoundly moving and one cannot help feeling sorry for the misguided but good-hearted characters, even while being annoyed at them for their irresponsible and loose behavior. Share


Anonymous said...

...."I have given all for love and art....", "Vissi D'Arte", from another Puccini opera, "Tosca", seems to be something he, as an artist, experienced. However, I do believe he received recognition for his greatness in his lifetime. La Boheme is truly a beloved opera, and a good one to start with for someone learning about opera.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, it is a good opera for beginners.