Five Things About La boheme You Don't Need To Know But Will Be Glad You Did

Getting ready with Dr. Nic last week for a TV interview he came up with five tidbits about La boheme to be used on air. Live TV being what live TV is, not all of them made it onto the show, but I thought they were interesting enough to be recycled here on the blog.

Besides, I'm busy hammering away at the 2011 press release so pressed for time today.

2011 press release you say? You betcha. But, faithful readers, here's a tidbit: a certain married couple returns to us next season in another opera by Gounod.

Without further ado, five things about La boheme you'll be glad to know

1) Giacomo Puccini’s opera La boheme is one of the three most popular operas ever written but it wasn’t always that way. It was not an immediate success. An opera by a rival Italian composer, Ruggiero Leoncavallo, on the same subject (and also named Le bohème) premiered about a year after Puccini’s and was quite successful. It’s possible that, in fact, Puccini actually stole the idea from Leoncavallo. (They had a rather awkward public meeting in a café when Leoncavallo accused Puccini of stealing the idea…eventually Puccini said, “Let the public decide which one they like best!”) The two operas co-existed in Italian theatres for about ten years before Puccini’s came out as the public’s favorite version. It’s never left the active repertory since, and Leoncavallo’s version is all but forgotten.

2) Puccini’s opera was really considered quite risque for its day, in fact a number of critics condemned the story outright as being suggestive and salacious. The two young lovers, Rodolfo and Mimì, have an open affair and it’s obvious that they’re sleeping together without the benefit of marriage. Since opera houses in Italy were considered places where one could have an evening of uplifting entertainment for the whole family, the story was something of a risk for the composer and his producers.

3) Puccini’s opera has been quite influential on contemporary and popular arts. The musical Rent by Jonathan Larson is based very closely on the story of the opera, and one of the big tunes or arias from the opera (Musetta’s waltz, “Quando men vo” from Act II of the opera) was used to great effect in the score of the film Moonstruck with Cher and Nicolas Cage.

4) Puccini is most often praised for the writing of the music of La boheme, and justly so: it’s a gorgeous score. But few of us, even in the opera business, realize that he was a genius of the theatre as well. He knew what would work on stage, and what would not. He was sometimes very aggressive with his librettists (the men who wrote the words, the poetic text for the opera) insisting that this or that word, phrase, or stage action wouldn’t be effective, or badgering them to include something that they felt would fall flat, only later to realize that the composer was always right. One could compare him with Andrew Lloyd Webber in that sense, a composer who also happens to be a great showman.

5) Puccini’s first opera was Verdi’s Aida which he saw when he was a teenager. He often told the story about how he had to walk twenty miles in order to buy a ticket and see performance in a distant town. But he was so inspired by that experience that he decided to dedicate himself to opera.


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