La Bohème, Opera by G. Puccini
Opera in four acts with music by Giacomo Puccini and Italian libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, based on the serialised novel Scènes de la vie de bohème (Scenes from the Life of Bohemia) by Henri Murger (1847-49).
La Bohème was premiered on 1 February 1896 at the Teatro Regio in Turin, under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. Although it was not received with great enthusiasm at first, its fame quickly spread and today it is one of the most well known and widely performed operas in the world.
Puccini, who was very demanding with the librettos, insisted on it being modified various times, the result being a libretto which was quite different to the original literary text, but which had achieved an exquisite narrative.
With this work – considered to be an autobiography of the young Puccini – the composer brought to opera new kinds of heroes, in hitherto unknown settings: young bohemian artists with whom it appears he identified owing to his experiences as a student at the Milan Conservatory.
In musical terms, La Bohème is part of the italian verismo movement of that time. Puccini was the first composer to capture – in such a realistic way – the life of Parisian streets and the destinies and every day lives of ordinary people. What is more, Puccini introduced another innovation in terms of style, moving gracefully from soft singing to conversation, and from chamber music to energetic orchestration, depending on the scene being narrated. The music flows throughout the entire opera, with Puccini making masterful use of colourful harmonies and orchestration and with voices and orchestral instruments integrated seamlessly.
This work secured Puccini’s lasting reputation as a great lyrical composer.
The story takes place in Paris (the area of Montmartre, the Latin Quarter, and the outskirts) around 1840. It revolves around a group of young bohemian Parisian artists, and the romantic relationship between the poet Rodolfo and Mimi.