Opera Scotland

Bohème La bohème; Scenes from bohemian life

Giacomo Puccini (born Lucca, 22 December 1858; died Brussels, 29 November 1924)

Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica

Novel Scènes de la vie de bohème (1847-9) by Henri Murger (French 1822-1861).

First performance: Turin (Teatro Regio), 1 February 1896.
First UK performance: Manchester (Theatre Royal), 22 April 1897.
First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 30 April 1897.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (King’s Theatre), 11 May 1967.

Puccini is the only Italian opera composer after Verdi to have established a consistent pattern of producing more than one or two enduringly successful works. His family was a musical one stretching back several generations as composers of church music. However he quickly decided that his own future lay with opera. His first two attempts were crippled by inadequate texts. His third, Manon Lescaut, eventually found a text that was reasonably satisfactory, but only after he had used the services of half-a-dozen librettists, including his publisher. For La Bohème he at last found a pair of collaborators willing and able to do as he required, and the result was a trio of the most popular operas performed today. After Tosca and Madama Butterfly his search for collaborators began again, and he slowed his rate of production. He completed two more full-length works and a triple-bill of one-act pieces. He died with his final opera, Turandot, still incomplete.

Rodolfo, a poet (tenor)
Marcello, a painter (baritone)
Colline, a philosopher (bass)
Schaunard, a musician (baritone)
Benoit, a landlord (bass)
Mimì, a seamstress (soprano)
Musetta, a grisette (soprano)
Alcindoro, a state councillor (bass)

Plot Summary
The setting is Paris in the 1840s. The opera opens on Christmas Eve in the garret occupied by four impoverished students, showing their wretched but cheerful lifestyle. Schaunard, having earned some money, brings food and wine as well as fuel. They decide to eat at the Café Momus. Rodolfo is left behind, intent on finishing a poem. He is joined by Mimì, and invites her to the café.

The four students and Mimì enjoy their supper, surrounded by pre-Christmas activity on the part of the local people. Musetta, an old flame of Marcello’s comes in with her rich protector, Alcindoro. He is sent off on an errand by her so that she can make up with Marcello, and by the time he returns the sextet have eaten up and departed, leaving him to pay the bill.

The rest of the opera concentrates on the emotional lives of the two pairs. Marcello and Musetta maintain their stormy relationship. Mimì and Rodolfo split up, but are reconciled before Mimì dies from consumption.


DECCA (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1998
Conductor: Riccardo Chailly
La Scala Orchestra
Angela Gheorghiu (Mimì), Roberto Alagna (Rodolfo), Simon Keenlyside (Marcello).

This is one of the best of recent recordings. Everything Chailly does seems entirely natural. His singers all fit this approach with no weak link. Other singers, all excellent, include Elisabetta Scano (Musetta), Roberto de Candia (Schaunard), and Ildebrando d’Arcangelo (Colline).


EMI (2 CDs) Sung in Italian Recorded 1995

Conductor: Antonio Pappano
Philharmonia Orchestra
Leontina Vaduva (Mimì), Roberto Alagna (Rodolfo), Thomas Hampson (Marcello).

There is little to choose between this and the Chailly set. The supporting cast includes Simon Keenlyside (Schaunard), Samuel Ramey (Colline), and Ruth Ann Swenson (Musetta).



Sung in Italian Recorded 1956


Conductor: Sir Thomas Beecham
RCA Victor Orchestra
Victoria de los Angeles (Mimì), Jussi Björling (Rodolfo), Robert Merrill (Marcello).

This recording remains a classic in spite of its age. The performances of Mimì and Rodolfo are simply glorious. Beecham interprets the score with great freshness even if some of his speeds seem unusually slow. John Reardon and Giorgio Tozzi are excellent as Schaunard and Colline. However, Lucine Amara is a bit shrill as Musetta, and the recording is clearly not quite up to modern standards.


NVC ARTS (1 DVD) Sung in Italian Recorded 1982

Conductor: Lamberto Gardelli
Orchestra of Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Director: John Copley. Designer: Julia Trevelyan Oman
Ileana Cotrubas (Mimì), Neil Shicoff (Rodolfo), Thomas Allen (Marcello).

John Copley’s 1974 production in solidly realistic designs by Julia Trevelyan Oman, is still revived regularly even after thirty years – mind you, the previous Covent Garden staging lasted more than seventy years, including performances by Caruso and Melba. The principals, though recognised around the world as interpreters of these roles, did not otherwise record them, and they are particularly good and subtle actors. Marilyn Zschau, John Rawnsley and Gwynne Howell are just as good as the singers of the larger roles.

The Cast

 a wealthy follower of Musetta
 the students' landlord
 a philosopher
Custom-house Sergeant
 a painter
 a seamstress
 a grisette
 a toy vendor
 a poet
 a musician

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