La Bohème

An opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini with a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica after Henri Murger’s novel Scenes de la vie de bohème. Premiered in Turin on February 1, 1896 at the Teatro Regio (now the Teatro Regio Torino).

Background on La Bohème

The life of Giacomo Puccini (1858 – 1924) spans a period frequently known as the age of verismo, or realism. The term primarily refers to the artistic and literary movements in which artists and writers focused on everyday subject matter and treated it in a true-to-life manner.

Opera, however, is rooted in myth or religious mystery, and traditionally it boasts superhuman heroes, grand affluence and emotional excess. Verismo arose in the 1890s in Italy and emphasized literary naturalism, contemporary settings, lower-class subjects and violent passions and actions. La Bohème, a realistic opera, depicts bohemians who are neither fanciful or fraudulent. They are real.

Realism was not only a movement in the arts; it was a philosophical attitude and a response to the unprecedented scientific and social changes of the 19th century, specifically the Industrial Revolution and scientific discoveries and their influences on society.

The Industrial Revolution led to tremendous growth of cities and was responsible for bringing artists in contact with all classes of people. This destroyed the old assumptions that the lower classes were too dull as subjects for art.

Developments in science, philosophy and the social sciences resulted in a revival of determinism, the idea that individuals have no control over their fate. Scientific discoveries threw doubt on religious ideals and discredited idealism in general. Materialism replaced idealism as the prevailing attitude.

Success in Montgomery marks the beginning of a freedom revolution the young preacher is chosen to lead. But leadership has its consequences, for him and his wife who faces her own challenges raising their young family while her husband is often away. Street by street, city by city, he marched side by side with others committed to seeing communities all across America experience freedom for themselves.

Though he began to focus on winning political success at a national level, most victories were hard-won on streets and in jail cells throughout the South. There were times he was vilified and times he was celebrated. There were struggles around him, war within him, and loneliness and despair along the way from Birmingham to Selma. Eventually, the brave stand he inspired the people to take in Selma led to voting rights legislation in 1965.

He remembers this kaleidoscope of events as he arrives in Memphis, most poignantly on the morning after he makes the most emotionally draining speech of his life. Finally, just 36 hours after he set out from home, he sits alone at the edge of his bed in a motel room late in the afternoon of April 4. He knows that outside his room door waits the balcony of his recurring dreams.

Meet the Composer

GIACOMO PUCCINI (1856-1924)

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in Tuscany, Italy in December 1858 into a family of five generations of church organists, choirmasters and composers.

His father died when he was 5 years old, and the young Puccini was sent to study with his uncle. As a teenager, Puccini served as an organist to the area churches and played the piano as entertainment at social events. In 1876, the 20-year old walked more than 18 miles to attend a performance of Verdi’s latest success, Aïda. He decided then that opera would be his life’s work.

The greatest influence in Puccini’s life was his mother, who petitioned and received a grant to send her son to the Milan Conservatory, where he earned his degree in 1883. While studying there, Puccini obtained a libretto from Ferdinando Fontana, and entered a competition for a one-act opera in 1882. Although he didn’t win, Le Villi was staged in 1884 at the Teatro Dal Verme and caught the attention of Giulio Ricordi, head of G. Ricordi & Co. music publishers, who commissioned a second opera, Edgar, in 1889.

Edgar failed, which may have led to Puccini’s decision to write his own libretto for his next opera, Manon Lescaut. He said that “no fool of a librettist” would spoil it. Ricordi persuaded him to accept Leoncavallo as his librettist, but Puccini soon asked Ricordi to remove him from the project. Four other librettists were then involved with the opera, due mainly to Puccini constantly changing his mind about the structure of the piece.  It was almost by accident that the final two, Illica and Giacosa, came together to complete the opera. They remained with Puccini for his next three operas and probably his greatest successes: La Bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly.

The world première of La Bohème took place in Turin in 1896 at Teatro Regio and was conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. The initial audience response was subdued, and critical responses were polarized. Despite this, the opera quickly became popular throughout Italy.

Puccini collaborated with several librettists on his works, including Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. His most famous operas include: Manon Lescaut (1893), La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904), La fanciulla del West (1810), Il Trittico—a collection of three one-act operas: Il tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi (1918) and Turandot (1926) – unfinished at the time of Puccini’s death and later completed by Franco Alfano, one of Puccini’s protégés.

Puccini was somewhat reclusive. He preferred his home in the country to hectic city life and enjoyed hunting and long walks through the countryside. He was a lifelong smoker, particularly of cigars, and in 1924 was diagnosed with throat cancer. He underwent surgery, which left him no longer able to speak. He died of a heart attack four days later in 1924 in Brussels.

Production

James Meena

CONDUCTOR

Aldo Tarabella

DIRECTOR

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