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The Quintessential Opera: La Boheme

Poster for the 1896 production for Puccini's La bohème. Artist: Adolfo Hohenstein

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Poster for the 1896 production for Puccini's La bohème. Artist: Adolfo Hohenstein

By: | Published on Jan 7, 2013

Legendary maestro Arturo Toscanini conducted the premiere of this opera, now the fourth most frequently performed worldwide. The familiar “Musetta’s Waltz” was adapted as a pop song for 50s vocalist Della Reese, and an updated version of the story became the hit Broadway show Rent. Puccini’s long-standing collaborators Giacosa and Illica based the libretto on a French novel depicting young, freethinking hippies living in the Latin Quarter of 1840s Paris. No other opera matches the story’s romanticism. From the time Mimi comes to Rodolfo’s door asking for a match to the moment of her last breath, from the frigid garrets of Paris to its lively cafes and nightlife, we are charmed and fascinated by this bohemian world. Mimi, alas, is doomed to a tragically young demise. Her volatile relationship with Rodolfo mirrors that of the equally explosive Musetta and Marcello: all four lovers succumb first to overwhelming passion and eventually to agonizing jealousy. Such contrasts, as well as those between the poverty-stricken youths of Paris and its well-to-do counterparts, create a timeless, universally appealing story. Add to that captivating, brilliant music created by the young Puccini, and the result is riveting drama coupled with glorious tunes: the formula that makes opera great.

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