First performed in 1896, Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème has retained its place as the most frequently performed opera in the world for nearly a century, in part due to its blend of sensual music and romantic 19th-century Paris setting.
With a libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, the story is based on Henri Murger’s novel Scènes de la Vie de Bohème. The title derives from the story’s heroine, the seamstress Mimì, who keeps company with a rootless Latin Quarter community of “Bohemian” artists and intellectuals, many whom embody a type of lifestyle that Puccini also experienced as a young man.
Mimì and her lover Rodolfo are portrayed as the supposedly typical sort of Bohemians who fall in and out of love frequently and remain forever childless and unmarried. Their idealized love affair was considered scandalous in its day, but it now strikes opera-goers as something more natural, and this has only served to increase the popularity of the work in modern times.
And while there’s plenty that celebrates the tight-knit group of artists surviving on high-spirited hijinks and dreams, the opera also portrays how bleak and insecure the lives of the Bohemians could be, and the portrayal of Mimì’s death endures as one of the most heartbreaking operatic scenes ever created.
Tickets to the Minnesota Opera’s production of La Bohème are not included in tuition. However, registered participants will receive information about receiving a 20 percent discount on tickets to the performance of their choice.
Daniel Freeman, PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has taught courses in music history at the University of Minnesota and the Smithsonian Institution. Considered the world’s leading historian in the field of 18th-century Czech music, Freeman is both a musicologist and pianist. His most recent book is Mozart in Prague (Bearclaw Publishers, 2013).