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LA BOHEME (1894 - 1896)

Land Of PucciniLibrettists:  Giuseppe Giocosa, Luigi Illica

Background: Even before his wonderful success with Manon Lescaut , Puccini was contemplating the subject of his next opera. Luigi Illica was convinced that Henry Murger's story about life in the Latin Quarter of Paris would make a successful and important opera, while the composer vascilated back and forth between this and other ideas. Finally in February, 1893, following the premier of Manon , Puccini asked Illica for a scenario, which was ready within a few weeks. It is entirely possible that around the same time, Ruggero Leoncavallo, who had previously found Murger's novel and was already hard at work on a libretto of his own, may have mentioned this fact in passing to Puccini and Ricordi, drawing further attention to the book. During these times, there was a great deal of rivallry between composers like Catalani, Leoncavallo, Franchetti, Puccini, Mascagni, and Ricordi warned Puccini not to breathe a word of his plans to anyone. However, in 1894, Puccini and Leoncavallo encountered each other in a Milan cafe, and in the course of the conversation, Puccini mentioned that he was in the throes of writing his opera, La Bohème. At this point his rival became furious and accused Puccini of stealing the very idea he had mentioned to him the previous year: in fact, Leoncavallo claimed, he had at that time offered Puccini his own libretto for La Bohème. Because the book was by then in the public domain, no rights had to be procured from the author, and so began a race between the two composers to see who would first finish his work. Leoncavallo promptly made a public announcement in the newspapers of the subject of his new opera (he was already popular after the success of his Pagliacci in 1892): Puccini followed suit and issued a statement which was carried in the papers the following day. Ricordi was delighted to have a means by which to keep Puccini hard at work on his opera, and in fact, the composer eventually premiered his La Bohème eighteen months before his rival's. While Illica wrote the scenario and developed the plot in detail, Giuseppe Giacosa would put the prose into verse and add refinement and polish to the libretto. Puccini's repeated requests of Giacosa to review and revise his work was a torment to the librettist, who by his own admission, was not one to be able to work quickly. By mid-1893, the composer had returned to his home at Torre del Lago to continue working on his opera, between visits he was also making to the various openings of new productions of his Manon -first to Hamburg , then to Bologna , then at the beginning of 1894, to Naples . Illica and Giacosa painstakingly continued their work, although under some duress from the publisher, and at one point Giacosa completely lost interest and refused to continue. Puccini too, was not without his misgivings about the way the piece was unfolding. He threatened to quit and asked Illica to find a new subject that the two of them could work on together. Throughout early 1894, Puccini continued to travel, throwing Ricordi into a fit of despair because of the slow pace at which La Bohème was proceeding. He begged the composer to get back to work and Puccini agreed, but by this time, Illica was resolute in his resolve to stop work on the opera. Ricordi was forced to broker a meeting in which they could all resolve their differences over the libretto. After this, Puccini worked very hard on the music, and by September, he was quite pleased with the opera. By the beginning of 1895, the team was in full agreement with the way the piece was shaping up, and during the rest of that year, Puccini worked steadily on the music, although further problems later arose again with Giacosa. The opera finally had its premiere in Turin at Teatro Regio on February 1, 1896, under the baton of Arturo Toscannini, and was also presented that year in Rome, Palermo, Naples and Buenos Aires; so great was its success that the following year, the opera debuted in Paris, Brussels, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Berlin, Vienna and Venice.

Synopsis: A poet, Rudolfo, and his friend, Marcello a painter, are starving, living in frigid bohemian conditions in the Paris winter of 1830. They are warming their room by burning parts of Rodolfo's manuscript when two friends, Colline and Schaunard, arrive, one of whom has provisions and a little money. The four decide to go to the local tavern to celebrate Christmas Eve. Rodolfo will follow a bit later, as he is working on an article he must complete. He is alone when he hears a knock at the door. It is a beautiful young neighbor, Mimi, who begs a light for her candle. Rodolfo lights it for her, but it goes out again. His hand grazes hers and finding it very cold, he takes her hand in his to warm it, telling her of his poet's dreams. She tells him a little about herself, and the two begin to fall in love. They leave to join Rodolfo's friends at the cafe, where they have a wonderful evening at the unexpected expense of an elderly admirer of Musetta's, Marcello's beloved. Some weeks later, Mimi tells Marcello that Rodolfo's insane jealousy is forcing them apart. Rodolfo appears unexpectedly and Mimi hides behind a tree. Rodolfo tells Marcello that Mimi is ill, and that she should be with someone who can take better care of her than he can. Mimi's coughing cannot be subdued, and Rodolfo discovers her behind the tree. The lovers reconcile, and go off arm in arm. In the final act, Rodolfo and Marcello are in their attic room with their two friends. Musetta arrives with news that Mimi is outside, too ill to climb the last stairs to her room. Rodolfo brings her inside, where he settles her on the bed. Musetta gives up her earrings, and Colline his coat to buy medicine for the dying Mimi. Alone for a short time, the lovers reminisce and talk of their love for each other. The others return, but it is too late: Mimi quietly dies as Rodolfo pours out his grief over her body.

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