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Lyrical scenes in four acts
Libretto: Luigi Illica, Giuseppe Giacosa
World premiere: 1 February 1896, Teatro Regio, Turin
Premiere of this production: 17 June 2021, Polish National Opera, Teatr Wielki, Warsaw
In the original Italian with Polish surtitles
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Before Giacomo Puccini sat down to write La bohème, which turned out to be one of the world’s most popular operas, his had planned to create an opera about the life of Buddha. He was, however, also fascinated with the erotically charged Giovanni Verga’s The She-Wolf (La lupa), novella set in Sicily. He was discouraged from pursuing the latter project by Wagner’s stepdaughter (and Liszt’s granddaughter), who was appalled by the story’s brutality. With a little help from seasoned librettists, Luigi Illika and Giovanni Giacosa, Puccini set out to write a loose adaptation of Henri Murger’s famed book, Scenes of Bohemian Life (Scènes de la vie de bohème), a raw description of the miserable life lead by the Parisian ‘artistic proletariat’. ‘The book won me over on the spot. It felt like a family: freshness, youth, passion, cheerfulness, tears shed in silence, a love that brings joy and makes you suffer. There are people, feelings, there is a heart. And, above all, there is poetry, divine Poetry,’ Puccini gushed. There was a lot in Murger’s novel that he could relate to. After the success of Manon Lescaut (1892) he could afford to buy a villa in Torre del Lago, but the memory of the hunger and cold of his student life in Milan never left his memory.
It is no wonder that the same topic caught the interest of another composer who had risen out of poverty and wanted to showcase ‘real life’ in opera. Ruggero Leoncavallo, the author of the brilliant Palgliaci, began to work on his La bohème around the same time as Puccini. The two composers clashed in the press, but it was Puccini who had the final say: ‘Let him compose, and I will compose. The public will judge,’ he wrote. And that is what happened, to the disadvantage of Leoncavallo, whose Bohème faded into oblivion overshadowed by the charm of his rival’s immortal music.
Four young artists – Schaunard, Rodolfo, Colline and Marcello – go out to town on a wintery night. Rodolfo meets Mimi and it is love at first sight. They are enamored before they manage to introduce themselves to each other. Marcello is crushed to see his former lover Musetta have a wealthy Alcindor wrapped around her finger. It is a time of joy and reckless fun. A few months later Marcello is back in a stormy relationship with Musetta, while moneyless Rodolfo dumps seriously ill Mimi, frustrated and horrified as he is by his helplessness in the face of her suffering. It is a time of frustration, jealousy, and confusion. Mimi and Rodolfo will meet again, yet it will be too late to offer help and love then.
This production of La bohème is directed by Barbara Wysocka, who previously treated the Warsaw audience to her take on Philip Glass’s The Fall of the House of Usher, Pascal Dusapin’s Medeamaterial, Eugeniusz Knapik’s Moby Dick, Ludomir Różycki’s Eros and Psyche, and Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca.
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Patrons of the Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera
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Partners of Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera