Re-imagine the antics and love affairs of four ‘Bohemian’ artists, set not in a nineteenth-century Parisian garret, but instead in the revolutionary artsy world of 1960s New York.
Maybe even imagine it set in The Factory, the tin foil-covered loft where Andrew Warhola became Andy Warhol, the father of pop art as well as an artistic symbol of a new era.
Our production is inspired by Andy and created by an innovative New York-based team. They will transform Puccini’s fabulous opera, in a radical, intimate, modern metamorphosis… but Puccini’s heart will still beat as strongly and his music sing as truly and unmistakably as ever.
Join the cast at the Opening Night Party with light fare immediately following the performance on Friday 21 July.
ABOUT The Opera
Sung in English with projected titles in English.
Orchestration co-commissioned with Heartbeat Opera, NYC
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
|Libretto||Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa|
|English Translation||Amanda Holden|
|Conductor and Arranger||Daniel Schlosberg|
|Assistant Conductor||Joseph Bozich|
|Scenic Design||Kate Noll|
|Costume Design||Beth Goldenberg|
|Lighting Design||Bob Steineck|
|Hair and Makeup Design||Jina Pounds|
|Assistant Director||Daniel Grambow|
|Stage Manager||Kathleen Stakenas|
|Assistant Stage Managers|
|A Customs Sargeant||Derrick Brown|
In a frosty garret Rodolfo and his friend Marcello fill their hours of leisure in “pursuit of the arts.” Rodolfo, a poet, and Marcello, a painter, are soon joined by their friends Colline (who sees the world through the eyes of a philosopher) and Schaunard (who tries to forget his poverty by playing the piano.)
A moment later their landlord Benoit appears, demanding the rent, but the crafty bohemians loosen him up with wine and send him packing.
Soon the fraternity leaves for the café around the corner, hoping in some way to mount a Christmas eve celebration, but Rodolfo begs off for the moment, saying he wants to finish a poem he is working on.
Moments later his neighbor Mimi—her real name is Lucia—knocks on the door. She asks Rodolfo to light her candle which had been blown out in the drafty hall. The draft extinguishes Rodolfo’s candle as well, and in the confusion Mimi drops her keys. As they search for them their hands touch, and with operatic economy they immediately fall in love.
Finally, responding to the call of his friends in the courtyard below, the lovers join in their celebration.
At the café, Christmas eve celebrations are in full swing. The bohemians have settled in for a “sumptuous” meal, despite not having the funds to pay for it. Fortuitously, Marcello’s former mistress, Musetta, appears—accompanied by an elderly admirer. She does her best to entice Marcello, sending her gentleman friend off to purchase a pair of shoes for her so that she may openly flirt with Marcello. The subterfuge works. She quickly wheedles herself into Marcello’s affection, while, in the confusion of the evening’s celebration, the comrades take advantage of the situation and slip away in the crowd, leaving the dinner bill for Musetta’s elderly companion.
Rodolfo and Mimi had moved in together, but after a nasty argument, Rodolfo has left her. On a blustery winter street she encounters Marcello, and tells him that her rupture with Rodolfo is permanent. She hides as she sees Rodolfo arrive unexpectedly, and he—not realizing that she is nearby— confides to Marcello that he fears Mimi is mortally ill.
Mimi is suddenly seized with a coughing fit. Rodolfo discovers her, and in a burst of anguish, embraces her. They agree to give their life together one more try—at least until spring returns—while in the background Marcello and Musetta quarrel.
Back in the garret the friends seek to assuage their hunger and to forget their mistresses with frolic and horseplay. But, suddenly, Musetta appears supporting Mimi.
Realizing that she is in desperate need of medicine and a doctor, Rodolfo’s companions rush out for help, including Musetta, who goes to pawn her earrings and purchase a muff for Mimi, who has complained about the cold.
Before the friends return, the lovers recall happier days. When they do appear, Musetta manages to slip Mimi’s hands in the muff she has bought, but a few minutes later the muff slips from her hands. She has died.
This most popular opera, surprisingly, saw the light of day under somewhat contentious conditions triggered by a chance encounter between Puccini and Leoncavallo in a Milan café. Puccini had recently enjoyed a triumph with the staging of Manon Lescaut as had Leoncavallo with Pagliacci.
During their conversation Puccini casually mentioned that he was working on a new opera based on episodes from Henry Murget’s fifty-year old novel, Scènes de la Vie de Bohème (known in English by the awkward title Bohemians of the Latin Quarter). Considerably piqued, Leoncavallo reminded Puccini that he was already working on a Bohème and that Puccini had rejected the libretto some time before.
Thus began a bitter rivalry fraught with such recriminations that brief notes cannot recount in detail. Leoncavallo was the first to offer his creation to the public. It was a moderate success, but with the production of Puccini’s somewhat different version of the same tale it fell into oblivion. It is a pity, since Leoncavallo’s version has charm and deserves more that the occasional production it receives.
In addition to its sumptuous music, much credit for the success of Puccini’s opera can attributed to its talented librettists, Giuseppi Giacosa and Luigi Illica. The concision of the text is the work of Illica, who has offered four scenes of immediate appeal although they omit much that is pertinent to development of the story. Giacosa was the poet, supplying the kind of text which generates empathy with the joys and sufferings of young love.
La Bohème was presented to the public on February 1, 1896 at the Teatro Regio in Turin. The conductor was Arturo Toscanini. Surprisingly the reception was mixed. It was not until the opera was produced some months later in Palermo that enthusiasm for Puccini’s effort began to grow.
For the lovers of La Bohème it should be pointed out that it is not Mimi who coughs her last in Murget’s bohemians’ garret, but Francine, Marcel’s mistress. Mimi does die but with an unspecified malady in Saint Lazare, the poorhouse, unattended by her friends because of an erroneous report of her death they receive from one of the hospital attendants.
In addition to Leoncavallo’s treatment of the subject, there is a lively zarzuela by Amadeo Vives, entitled, not inappropriately, Los bohemios. It is a romantic vignette with a happy ending, a one-acter in what is termed el género chico. Appearing in 1904, it was clearly attempting to bask in the fame of Puccini’s effort.
In more recent times there have been not infrequent adaptations of Puccini’s effort such as The Black Bohème in an adaptation by Hal Shaper performed with considerable success in South Africa, and Rent, a reworking of La Bohème by Jonathan Larson which hit the Broadway circuit in 1996.
Meet the Composer
[born 22 December 1848; died 29 November 1924]
Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born on December 22, 1858, in Lucca, Italy, where since the 1730s his family had been tightly interwoven with the musical life of the city, providing five generations of organists and composers to the Cathedral of San Martino, Lucca’s religious heart. It was therefore taken for granted that Giacomo would carry on this legacy, succeeding his father, Michele, in the role first held by his great-great grandfather. However, in 1864 Michele passed away when Giacomo was just 5 years old, and so the position was held for him by the church in anticipation of his eventual coming of age.
But the young Giacomo was uninterested in music and was a generally poor student, and for a time it seemed that the Puccini musical dynasty would end with Michele. Giacomo’s mother, Albina, believed otherwise and found him a tutor at the local music school. His education was also subsidized by the city, and over time, Giacomo started to show progress. By the age of 14 he had become the church organist and was beginning to write his first musical compositions as well. But Puccini discovered his true calling in 1876, when he and one of his brothers walked nearly 20 miles to the nearby city of Pisa to attend a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida. The experience planted in Puccini the seeds of what would become a long and lucrative career in opera.
From Milan to Manon
Motivated by his newfound passion, Puccini threw himself into his studies and in 1880 gained admission to the Milan Conservatory, where he received instruction from noted composers. He graduated from the school in 1883, submitting the instrumental composition Capriccio sinfonico as his exit piece. His first attempt at opera came later that year, when he composed the one-act La villi for a local competition. Although it was snubbed by the judges, the work won itself a small group of admirers, who ultimately funded its production.
The Big Three
With their accessible melodies, exotic subject matter and realistic action, Puccini’s three best-known compositions are considered to be his most important; over time they would become the most widely performed in opera history. The result of another collaboration between Puccini, Giacosa and Illica, the four-act opera La Bohème was premiered in Turin on February 1, 1896, again to great public (if not critical) acclaim. In January 1900, Puccini’s next opera, Tosca, premiered in Rome and was also enthusiastically received by the audience, despite fears that its controversial subject matter (from the novel of the same name) would draw the public’s ire. Later that year, Puccini attended a production of the David Belasco play Madam Butterfly in New York City and decided that it would be the basis of his next opera. Several years later, on February 17, 1904, Madama Butterfly premiered at La Scala. Though initially criticized for being too long and too similar to Puccini’s other work, Butterfly was later split up into three shorter acts and became more popular in subsequent performances.
His fame widespread, Puccini spent the next few years traveling the world to attend productions of his operas to ensure that they met his high standards. He would continue to work on new compositions as well, but his often-complicated personal life would see to it that one would not be immediately forthcoming for some time.
The period between 1903 and 1910 proved to be one of the most difficult in Puccini’s life. After recovering from a near-fatal auto accident, on January 3, 1904, Puccini married a woman named Elvira Gemignani, with whom he had been having an illicit affair since 1884. (Gemignani had been married when she and Puccini started their liaisons.) The couple had been living in the small, quiet fishing village of Torre del Lago since 1891, but over the years, Elvira had grown increasingly unhappy, due to the numerous other women that Puccini became involved with.
Matters reached a dramatic apex worthy of one of Puccini’s operas when Elvira’s jealousy led her to accuse a servant girl named Doria Manfredi of having an affair with her husband, publicly threatening her and harassing her in the village. In 1909, the distraught Doria killed herself by ingesting poison. After a medical examination proved that she had been a virgin, her family brought charges of slander and persecution against Elvira.
Mortified by what Elvira had done, Puccini separated from her and sent her away to live in Milan. She was eventually tried, found guilty and sentenced to five months in prison. Ultimately though, Puccini intervened in the matter, taking Elvira back and paying a substantial sum to Doria’s family to convince them to drop the charges.
Fading Success, Failing Health
While dealing with the ongoing crises in his personal life, Puccini continued composing. On December 10, 1910, six years after his last opera, The Girl of the Golden West premiered at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Though the initial production—which featured world-renowned tenor Enrico Caruso in the cast—was a success, the opera failed to achieve any lasting popularity, and over the course of the next decade, a string of relative disappointments followed.
In 1912, Puccini’s faithful supporter and business partner Guilio Ricordi passed away, and shortly thereafter, Puccini began work on a three-part opera (realistic, tragic and comedic) that Ricordi had always been against titled Il Trittico. Puccini then refocused his efforts when representatives from an Austrian opera house offered him a large sum to compose ten pieces for an operetta. However, work on the project was soon complicated by their respective countries’ alliances during World War I, and for a time the compositions foundered. When La Rondine was finally performed in Monaco in 1918, it was moderately successful, but like its predecessor, it failed to make a lasting impact. The following year, Il Trittico debuted in New York City, but it too was quickly forgotten.
Seeking to achieve his former glory in the face of fading popularity, Puccini set out to write his masterwork in 1920, throwing all of his hopes and energies into the project, which he titled Turandot. But his ambitions would never be fully realized.
In 1923, Puccini complained of a recurring sore throat and sought medical advice. Though an initial consultation turned up nothing serious, during a subsequent examination he was diagnosed with throat cancer. As the cancer had by that point progressed beyond where it could be operated upon, Puccini traveled to Brussels in 1924 for an experimental radiation treatment. Too weak to endure the procedure, he died in the hospital seven days later, on November 29, 1924. At the time of his death, Puccini had become the most commercially successful opera composer of all time, worth the equivalent of an estimated $200 million.
After an initial burial in Milan, in 1926 his body was moved to his Torre del Lago estate, where a small chapel was constructed to hold his remains. An opera celebration called “Festival Puccini” is held in the town every year in honor of its most famous resident.