1 May 2018 at 10.47am | Comment on this article
‘I’ve put my entire soul into La bohème’, said composer Giacomo Puccini of his famous opera. ‘There are no words to describe how strongly I’ve fallen in love with the characters that were created’.
As Puccini identified, it’s certainly hard to resist this tragic love story and the sublime music. As well as providing inspiration for musicals and soundtracks the world over – anyone who knows Moulin Rouge or Rent might be surprised to note the similarities in the plot – the opera is now one of the most-performed works in the repertory. In 2017 it was seen on average more than once a day in theatres around the world, as audiences continue to be beguiled by the highs and lows of the lives of ordinary people played out on stage.
Puccini exquisitely captures how a couple get swept away in the moment of falling for each other. Rodolfo, a penniless poet, lives the 'bohemian' life with three friends in an attic apartment in Paris, until one night his world is turned upside down as his neighbour, Mimì, comes to ask for a light for her candle.
Mimì is cautious and shy but then, as she opens up, so does the music. At first the melody is tentative and speech-like, then it becomes playful as she sings of sewing and flowers. Accompanying Mimì on her emotional journey, the music swells and becomes more rapturous as she becomes more confident, revealing more about herself and the things that make her happy.
This highlight from the end of Act I of La bohème is a high point of romance in music. Sometimes it is as if Puccini has simply set dialogue to music, like when Rodolfo cheekily suggests they stay in the apartment rather than joining his friends. But then the sweeping melodies and swelling orchestra capture that all-encompassing feeling of becoming intoxicated by another person, and that other person feeling the same.
The music seems to course through Mimì and Rodolfo, as if they can’t help but make declarations of love to each other. It’s easy to see why this is one of the world’s favourite love duets, as these two ordinary people get swept away in an extraordinary romance. The singers’ voices float away as they leave the stage, together singing ‘Amor!’ (love), and we're left hooked on their love story.
La bohème runs 16 June–20 July 2018. Tickets are still available.
It is a co-production with Teatro Real, Madrid and Lyric Opera of Chicago. It is staged with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, Mrs Susan A. Olde OBE, the Estate of the Late Arthur Wise, Mikhail Bakhtiarov, Beth Madison, The Royal Opera House Endowment Fund and The American Friends of Covent Garden.