PUCCINI: La Boheme

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Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924)

La Boh?¿me (Highlights)

Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica

Mim?¼ ................................. Luba Orgonasova

Rodolfo .............................. Jonathan Welch

Musetta ............................... Carmen Gonzales

Marcello ...............................Fabio Previati

Schaunard ............................Boaz Senator

Colline ................................Ivan Urbas

Alcindoro ........................... Jiri Sulzenko

Sergente ............................. Stanislav Benacka

Slovak Philharmonic Chorus

Bratislava Children's Choir

Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)

Will Humburg

Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca in 1858 into a family with long-establishedmusical traditions extending back at least to the early eighteenth century. Itwas natural that he should follow this tradition and become a musician, andafter the death of his father, when the boy was five, it was arranged that heshould inherit the position of organist at the church of S. Martino, whichmeanwhile would be held for him by his uncle. He was trained as a chorister andas an organist, and only turned to more ambitious composition at the age ofseventeen. A performance of Verdi's opera Aida in Pisa in 1876 inspiredoperatic aspirations, which could only be pursued adequately at a major musicalcentre. Four years later he was able to enter the conservatory in Milan,assisted financially by an uncle and by a scholarship. There his teachers wereAntonio Bazzini, director of the conservatory from 1882 and now chieflyremembered by other violinists for one attractive addition to their repertoire,and Amilcare Ponchielli, then near the end of his career.

Puccini's first opera was Le villi, an operatic treatment of a subjectbetter known nowadays from the ballet Giselle by Adam. It failed to winthe competition for which it had been entered, but won, instead, a staging,through the agency of Boito, and publication by Ricordi, who commissioned theopera Edgar, produced at La Scala in 1889 to relatively little effect. Itwas in 1893 that Puccini won his first great success with his version of theAbbe Prevost's Manon Lescaut, a work that established him as a possiblesuccessor to Verdi. La Boh?¿me followed in 1896, Tosca in 1900 andMadama Butterfly in 1904. His last opera, Turandot, was leftunfinished at the time of his death in 1924.

La Boh?¿me is based on a novel by Henry Murger, Sc?¿nes de la vie deBoh?¿me, and a play derived from it by Murger and Theodore Barri?¿re.

Murger, of German origin, lived a life of poverty in Paris comparable to that ofhis characters and died there in 1861. Puccini began work on the new opera, withhis librettists Giacosa and Illica, in 1893, a fact that he revealed whenLeoncavallo, who had chosen the same subject, urged his prior claims on it.

Leoncavallo's work was eventually performed a year after Puccini's and proved norival to it in popular esteem. There were difficulties at first in deciding theprecise form of the action and the composer insisted on certain modifications inIllica's original draft.

La Boh?¿me was first performed at the Teatro Regio in Turin on 1stFebruary 1896, under the baton of a new conductor, Arturo Toscanini. Puccini wasinduced by his publisher Ricordi to agree in the end to the choice of theatre,the scene of his successful Manon Lescaut three years before. Milan, inany case, would have brought dangerous public opposition from Leoncavallo'spublisher Sonzogno. Initially the opera won no great praise from critics orpublic, lacking, as it did, the more obvious and more extravagant romanticappeal of Manon. Since then it has become one of the most popular operasof the Italian repertoire.

Set in Paris in the middle of the nineteenth century, the opera centres onthe tragic love of the poet Rodolfo and the seamstress Mimi, both living inpoverty, but separated through Rodolfo's jealousy, to be together only whenMim?¼ is on her death-bed. The tightly constructed score of the opera containsnumerous cross-references, echoing coincidences and repetitions in the libretto.

The opera opens in the cold garret occupied by Rodolfo and his friends, where hefirst meets Mim?¼, and closes in the same garret, when she returns there to die,after a period of estrangement. In the first act Rodolfo had warmed her coldhand in his: in the last she calls for her muff to warm her frozen fingers. Thecentral scenes of the opera take the lovers, in their first happiness, to thefestivities of the Cafe Momus and Musetta's comic treatment of her elderlylover, and in final pathos to the bitter winter outside the tavern where Musettaflirts with customers, exciting her lover Marcello's jealousy, and where Mim?¼overhears Rodolfo's declaration of his continuing love for her and his certaintyof her approaching death, if she stays with him.

La Boh?¿me owes its very considerable success very largely to the unityof its construction, the precise correspondence between music and drama, alwaysavoiding overstatement, economical in its effects and as significant in its useof the orchestra as it is of the singers. Illica's prose draft provided anadmirable dramatic frame-work, modified by Puccini's own forcefully proposedchanges, with a telling pattern of incidents leading to the final scene. Thiswas equally admirably summarised in the verse of Giacosa, leading to the firstof three immensely successful collaborations with the composer, regarded by someas Puccini's masterpiece.


The first act opens in the attic of a house in the artists' quarter of Paris.

The young poet Rodolfo is gazing out of the window over the snow-covered roofs,while Marcello, a painter, is at work on his biblical painting. The Crossingof the Red Sea. The two men talk together. Marcello ready to take revengefor his cold hands by drowning Pharaoh in the Red Sea. Rodolfo, meanwhile, looksat the smoking chimneys of other houses, while their own stove remains unlit.

Marcello laments the falsity of Musetta, and Rodolfo assures him that love, likea stove, needs stoking. Rejecting the former's idea of bumming one of thechairs, so that they may warm themselves, Rodolfo offers to burn the manuscriptof his play.

Other friends return, the musician Schaunard with some money he hasearned, and they set out for the Cafe Momus, leaving Rodolfo alone. There is atimid knock at the door and he is joined by Mim?¼, who lodges in the same houseand seeks a light for her candle. She is seized with a fit of coughing and isrevived by Rodolfo. About to leave, she cannot find her key (Oh! svelltata!La chiave della stallza). Her candle blows out and Rodolfo runs to bring hisown from the table, but that too is blown out by the draught from the staircase.

The room is in darkness and the two now search for the key. Their hands meet andRodolfo exclaims on the coldness of her little hand (Che gelida manina). Hetells her they must wait for a shaft of moonlight, so that they may find thekey. He tells her that he is a poet and writer, and she, in return, tells himher name, Mim?¼ (Si. Mi chiamano Min?¼), explaining that her realname is Lucia and that she is a seamstress, living alone. Rodolfo's friends callto him from the street bel
Disc: 1
La Boheme
1 ACT I: Questo mar rosso Mi ammollisce e assidera
2 Oh! sventata, sventata!
3 Che gelida manina
4 Si, mi chiamo Mimi
5 O soave fanciulla from La Boheme
6 ACT II: Viva Parpignol
7 Oh! - Essa! - Musetta!
8 Quando me'n vo'
9 Caro! Fuori il danaro!
10 ACT III: Ohe, la, le guardie! Aprite!
11 Mimi! - Speravo di trovarvi qui
12 Marcello, finalmente!
13 Donde lieta usci
14 Dunque e proprio finita!
15 ACT IV: In un coupe... O Mimi, tu piu non torni
16 Vecchia zimarra, senti
17 Sono andati?
18 Che ha detto il medico?
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