Giacomo Puccini

The Bohemians
 

Carlos Kleiber - La Boheme - Puccini- - La Scala 1979 
La Scala Milan Orchestra & Chorus

Mimi : Ileana Cotrubas
Rodolfo : Luciano Pavarotti
Marcello : Lorenzo Saccomani
Musseta : Lucia Popp
Schaunard : Giorgio Giorgetti
Colline : Evghenij Nesterenko
Parpignol : Saverio Porzano
Benoit : Claudio Giombi
Alcindore : Alfredo Giacomotti

 

It is the evening of February 1, 1896, in the opera house at Turin. A brilliant audience has gathered to hear the world premiere of the new opera by Giacomo Puccini, whose Manon Lescaut was a nationwide success. The conductor is Arturo Toscanini, aged twenty-eight, whose repute is already such that an American critic had written, after hearing him conduct Die Gotterdammerung, that he “was the only artist the city of New York should be proud to invite to conduct.”

Under such auspices one might have expected the premiere of the most lovable of all Italian operas to be a resounding success. It wasn't. It wasn’t a failure, either, but the public reception was little better than lukewarm, while the critics were far from unanimous in liking it. One of them went so far as to call it “empty and downright infantile.” The Metropolitan premiere, in 1900, elicited some even worse epithets. “La Boheme” said the Tribune, “is foul in subject and fulminant and futile in its music . . . Silly and inconsequential . . .”

By no means all the critics were this wide of the mark. Despite the opinions of many musicians, professional critics are proved far more often right than wrong by the general opinion of posterity. But in this particular case no one was so exactly right as Puccini's publisher, Giulio Ricordi. After working and worrying with the composer and his librettists for the entire three years that the opera was in the making, he wrote to Puccini three months before the premiere: “Dear Puccini, if this time you have not succeeded in hitting the nail squarely on the head, I will change my profession and sell salamil”


 

Roles

LA BOHEME

(The Bohemians)


Opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini with libretto in Italian by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica with considerable assistance from Giulio Ricordi and the composer, based on incidents from Henri Murger’s novel Scenes de la vie de Boheme


 


Mimi, a seamstress 
Rodolfo, a poet
Marcello, a painter
Colline, a philosopher 
Schaunard, a musician 
Benoit, a landlord 
Alcindoro, a state councilor and follower of Musetta 
Parpignol, an itinerant toy vendor
Custom-House Sergeaht
Musetta, a grisette

 

Time: about 1830
Place: Paris

First performance at Turin, February 1896
 

Characters

Mimi:

Soprano. Mimì is a seamstress, ill with consumption (tuberculosis). After his friends have gone to the Café Momus on Christmas Eve, Mimì knocks on Rodolfo's door. 
She is on her way to her own room but her candle has blown out and she asks for a light. In a fit of coughing, she has to rest on a chair, dropping her candle which again goes out, and now Rodolfo’s candle is also extinguished. She drops her key on the floor and as they search for it their hands meet. They tell each other of their lives and their hopes for the future. Mimi explains that her rei name is Lucia and she embroiders silk and satin. They fall in love and hear his friends calling from the street below. They join them at the Cafe Momus, where Rodolfo buys her a pink bonnet. But, as the weeks go by, they quarrel because of his jealousy and his anxiety about her illness. Mimi explains all this to Marcello and she and Rodolfo say a sad farewell. When Mimi is dying, Musetta brings her to the attic again to Rodolfo. They reminisce about their time together—and the pink bonnet. Their friends all go out on various missions, in order to leave them together to reavow their love—but it is too late. Suddenly, they realize that Mimi is dead. Arias: Si. Mi chiamano Mimi (‘Yes. They call me Mimi'); Donde lieta usci (‘Back to the place I left’); duets (with Rodolfo); O soave fanciulla (‘Oh! Lovely girl!’); Sono andati? (‘Have they gone?'). Created (1896) by Cesira Ferrani (who had earlier created Puccini’s Manon and was chosen by Toscanini as the first Italian Melisande). It has been suggested that Puccini was in love with Ferrani, but as far as can be ascertained, it seems that she was herself in love with Toscanini.
Eminent Mimis over the years have included Alice Esty, Nellie Melba, Geraldine Farrar, Licia Albanese (a famous recording with Beniamino Gigli), Bidu Sayao, Grace Moore, Elsie Morison, Renata Tebaldi, Maria Callas, Victoria de los Angeles, Renato Scotto, Anna Moffo, Mirella Freni, Montserrat Caballe, Katia Ricciarelli, Kiri te Kanawa, Leontina Vaduva, and Angela Gheorghiu, a veritable roll-call of dramatic sopranos.

Si Mi chiamano Mimì - Renata Tebaldi

"Sì. Mi chiamano Mimì" - Anna Netrebko
Piotr Beczala, Rodolfo
Anna Netrebko, Mimì
Salzburger Festspiele 2012

Rodolfo:
 

Tenor. A poet who lives in poverty with his three bohemian friends, Marcello, Colline, and Schaunard, in a garret in the Latin Quarter of Paris. He decides to remain behind when his colleagues leave to spend Christmas Eve at the local Café Momus. As he writes his poetry, there is a knock at the door. Mimì, pale and fragile, is on her way to her own room and her candle has blown out—please will he relight it for her? Invited in, she has a fit of coughing and collapses in a chair, her candle and door‐key falling to the floor. Rodolfo revives her with some wine and they both search for the key on the floor. He finds it and surreptitiously slips it in his pocket. Their hands touch—hers are very cold—and their eyes meet. They tell each other who they are and what they do and then declare their love. They depart for the Café Momus where they join the others and Rodolfo buys Mimì a pink bonnet. Marcello's old love Musetta soon joins them. However, Rodolfo's jealousy and worry about Mimì's health cause many problems, and they decide they will be better apart. Months pass and Rodolfo misses his love. Then there is a knock at the door and Musetta arrives—she has brought the very sick Mimì to be with Rodolfo. The young couple reminisce about their past times together and declare their continued love. The others tactfully leave them together, but when they all return they realise, before Rodolfo does, that Mimì has died. Seeing their faces, it gradually sinks in and, sobbing, he throws himself on Mimì's lifeless body. Aria: Che gelida manina! (‘What an icy little hand!’—the famous ‘Your tiny hand is frozen’); duets (with Mimì): O soave fanciulla (‘Oh! lovely girl … in the moonlight!’); Sono andati? … Ah Mimì, mia bella Mimì (‘Have they gone? … Ah Mimì, my beautiful Mimì’). Created (1896) by Evan Gorga. He was ill for most of the rehearsal period and was, in fact, not good enough for the role, although chosen by Puccini. The music had to be transposed down for him and his career was short—he later did well as an antique dealer. Unusual is the Italianate tenor who does not want to sing this role. Among those who have shone in it are Alessandro Bonci, Fernando De Lucia, Aureliano Pertile, Dino Borgioli, Enrico Caruso (who sprang to international fame after singing the role opposite Nellie Melba at Monte Carlo in 1902), Giovanni Martinelli, Beniamino Gigli, Jan Peerce and Richard Tucker (brothers‐in‐law), Joseph Hislop, Ferruccio Tagliavini (who made his début in this role in Florence in 1939), Fritz Wunderlich (in German), Jussi Björling, Giuseppe Di Stefano (who recorded it opposite Maria Callas), Carlo Bergonzi, Nicolai Gedda, Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Jerry Hadley, and Roberto Alagna—to mention only the most famous.

G. Puccini - "La boheme" Act 3 "Addio"
(Netrebko - Beczala - Machaidze - Cavalletti) 2012

Marcello:


Baritone. A painter, who lives with three other bohemians in a garret in the Latin Quarter of Paris. He is working on a painting of the Red Sea. His relationship with Musetta, a grisette, has come to an end after much quarrelling and he knows she is seeing other men. After he and his friends have eaten and drunk their wine to celebrate Christmas Eve, they continue the evening at the popular Café Momus, together with Rodolfo's new-found love Mimì. There Marcello sees Musetta enter with her elderly rich escort. Pointedly trying to ignore each other, it is soon obvious that they are still in love. Musetta sends her escort on a wild goose chase and then joins the bohemians and leaves with them. In February she and Marcello are in a tavern, outside which now hangs his Red Sea painting. Mimì calls him from the inn—she tells him she can no longer stay with Rodolfo, whose jealousy is causing them much anguish. Rodolfo comes from the inn to look for Marcello and sees Mimì. Marcello returns inside and finds Musetta flirting with another man and this starts a furious quarrel. The tender farewells of the one couple merge with the raucous quarrel of the other pair. Back in the attic, Marcello is missing Musetta—once again they have parted and she has taken a wealthy patron. As the four friends cheer themselves up with some horse-play, Musetta arrives: Mimì is downstairs, too ill and weak to climb the stairs. Musetta gives Marcello her earrings to sell to raise money for food and medicine. When they all return, it is too late—Mimì is dead. Quartet (really a double-duet, Marcello and Musetta /Rodolfo and Mimì): Dunque è proprio finita? /Che facevi? (‘So it's really over?’/‘What were you doing?’). There have been many excellent singers of this Italian baritone role, among them Francesco Valentino, Giuseppe Taddei, John Brownlee (who made his Covent Garden début in this role in 1926 on the night of Dame Nellie Melba's farewell, taking over for the last two acts only), Robert Merrill, Rolando Panerai, Ettore Bastianini, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (in German), Tito Gobbi, Robert Merrill, Sherrill Milnes, Thomas Allen, and Anthony Michaels-Moore. Created (1896) by Tieste Wilmant (described by Puccini as ‘vile’ and ‘absolutely no good’).

G. Puccini - "La boheme" Act 4 Final (Netrebko - Beczala - Machaidze) 2012
Anna Netrebko - Mimì. Piotr Beczala - Rodolfo. Nino Machaidze -  Musetta. Massimo Cavalletti - Marcello. The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor - Daniele Gatti.

Colline:
 

Bass. A philosopher, one of the four bohemians who live together in a garret in Paris. Although he has no money, he is fond of expensive clothes and his most prized possession is his old but elegant overcoat. When Mimì is dying, he bids the coat farewell, thanking it for being faithful to him, before going out to sell it to buy medicine for her. This short aria has become justly famous. Aria: Vecchia zimarra, senti (‘Listen, my old coat’). Created (1896) by Michele Mazzara.

Schaunard:
 

Baritone. A musician, one of four bohemians. He arrives back at their garret on Christmas Eve with a supply of food—a herring and some bread—and a bottle of wine. In vain he tries to tell his friends how he earned the money from an eccentric Englishman: he was hired to play until the owner's parrot died! After three days he bribed a servant girl to give the bird a piece of poisoned parsley and the parrot obliged by dying, so he was able to stop playing but he had earned enough money to feed them all for Christmas. His efforts to explain all this are constantly interrupted by his colleagues, interested not so much in how he earned the money, but in the food and fuel it provides. In the last act, it is Schaunard who realizes that Mimì is dying, and who, at the end, whispers to Marcello that she is dead. Created (1896) by Antonio Pini‐Corsi (who had, in 1893, created Ford in Verdi's Falstaff and was to sing the first Happy in Puccini's La fanciulla del West at the New York Met in 1911).

Benoît:

 

Bass. Landlord of the house in whose attic live four bohemians. On Christmas Eve, as they celebrate with meagre rations and a bottle of wine, he calls to ask for his rent, which they cannot afford to pay. They ply him with wine and he boasts of his extra-marital conquests. They feign disgust at such behaviour in a married man and throw him out—the rent still unpaid. Created (1896) by Alessandro Polonini.

Alcindoro de Mittoneaux:

 

Bass. An old, pompous, but wealthy state councillor, an admirer of Musetta. He escorts her to the Café Momus, where she immediately attracts the attention of her old lover, Marcello. On the pretext that her shoe hurts, Alcindoro is sent to the cobbler to have it adjusted. He returns, his mission completed, to find that not only has she left with Marcello and his friends, but that they have left the bill for their meal for him to pay. Created (1896) by Alessandro Polonini.

Parpignol:

 

Tenor. A travelling toy‐seller, followed by the children in the Café Momus. Created (1896) by Dante Zucchi.

Musetta:

 

Soprano. A grisette who has been Marcello's lover. They have quarrelled and parted and she has found herself a new patron, the elderly but very wealthy Alcindoro. The bohemians come to the Café Momus on Christmas Eve, and there she and Marcello make a great play of not noticing each other, whilst she does her best to make sure he does notice her. Pretending that her shoe hurts, she sends Alcindoro to the cobbler to have it adjusted and then joins her old friends for supper. When the bill is presented they are horrified, but Musetta knows just what to do—she places it on Alcindoro's table together with his own account, and they all leave the restaurant before he returns. In a tavern near the Latin Quarter of Paris where they live, Musetta is flirting with another guest and Marcello is furious with her. They quarrel violently and their words (‘Viper! Toad! Witch!’) are in sharp contrast to the sad farewells which Rodolfo and Mimì are exchanging. So the two couples again part. But Mimì's health is deteriorating and, ill and weak, she is brought by Musetta to the attic to be with Rodolfo. Musetta takes off her earrings and sends Marcello to sell them to raise money for food and medicine, but it is too late. In this final scene, the other, tender, side of the flamboyant Musetta's nature comes to the fore. She gives Mimì her fur muff to keep her hands warm and then tells her it is from Rodolfo, and she gladly gives up her valuable jewellery to buy the necessary treatment for the sick girl—one might say she is the gold-digger with the heart of gold. Aria: Quando men vo soletto…(‘As I walk alone’); ens. (with Marcello and with Rodolfo and Mimì): Dunque è proprio finita? /Che facevi? (‘So it's really over?’ /‘What were you doing?’). Created (1896) by Camilla Pasini, considered ‘excellent’ by the composer. There have been many other excellent Musettas since then, including Hilde Gueden, Margherita Carioso, Anna Moffo, Graziella Sciutti, Ljuba Welitsch (there is a story that a prospective New York Mimì, hearing who was to be the Musetta, took to her heels and ran, unable to face the competition), Adèle Leigh, Dorothy Kirsten, Rita Streich, Elizabeth Harwood, Sona Ghazarian, Hildegard Behrens, Carol Neblett, Ashley Putnam, and Nancy Gustafson.

Synopsis

ACT I

The first act takes place in Paris on a Christmas Eve in the 1830’s. It is in the attic apartment of Rodolfo and Marcello, members of a quartet of happy-go-lucky, poverty-stricken Bohemians. As the scene opens, Marcello, an artist, is complaining to his friend Rodolfo, a poet, of the terrible cold. The fireplace having long been without fuel, Rodolfo gets a brilliant idea: he will use for kindling the paper on which he has written a five-act tragedy. Presently Colline, the philosopher member, enters, and warms himself at the meager grate. And lastly we meet the fourth member, Schaunard, the musician, who has mysteriously come by the means to buy food and wine. The four are reveling and at the height of joy, when Benoit, the landlord, makes his appearance and demands some young fellow whisks her off before Geronte knows what has happened. Lescaut (who has been playing cards instead of rent. He is, however, plied with wine and is soon pushed out rather roughly—and without his money. Schaunard, Marcello, and Colline thereupon depart for the Cafe Momus, leaving Rodolfo, who explains that he has an article to write.
 

A few moments later there is a timid knock at the door. It is a pretty young neighbor, whose candle has gone out. Rodolfo invites her to come in. Racked by a coughing spell, she sits down and has a sip of wine. Rodolfo relights her candle, and she leaves but returns a moment later because she seems to have dropped her key. Rodolfo gallantly searches for it? and as they grope in the darkness, the candles having gone out, Rodolfo grasps Mimi’s hand. This is the signal for the beautiful aria   Che gelida manina—“Thy tiny hand is frozen,” in which he tells about his way of life and his work. When he has finished, the girl answers in her equally celebrated aria, Mi chiamano Mimi—“They call me Mimi,” and goes on to describe her simple life as a seamstress. Rodolfo and Mimi are now quite in love, and when they hear their friends shouting to them from below, Rodolfo ceremoniously takes Mimi’s arm, and they leave to join the others at the Cafe Momus.
 

MARIA CALLAS – LA BOHEME – Studio 1956

Mimì – MARIA CALLAS
Rodolfo – GIUSEPPE DI STEFANO
Marcello – ROLANDO PANERAI
Schaunard – MANUEL SPATAFORA
Colline – NICOLA ZACCARIA
Musetta – ANNA MOFFO
Benoit / Alcindoro – CARLO BADIOLI
Parpignol – FRANCO RICCIARDI
Doganiere – ERALDO CODA

Sergente – CARLO FORTI

Teatro alla Scala 

ACT II
 

The second act takes place outside the Cafe Momus, where our Bohemian friends have taken a sidewalk table. A large part of the opening of this act is given over to a musical depiction of Gay Paree in the Latin Quarter on a Christmas Eve. Everyone is in a festive mood, and people are buying things they don’t really want. Rodolfo introduces his new girl friend to his friends, and presently a rich gentleman, named Alcindoro, and his gaily overdressed companion enter and occupy a table nearby. Now, the girl Alcindoro has brought is Musetta, and Musetta is the ex-girl-friend of Marcello, the painter. She is bored to tears with her rich, elderly admirer and tries desperately to pick up her old companion. First he will have none of her, but then she sings her famous waltz song, Quando m’en vo’ soletta per la via—a frankly self-adulatory bit—and Marcello is lost.
 

Suddenly Musetta screams: her shoe, she says, is pinching her—which is her device to get rid of Alcindoro for a few minutes. When he has hustled off to find another pair of shoes, she joins the Bohemians and has a fine time. Now a patrol marches by; street urchins follow behind them; and last of all, the procession is joined by the Bohemians and their two girlfriends. And so, when Alcindoro returns, he finds he has lost a girl and has inherited, in her place, the enormous bill the others have run up at the cafe.


 

Giacomo Puccini - La Boheme -  La Scala - 1965
Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra: Milan La Scala Orchestra

Colline: Vinco, Ivo
Marcello: Panerai, Rolando
Mimi: Freni, Mirella
Musetta: Martino, Adriana
Rodolfo: Raimondi, Gianni
Schaunard: Maffeo, Gianni

Act III

It is a bitter cold February morning at one of the gates of Paris. Workers demand—and finally get—admission from the police, and Puccini’s excellent atmospheric music almost makes one shiver with the cold. Poor Mimi, very HI, summons Marcello from the inn where he lives with Musetta. She tells the painter piteously about her constant bickering with the jealous Rodolfo, who even now is in the tavern, having left Mimi after a quarrel. When he emerges, she hides behind a tree and overhears her lover tell Marcello how desperately ill Mimi is, and how it would be wise for them to separate.

Suddenly he hears her cough and turns to her compassionately, while Marcello rushes indoors, for he hears Musetta laughing and suspects she is again flirting with another man. In her touching aria Addio, senza rancor Mimi bids Rodolfo farewell; and in the heartbreaking duet that follows they think that in the springtime they can be together again. But the duet grows into a quartet as Marcello and Musetta bring their quarrel out of doors. The contrasting notes of the quarreling couple and the sentimental one are worked up into a marvelous ending for the act—one of the finest quartets in all of Italian opera.
And before it is over, Rodolfo and Mimi have decided to remain together, while the other couple is definitely separated.

G. Puccini - La Boheme

ACT IV
 

In the final act we are once more in the attic studio of Marcello and Rodolfo. The painter is trying to paint, the poet to write. But it is no use. They cannot get their minds off Musetta and Mimi, from whom they are again separated, as they sing the duet Ah, Mimi tu piii non tomi. The whole atmosphere changes when their friends Colline and Schaunard turn up with a windfall of food. The four of them now act just like children: they play they are at a banquet; they dance comical dances; and two of them engage in a mock duel. But the merriment is just as suddenly stopped when Musetta enters. She has with her their old friend Mimi, and Mimi, she tells them, is obviously dying. Quickly the poor girl is brought in and laid gently on the bed. As she speaks quietly to Rodolfo, saying how cold she is, the others do their best to help. Musetta tells Marcello to sell her earrings to get a cordial and the services of a doctor. Colline, in a touching little aria (Vecchia    zhnarra), bids farewell to his overcoat, which he goes out to sell.
 

At last the two lovers are left alone, and they sing sadly of their former happiness. Mimi, weakening, goes to sleep, and when the others return, Musetta prepares some medicine and breathes a quiet, intense prayer. As Rodolfo goes to hang Mimi's cloak over the window to keep out the light, Schaunard examines her more closely and notes, horror-struck, that she is already dead. At first no one dares tell Rodolfo. But he sees the expressions on their faces, and with a despairing cry of “Mimi, Mimi!” he rushes across the room and flings himself down beside the body of the girl he had loved desperately.
 

Giacomo Puccini: La Bohème.
Live at Salzburger Festspiele 2012. Director: Daniele Gatti
Anna Netrebko (Mimi)
Piotr Beczala (Rodolfo)
Nino Machaidze (Musetta)
Massimo Cavalletti (Marcello)
Alessio Arduini (Schaunard)