Giacomo Puccini

La bohème, opera

    Description by Jennifer Hambrick

    It was perhaps a common interest in the nineteenth century cultural fad of Bohemianism that led Giacomo Puccini and his contemporary Ruggiero Leoncavallo to decide to compose operas on the theme of Parisian starving artists. Whatever the initial catalysts, an 1893 meeting of the two composers, in which Puccini casually mentioned his La bohème project, induced the composers to publish in the Milanese press notices in which each laid a claim of priority to the subject. The validity of Puccini's claim is by no means certain. Nevertheless, although contemporary critics received Puccini's La bohème coolly after its premiere under Arturo Toscanini in Turin on February 1, 1896, it was a hit with the public, and has endured as a favorite in the operatic repertoire.

    La bohème was the first libretto for Puccini on which Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa collaborated. By 1893, Puccini was considering composing an opera on Henri Murger's novel Scènes de la vie de bohème. Murger's work, originally published (1845-1849) as a series of stories in a French journal, led an intermediary existence as a stage play before being transformed into a novel. Murger's novel enjoyed a favorable reception in Italy shortly after its initial publication and first translation into Italian in 1859.

    Some of Puccini's loveliest lyrical moments grace La bohème. Rodolfo's first aria "Che gelida manina" in Act One, introduces a primarily conjunct melody of touching simplicity, conveying the innocence of pure love. This melody returns at the end of Act One, as Mimì and Rodolfo exit, and again, in Act Four as Mimì, on her deathbed, reminisces with Rodolfo on their first encounter. Puccini's debt to Wagner's leitmotivic procedure is also evident in his association of the music from Mimì's Act One aria "Mi chiamo Mimì," with Mimì herself, when it accompanies her later entrance in Act Three. This technique of associating music with characters incorporates timbral as well as thematic elements. The magical, sustained string instrumentation for the second-inversion D major triad that announces Mimì's entrance in Act One is also the principal color in the orchestral accompaniment of her signature aria. Classic Puccinian orchestration and harmonic language mark the depiction of daybreak that opens Act Three. Here, flutes in parallel fifths peck out a modal melody, punctuated at phrase ends by subtle, sustained upper strings over tremolo cellos. A harp solo adds a delicate brilliance to the sparse orchestral palette and foreshadows the hazy timbre of the off-stage women's chorus. Puccini's expressive use of the orchestra is linked most intimately with the drama in Act Four. After Schaunard tells Marcello of Mimì's death, the orchestra drops out, leaving only a sustained A in the double bass to convey a sense of dramatic expectation and musical continuity. Even the soloists leave their songful world for one of spoken declamation until the orchestra explodes with C sharp minor triads in the brass, reflecting Rodolfo's realization of Mimì's death and accompanying his anguished cries.

    Parts/Movements

    1. No. 1a, Questo mar rosso
    2. No. 1b, Nei cieli bigi
    3. No. 1c, Pensier profondo! Giusto color!
    4. No. 1d, Legna! Sigari! Bordo!
    5. No. 1e, Si puo? Chi e la? Benoit!
    6. No. 1f, Io resto per terminar l'articolo
    7. No. 1g, Non sono in vena. Chi e la?
    8. No. 1h, Si sente meglio? Si. Qui ce tanto freddo
    9. No. 2, Che gelida manina
    10. No. 3, Si. Mi chiamano Mimi
    11. No. 4, O soave fanciulla
    12. No. 5, Aranci, datteri!
    13. No. 6a, Chi guardi?
    14. No. 6b, Eccoci qui!
    15. No. 7a, Come un facchino
    16. No. 7b, Quando me'n vo' soletta la via [Musetta's Waltz]
    17. No. 8, Ohe, la, le guardie
    18. No. 9, Mimi?!... Speravo di trovarvi
    19. No. 10a, Marcello... Finalmente
    20. No. 10b, Mimi è una civetta
    21. No. 11, Donde lieta usci
    22. No. 12, Addio dolce svegliare
    23. No. 13a, In un coupe?
    24. No. 13b, O Mimi, tu più non torni
    25. No. 14, Che ora sia?
    26. No. 15, Musetta!... C'e Mimi
    27. No. 16, Vecchia zimarra
    28. No. 17a, Sono andati?
    29. No. 17b, Torno al nido
    30. No. 17c, Oh Dio! Mimi!

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon 4798418
    2018 Warner Classics
    2017 RCA Red Seal 88985376042
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795553
    2015 ZYX ZYX 59030
    2015 ZYX Classics CLABOX 039
    2014 Saifam 10032
    2014 Warner Classics 634107
    2013 Decca 4785437
    2013 EMI Classics
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099972356
    2012 Arte Verum ARV 200
    2012 Naxos 8506028
    2012 Opera Australia OPOZ 56019CD
    2012 IDIS 66323
    2012 Decca 4783452
    2012 Archipel ARPCD 0487
    2012 Bongiovanni HOC 06869
    2012 Decca
    2011 Opus KURA OPK 7058/59
    2011 RCA Red Seal 7840142
    2011 Sony Classical / Sony Classics 88697804632
    2011 Alto ALC 2017
    2010 Erato 256468017-9
    2010 Digital
    2009 ZYX Music 10079
    2009 RCA Red Seal 88697 57902-2
    2009 Documents / Documents Classics 231848
    2009 Myto Records MCD 00313
    2009 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 5099996677
    2009 Document / Documents Classics 223247
    2008 IDIS 6530/31
    2008 Gala Records 100801
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921546
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 Music & Art WHRA 6020
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921589
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 004400734300
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 0734417
    2008 Decca 001064502
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 0011219
    2008 Decca 001206600
    2008 Telarc Distribution 80697
    2008 Telarc Distribution 60697
    2008 EMI Classics / EMI Music Distribution 5677502
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal Music
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4776600
    2008 GOP Great Opera Performances 66376
    2008 Decca
    2008 Decca 4759404
    2007 BRV 9810
    2007 BRV 9905
    2007 BRV BRV 9901
    2007 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 0946395918
    2007 Warner Classics
    2007 Golden Melodram 60020
    2007 EMI Classics
    2007 EMI Classics 91998
    2007 BRV 9807
    2006 RCA 82621
    2006 Warner Classics
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 67715
    2006 EMI Music Distribution 58650
    2005 RCA Victor Red Seal / RCA Red Seal / Sony BMG 70784
    2005 DS Classics 37500
    2005 Preiser Records 20039
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon / Universal
    2005 Brilliant 92429
    2005 Cascavelle 3014
    2004 IDIS 6437/8
    2004 Decca 473 997-210DC9
    2003 Opera D'Oro 7001
    2003 Aura Classics 1094
    2003 Decca 000047536
    2003 Decca 473045
    2003 Warner Music 3984216672
    2002 Angel Records 67753
    2002 Phonographe 5071
    2002 Opera D'Oro 1332
    2002 Pearl 0165
    2002 Warner Fonit 87270
    2001 Opera D'Oro 5005
    2001 Myto Records 11240
    2001 Naxos 8 1100723
    2001 Golden Melodram 60004
    2001 Opera D'Oro 5002
    2000 Arkadia 78036
    2000 Dux Records 03310332
    2000 Grammofono 2000 78906
    2000 Decca 464 060-2DHO2
    2000 Golden Melodram 50038
    1999 VAI Audio 1188
    1999 Decca 466070
    1999 Philips 416492
    1999 EMI/Black Dog 19297
    1998 Grammofono 2000 78785
    1998 RCA 63179
    1998 BMG 1394962
    1998 RCA 57736
    1998 Chandos 3008
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453109
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 556295-2
    1997 Sony Music Distribution MH2K62762
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 56236
    1997 Opera D'Oro 1143
    1996 Vox 5156
    1996 Arkadia 78009
    1996 London 448 725-2DF2
    1996 EMI Classics 56120
    1996 VAI Audio 1119
    1996 Preiser Records 90275
    1995 Bongiovanni 1125
    1995 Madacy 7600
    1995 Erato 10699
    1995 Madacy 5101
    1994 Philips 442260
    1994 Nimbus 7862/3
    1994 VAI Audio 1078
    1994 Naxos 660003
    1994 Gega New 166
    1993 London 440233
    1993 ZYX Music 4601
    1991 RCA 60288
    1991 London 425534
    1991 Erato 45311
    1987 London 421049
    1987 EMI Music Distribution 747475
    1987 Decca
    1987 EMI Music Distribution 47475
    1986 EMI Music Distribution 47235
    1979 Decca 4782494
    Minerva Records 24
    UNT College of Music
    Discover 920107
    RCA 3969
    EMI Music Distribution 65986
    Golden Age of Opera 147
    Verona Records 27079
    Foyer Records 2017
    Artists 15
    Great Opera Performances 743
    Opera Italia 1
    EMI Music Distribution 4708
    Standing Room Only 821
    Fonit-Cetra Italia 30
    6w 1
    Enterprise 015
    Melodram 27031
    Enterprise 4112
    Koch Schwann 315922
    6w 01
    RCA 0371
    Madacy 7601/1-2
    Cetra 30
    Deutsche Grammophon 4775618
    G.Z. Classics 390
    Bongiovanni 1057
    Palladio 4215
    Grammofono 2000 78854
    Decca 470431
    Deutsche Grammophon 423601
    Black Dog Records 83
    EMI Music Distribution 76921
    Le Monde de l'Opera 03
    Erato 75450
    Legato Classics 201
    Arkadia 953