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Cheat sheet:
La Bohème

Everything you need to know about the original bohemian love story

This article was first published by Opera Australia

La Bohème in a nutshell

Flurries of snow on Sydney Harbour

Opera Australia bring two world famous landmarks together in their newest production of La Bohème.
Opera Australia's 2018 production of La Bohème on Sydney Harbour. Image: Prudence Upton

This production is...

... a spectacular affair created especially for the famous harbour-top stage at Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour. 

Director Andy Morton has set Mimi and Rodolfo’s romantic awakening amid the political awakening of Paris during the 1960s

It was a restless, joyous, idealistic period, an ideal canvas for an opera concerned with art, love and poverty. 

Designer Dan Potra has created a wintry wonderland on Sydney Harbour, with all the romance of a snow-kissed Parisian streetscape. Video projections conjure up the famous landmarks of Paris as well as graphic poster art from the period. 

The costumes reflect the changing mood of Parisian society: elegant and refined period costumes make way for the fun shapes, bold colours and bright patterns of the late 1960s. 

The costumes

Dan Potra's costume sketch for Mimi.
Iulia Maria Dan as Mimi. Image: Prudence Upton.
Dan Potra's costume sketch for Parpignol.
Simon Gilkes as Parpignol. Image: Prudence Upton.
Dan Potra's costume sketch for Museta.
Dan Potra's costume sketch for Alcindoro.
Julie Lea Goodwin as Musetta and John Bolton Wood as Alcindro. Image: Prudence Upton
Giacomo Puccini at the piano. Image: Alinari Archives, Milan

Who was the composer?

Born in Tuscany in 1858, Puccini was an Italian composer who took Verdi’s crown as the most prominent composer of Italian opera in his day. Renowned for his love affairs, Puccini left a trail of broken hearts across Italy, but also left us music lovers ten beautiful operas, three of which are regularly in the top ten operas performed around the world.

What's Puccini's signature sound?

Puccini’s music is sweeping, uplifting, enchanting and always intensely moving. His real genius, however, was to combine that music with stories about ordinary people.

The composer himself once said his success was due to putting “great sorrows in little souls”.

Puccini died after a heart attack in 1924.

Something to listen out for

Composer Giacomo Puccini sets the scene with music, so listen out for sound effects. At the beginning of Act III as snow begins to fall on stage, the flutes and the harp take up a beautiful melody. Soak it up—it captures the feeling of fresh snowflakes on cold noses.

'Musetta’s Waltz' is a standout in the score. You might know the 1959 Della Reese pop song, 'Don’t You Know', based on Musetta’s famous tune. It was also the theme song for the film Moonstruck and is often referenced in movies, television programs and advertisements.

Opera Australia's 2018 production of La Bohème on Sydney Harbour. Image: Prudence Upton
Iulia Maria Dan and Ho-Yoon Chung in Opera Australia's 2018 Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour — La Bohème. Image: Prudence Upton

What happens in the story?

A poet, a painter, a musician and a philosopher walk into a bar (no, really!) to celebrate a sudden windfall in a lean winter. It’s Christmas Eve, and the poet has just felt the first pangs of great love. When a seamstress knocks on his door searching for candlelight, the pair falls in love faster than she can sing “Yes, they call me Mimì...”

Between the ideals of love and art and the cruel realities of cold winters, bitter jealousies and empty pockets, two sets of lovers are trying to find their way.

By the time the curtain falls, you’ll know the answer to an eternal question: Is love enough?

Opera Australia's 2018 production of La Bohème on Sydney Harbour. Image: Prudence Upton

A little history

The librettists Illica and Giacosa adapted a popular novel (then play) by Henri Murger about Bohemian life in 1840s Paris. Puccini began working on the opera, enraging a fellow composer, Leoncavallo, who claimed to have been working on a similar libretto first! Puccini declined to cease writing, saying, “Let him compose, and I will compose. The public will judge.” They did. Leoncavallo’s version is all but forgotten.

Puccini's new opera premièred in Turin in 1896 and after a mixed reception, it became a runaway success. By 1900, it had been performed in many of the leading opera houses across Europe and the Americas by some of the stars of the day. Dame Nellie Melba sang Mimi for the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

The young Arturo Toscanini conducted the world première.


An original poster for La Bohème, illustrated by Adolfo Hohenstein and published in 1895.
Opera Australia's 2018 production of La Bohème on Sydney Harbour. Image: Hamilton Lund

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