I enjoyed La Bohème when I saw it at the Royal Opera House last year, and when I found out that John Copley’s legendary production would be retired after this year, I decided to attend this pre-performance talk to find out more about it. The talk was delivered by Dr Alexandra Wilson, an expert in the opera, and not knowing much about Puccini or the background to the work, I found it really interesting.
The author of the work on which La Bohème was based, Henri Murger, was 38 when he died and Wilson suggested that when Puccini composed his work he was sad at the prospect of turning 40 and growing old in general. Unlike Murger, who died poor, Puccini was far from penniless, his previous works having brought him success. The composer reused one of his own early student compositions in the work, a nod to his earlier youth. La Bohème was written in a different style from many previous operatic works, with a more continuous, flowing style than traditional operas.
Wilson touched on the success of the current production, which has been performed since 1974. There is strong interest in what the new production will be like when it premiers in a few years’ time. Will it be traditional or modern in style? One example of a new production played the whole thing as a flashback in the mind of Mimi, who is dying from cancer in hospital. It will be interesting to see what kind of production eventually emerges.