Puccini's 'La Boheme': Bohemians with a Small 'b'

WOO-1306-boheme-300Over time, the word "Bohemian" has come to mean many different things -- some simple, and some a bit more complicated.

In music, the simple side of that spectrum is illustrated in works such as Bedrich Smetana's popular orchestral score "From Bohemia's Meadows and Forests." Smetana was born not far from Prague, the capital of historic Bohemian. So the composer and his music are, literally, "Bohemian" -- with a capital "B."

On the musical flip side, there are works such as Bizet's opera Carmen. Bizet himself was French, and his opera is set in Spain. But in the libretto, the title character is described as a "bohémienne" -- not because of her nationality, but because of her lifestyle.

A more contemporary take on things "bohemian" can be found in the hit number "La vie boheme" ("The Bohemian Life"), from Jonathan Larson's Rent -- one of the longest running Broadway musicals of all time, and a show that grossed nearly 300 million dollars.

The characters in that show live in New York -- not Bohemia. But they're the sort of people who are often called bohemian: They live an unconventional lifestyle, with few commitments, while gathering together in loosely formed communities, often in pursuit of lofty, artistic ideals. And that leads us to the inspiration for Larson's musical -- a show that's had people lining up at the box office for a lot longer than Rent.

Giacomo Puccini based his fourth opera on a French book called Scenes from Bohemian Life. The opera is sung in Italian, and set in Paris. But as Bizet showed us with Carmen, and Puccini poignantly confirmed in La Boheme, bohemians can be found wherever a group of eager young idealists live lives that both defy, and embrace, the struggles and passions that surround them.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents La Boheme from one of opera's most unusual venues. It's the appropriately named Théâtre Antique -- a two-thousand-year-old theater at the Chorégies d'Orange Festival, in Orange, France. The stars are soprano Inva Mula as Mimi and tenor Vittorio Grigolo as Rodolfo, with soprano Nicola Beller Carbone as Musetta, in a production led by conductor Myung-Whun Chung.