Who are the Dissenters and Rebels of opera? In celebration of our 2018/19 Season, we took a tour through opera history to find seven examples of individuals who upended societal expectations, charted their own course, or inspired others to imagine the world anew. To kick off our Dissenters & Rebels Series, we turn first to the story of poor artists living and loving in 19th-century Paris.
REBELS & DISSENTERS:
The LA BOHÈME Edition
Puccini’s classic opera of six young friends is irresistible, romantic, compelling—and also a great examples of early counterculture. Puccini based his opera on the novella Scènes de la Vie de Bohème by Henri Murger, inspired by Murger’s own experience living in the Latin Quarter of Paris as a young adult. It was a time of great social change. The population of Paris had exploded by 40% in the first few decades of the 19th century, as people moved from the countryside in search of jobs; Napoleon was defeated in 1815; many youth rejected the middle-class values of their parents; the June Rebellion of 1832 struck out against the monarchy and failed (events that inspired the later novel and musical Les Misérables). Amidst all of this upheaval, a bohemian underclass of artists and thinkers flourished in Paris.
In the opera, the characters Rodolfo, Marcello, Schaunard, and Colline are artists and intellectuals sharing an unheated garret (sound like anyone else’s first apartment out of college?). Mimì, a seamstress, and Musetta, a singer, are young women living on their own and striving in different ways to support themselves. All of them have big dreams, living a bohemian life far from the bourgeois expectations of society (and, we’re guessing, their parents). “I’m a poet,” Rodolfo tells Mimì in Act I. “In my happy poverty I squander like a prince / my poems and songs of love.”
Throughout the opera, characters fall passionately in love; argue bitterly; and try to reconcile their idealism with the heartbreak of real life. In short, they grow up.
(Don’t know the opera? Check out this handy 4-minute plot summary.)
It’s a story of that brief and beautiful time in life when independence is thrillingly new, possibilities are endless, and love is just about to knock on your door, looking for a light. No matter if it’s set in the 19th century, re-imagined in the 1960s, or transformed into a rock musical set in the East Village, it’s a story for the wild ones, the bohemians—the rebels—who live in all of us.
Image: Jesus Garcia as Rodolfo and Kelly Kaduce as Mimì in BLO's 2015 production, which was set during the Paris student protests of 1968. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
BLO Emerging Artists alumni Neal Ferreira and David Cushing, backstage at Tanglewood before their Summer 2018 performance of La Bohème, Ferreira as Parpignol and Cushing as the Customs Sergeant.
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