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OPERA IS ALIVE and well. I recently enjoyed three remotely viewed productions of Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème, one from 1977, another from 1981, and the third—the most bohemian—a 2020 production. Here in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow are tidbits about these contrasting productions. 

The Ur Bohème. The world premiere of La Bohème was in Turin on February 1, 1896, with 28-year-old Arturo Toscanini conducting. The first U.S. production was in October 1897, in Los Angeles. The Metropolitan Opera’s first performance came on December 26, 1900, with Nellie Melba as Mini. 

An original 1896 poster by Adolfo Hohenstein.

Seamstress Mimi falls in love with poet Rodolfo, who rooms with painter Marcello, musician Schaunard, and philosopher Colline. Singer Musetta is Marcello’s girlfriend, the sixth these 1830s’ Parisian bohemians.

Varied Settings for Our Bohemians. La Bohème is one of the most popular of operas. It’s often performed around Christmas time, what with its Acts 1 and 2 taking place on Christmas Eve. 

In his essay “Stage Design in the History of the European Theatre,” Heinz Bruno Gallée writes of Opera in general: “It has always been a question of taste where to draw the line between clarity and over-precision….While some have relied on historical accuracy, others have employed artefacts or abstract forms. But at all times the harmonious fusion of the elements has served to establish a symbolic representation of the world in which the action is set.”

These three La Bohèmes illustrate the variety of choices.

Bohème on the Telly, 1977. As described by Jim Pritchard in, November 5, 2020, “… the Nightly Met Opera Stream had as their Viewers’ Choice recently a La Bohème with—in a starry cast—one of the greatest tenors of all time, Luciano Pavarotti. This performance from 1977 was notable in that it was the first time an opera had been shown live from the Met on public TV.”

The bohemians’ Parisian garret; the 1977 Met production of La Bohème, Act 1.

By today’s TV production standards, this 1977 Bohème was relatively static in its staging, with settings historically appropriate, if tending toward the minimal.

Rodolfo (Luciano Pavarotti) and Mimi (Renata Scotto) express mutual admiration in the 1977 Met production.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll see contrasting Bohèmes as envisioned by Franco Zeffirelli and Pacific Opera Project. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021  

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