La Bohème

December 6, 2014

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The word bohemia entered the modern lexicon through Honoré de Balzac, who coined the term in the first half of the 19th century in reference to the urban communities of artists, writers and intellectuals, whose lifestyle was avant-garde and unconventional. Because of their stalwart commitment to the arts and intellectual pursuits, the bohemians lacked stable employment and generally struggled to survive. Balzac compared them to gypsies and since most gypsies hailed from Bohemia, a region in the Czech Republic, a new meaning of the word was born.

 

However, if the term became so hackneyed during the course of the twentieth century, it was not because of Balzac, but because of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Bohème”, currently being staged in the London Coliseum. Puccini does not glamourize the bohemian lifestyle and accurately portrays the many hardships faced by the artists, intellectuals and their loved ones. The highlights were the moment when the poet Rodolfo first falls in love with the seamstress Mìmi at the end of Act I and Musetta’s aria in Act II.

 

The nascent passion and unabashed frivolity of these moments stand in direct contrast to the helpless disquietude of the final act. The sad ending just left me with a bitter aftertaste similar to what I experienced at the end of Miss Saigon. The sight of a young woman dying helplessly on a worn out armchair, accompanied by her lover and yet feeling entirely abandoned, evoked a lingering feeling of stoic loneliness that eclipsed all that came before, compromising my ability to review the opera in any meaningful detail.

 

Oh, but I adamantly refuse to end this on a sad note. So here’s an amusing anecdote to wash away the bitterness. Towards the end of Act III, one kid turns to his sibling and says, “This is real boring! Let’s start clapping at a random moment and see if people join us!” His younger brother mischievously acquiesces. Rapturous applause then reverberates throughout the theater, but the two kids are the only ones clapping. God bless the intrepid courage of youth, may it never fade away.

 

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