La Bohème at the Bolshoi

“The Bohemian world — bold and challenging, the Bohemia of carefree poverty, of tender kisses, stolen surreptitiously from the moist, pink lips of some young girl... a company of artist-friends, inspired by great ideals and big appetites or of long-haired poets in badly-fitting coats, always in search of their fortune and of the pretty faces of innocent young girls”, — it was into this world, the world of his youth, that Puccini was plunged when composing his opera. The picture of Paris given in La Bohème, for all the concrete place names and locations mentioned in the scenario, turns out to be in large part a convention: the composer was even reproached for lack of local color, “the air of the Seine, the smell of the gutters and pancakes of the Latin Quarter” were missing. However, showing through the mask of the French capital in the opera, are Milan, and St.-Petersburg, and Moscow — every listener, every interpreter have memories of their own and, thanks to the marvelous atmosphere created, a total visual and oral illu­sion is achieved. It is an atmosphere of youth and high-spirits, permeated by a bewitching sensuality.

La Bohème owes its appearance at the Bolshoi Theatre to its popularity with the public (the opera had had its first per­formance at Zimin’s Theatre in 1897 and had been in the repertory of the Mariinsky Theatre since 1900), and to the per­sonal initiative of Leonid Sobinov, who chose it for his debut as producer at the Theatre in 1911. Sobinov commissioned a new translation of the scenario specially for the production: the excessive naturalism and coarse expressions of the exist­ing version were not to his liking.

The endless joking which helps the artists keep the cold at bay gives way to the avowals of lovers; noisy merrymaking — to angry explanations. It is difficult to think of a better con­structed plot. This life, full of dreams and hopes, is just what the public, who loves to fantasize and cry at the slightest tri­fle, craves for and, at the end of the opera, sobbing is inevitable.