The imitations of La bohѐme

19 July 2022

La bohѐme is one of the most loved classics in opera and is a repertoire staple in many opera houses around the world. Before this classic tale of doomed lovers returns to WNO this Autumn, we decided to take a look at the impact and lasting effect that Mimì and Rodolfo have left on popular culture.

Perhaps the best known adaptation, Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent follows a similar tragic tale, but instead of Parisienne streets, we witness the love affair of Mimi Márquez and Roger Davis within the East Village of Manhattan. While many characters feature a similar name to their 19th century counterparts, the similarities don’t end there. Exchanging tuberculosis for AIDS, Larson pulled the story into the late 20th century, modernising it to play on the HIV panic of the 1980s and 1990s.

 Also drawn from Puccini’s composition, the song ‘Light My Candle’, sang during Roger’s hesitation when meeting Mimi, draws melodic content directly from ‘Che gelida manina’ (‘Your Tiny Hand is Frozen'). More famously, ‘Quando me’n vo’, also known as ‘Musetta’s Waltz’ is regularly referenced within the music of Rent, as well as its script. The character Maureen, based on Musetta, sings a parallel of the waltz as she describes how people watch her as she walks through the streets. The character Roger’s songwriting is dismissed by his roommate Mark, who says that his song ‘doesn’t remind us of ‘Musetta’s Waltz’.’

The Simpsons has a reputation for inadvertently telling the future, but we’re unsure if we’ll see a famous opera singer who can only preform while lying down, like Homer does in the episode The Homer of Seville. In the episode, following the discovery of his substantial operatic talent, but only while lying on his back, Homer performs the role of Rodolfo in La bohѐme, performed at the strangely familiar Springfield Opera House.

Famously using Puccini’s glimpse of bohemian life as inspiration, Baz Luhrmann’s sprawling Moulin Rouge tells the doomed tale of love in early 20th century Paris. The obvious parallel being the star performer, Satine’s doomed fate at the hands of consumption, even as Mimì succumbed to the disease. Luhrmann drew from a range of classical stories in the creation of the 2001 film, including the ill-fated myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the plot bears similarities to the opera La traviata.

While we love the musicals, films and television we’ve mentioned above, we don’t think they compare to Puccini’s original masterpiece. If you’d like to catch it for yourself during our Autumn Season, book now in Cardiff, Llandudno, Plymouth, Birmingham, Southampton and Oxford.