Saturday, October 18, 2014

Puccini - La Boheme and Rent

One thing that Dr. Labruyere emphasized to the cast of Rent when we were learning about the show and our characters was that Rent was based off of one of Puccini's most famous operas, La Boheme. Dr. Labruyere gave the cast a detailed history of how the two related, and it was so interesting to see how closely Rent follows the original show.

The first similarity between the two shows is that both Rent and La Boheme are operas. When we think of operas and opera singers we usually imagine something like this:

The above link and picture are both from the opera La Boheme, which is what we would consider a "normal opera".  I'm pretty sure I remember everyone in our class, teachers included, seeing Rent. (THANK YOU! You guys are the best!) I'm pretty sure you weren't sitting there during the show thinking "wow, what a great opera." However, it is important to remember the basic definition of an opera - an opera is a show in which everything is sung. If you remember from Rent, there were very few spoken words. The way that information was given to the audience and the way the characters conversed was through song. Rent is therefore considered a rock opera.

Much of the music from Rent is based off of La Boheme's music. There are a few themes, such as Musetta's Waltz, that are repeated throughout Rent's music. Below is a link to Musetta's Waltz:

And here is a link to Musetta's Waltz being played in the song La Vie Boheme from Rent (go to the time 6:45):

The characters in Rent are also directly based off of the characters in Puccini's La Boheme. Below are the character's names and hobbies in La Boheme next to their counterpart in Rent (La Boheme on the left, Rent on the right):

Marcello, a painter = Mark, a videographer (Videos "paint a picture" through image)
Rodolfo, a poet = Rodger, a songwriter (poetry = lyrics of song)
Mimí, a seamstress = Mimi, a dancer
Musetta, a singer = Maureen, a singer/performer
Schaunard, a musician = Angel Dumott Schaunard, a street performer/drummer
Colline, a philosopher = Collins, a computer aged philospher
Benoît, the landlord = Benny, the landlord

Finally, the plot in La Boheme and Rent are crazily similar. La Boheme is about a group of struggling artists living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1830s, during the Tuberculosis crisis. Rent is about a group of struggling artists living in New York in the late 1900s, during the height of the AIDS crisis. In both of these shows, the artists are called "bohemians", which according to, is a person, as an artist or writer, who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices." In the interest of time, I'm not going to go through the whole plot of La Boheme versus Rent, but they are shockingly similar. Many of the same events occur in both shows. They are, of course, somewhat different, but Rent is very closely based off of La Boheme.


Anonymous said...

PS: I have no idea why that picture looks weird. It didn't before I posted it.

Joe D said...

While the two operas share obvious similarities, I think it the difference in their endings is worth mentioning.
Puccini's "La Bohème" closes with the death of Mimì, and Rodolfo is left emotionally shattered. Conversely, Larson's "Rent" ends with Mimì coming back to life after a near-death experience, and hope is restored to the other characters.
I believe Larson closed his in such a way to emphasize his hope for the eventual end of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and the AIDS crisis. "Rent" was performed first in 1994, 13 years after the first case of AIDS was documented by the CDC. Immediately after the disease's discovery, media sensationalists labelled it with the misnomer "GRID" (Gay-Related Immune Deficiency). Another name they used was "gay cancer." Larson was obviously moved by the horrible light the the homosexual community was put under.
In this way, Larson's musical/opera is a social statement and a call for more extensive medical research.