The activities in this guide address several aspects of La Bohème:
Puccini’s use of vocal and instrumental music to depict his central characters and their relationship;
The recurrence of musical themes in the opera; and
The opera as a unified work of art, involving a wide range of creative decisions by the composer, the librettist, and the artists of the Metropolitan Opera.
The guide seeks not only to acquaint students with La Bohème, but also to encourage them to think more broadly about opera—and the performing arts in general—as a means of personal and philosophical expression. Little prior knowledge is required for the activities.
Getting to Know You
Six characters feature prominently in La Bohème—four roommates in a garret on the Left Bank of Paris, and two women, the on-and-off girlfriends of two of these men. The plot is simple: As their friends look on and comment, the two couples fall in love, out of love, and back in love again until, at the end, one of the women dies. Through this simple scenario, Puccini depicts personalities and interpersonal relationships in intricate detail. In this activity, students will examine his precise musical craftsmanship as they meet Rodolfo, the artist, and Mimì, his adorable but sickly girlfriend. Students will:
listen closely to two related arias;
consider the implications of Puccini’s choices of tone, tempo, dynamics, and orchestration;
independently assess the personalities of two characters; and
try their hand at creating their own character introductions in prose.
Musetta and Marcello – The Remix
Giacomo Puccini was a master at constructing compact yet complex scenes in which many characters interact and comment upon one another. He would interlace fragments of conversation, melody, and harmony with great precision, all the while moving the scene steadily and efficiently toward its climax. Your students may be familiar with the use of similar techniques in contemporary music video, where storylines are often fractured and re-edited to powerful dramatic effect. This activity invites them to:
- explore structural and editing options in dramatic storytelling;
- examine the detailed weave of a scene composed by Puccini; and
- acquaint themselves with the complexity and purpose of Puccini’s music in advance of the Met’s Live in HD transmission of La Bohème.