Sunday, May 12, 2013

La Boheme RENT

Oh my world it’s been more than a week that I haven’t posted. But this is just like when I wrote the Vesselina Kasarova posts and had such a wonderful response from everybody and then didn’t know if I could write something as good as that. So I’d like to start off by saying a huge thank you to everybody who read, commented, send me messages, it was really such a terrific surprise. Because I really thought no one would bother to read it because it was so long.
Well anyways, my life is completely upside down, everything is happening at the same time. I’m moving, which is wonderful but so stressful, having tests in college, that is just stressful really, trying to go to the gym and eat well plus studying like crazy.
As some of you know I’m getting my minor degree in music this year, and here in Brasil it’s a requirement to write a thesis on something that is connected to your course. Since I spend the majority of my course focusing on musical theatre but in the last year changed to opera I thought it fit to write about something that embraced both. And as I was going through my intense opera education program I couldn’t help but notice how the musical RENT is so much like La Boheme. The stories are basically the same, so I decided I would write about that. So that was my thesis La Boheme and RENT.
And since I was quite pleased with the result I decided to translate it (yes, because it’s in Portuguese for obvious reasons) and post it here. But I’m not gonna post the whole thing at once, since it’s a pretty big text; let’s just see how it goes shall we? So first there’s a very brief introduction to get everybody on the same page in regards to, what is RENT and what is La Boheme and then we go to the thesis itself.

The purpose of this thesis is to compare the pieces “La Boheme” by Giacomo Puccini and “RENT” by Jonathan Larson from a story point of view, pointing out its differences and similarities from the most apparent to the hidden ones. For such a study the librettos from both pieces were used as well as videos from many different productions of both.

La Boheme is an opera in four acts by the composer Giacomo Puccini with its libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa which is based on “Scènes de La vie de bohème” by Henri Murger. Puccini composed La Boheme in the middle of his career, he had already written operas of great success like Manon Lescaut, Edgard and Le Villi. But La Boheme was his first big piece. It had its premiere on the 1st of February 1896 in the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy. The story from the book from which the opera was based in is actually a compilation of stories about artists who lived in the Latin Quarter in Paris around the 1840s. But it could be said that the libretto of La Boheme had many episodes that were inspired by Puccini’s own early years living as a young artist in Milan.
The opera was a huge success in Italy and soon all the major opera houses in Europe had done their production of La Boheme. The opera itself is considered today one of the most important pieces from the romantic operatic repertoire, plus having its leading couple be one of the most famous and iconic romantic pairs in the whole of opera history.
 In La Boheme, the leading characters are the poet Rodolfo and the seamstress Mimi who fall in love in their first encounter, but their relationship is haunted by Rodolfo’s incontrollable jealousy and by Mimi’s tuberculosis. Rodolfo lives with the painter Marcello in a small studio apartment. There are also two more artists in the story, the philosopher Colline and the musician Schaunard who are also very poor and go through extreme situations especially in the winter time. And finally Musetta who is a singer and who was Marcello’s lover but as she has a free spirit and does not like to feel committed to anyone she dumped him to be with a wealthy older man.

Exactly 100 years after the premiere of La Boheme, in 1996 in New York City the musical RENT had its opening night. The musical is officially inspired in La Boheme and goes about the same subjects as the opera, love, sickness and the life of artists in a big urban center. Jonathan Larson, the composer, worked eight solid years in writing RENT until its Off Broadway premiere, he wrote more than 100 songs during that time for RENT alone. He wanted to show how even after a hundred years and with all the achievements humanity had had that some people still lived in awful conditions.
Contrary to popular belief Larson did not have AIDS, but many of his friends did and as he lost many of those because of the disease he decided to name the characters of the chorus after the his friends who had passed away. Unfortunately Larson would not live to see the success his musical would have for a day before their Off Broadway opening he died of aortic aneurysm. The whole cast and crew was caught off guard but decided that the show must go on and did not cancel their opening to honor Larson’s memory and the show was an instant success. After two months of sold out performances they moved to Broadway where it remained until 2010 and now is still playing Off Broadway.
RENT has eight main characters with more or less the same plot importance, unlike La Boheme which had its main focus on Mimi and Rodolfo. In RENT Roger is a composer who has AIDS and has been depressed ever since his girlfriend, April, killed herself after finding out they had AIDS. It’s been almost an year that that’s happened and Roger refuses to live the studio apartment he shares with Mark, an independent film maker who had just been dumped by his girlfriend, Maureen, who traded him for another woman. Maureen is an actress who is planning a protest against the eviction order to the homeless people who live in the abandoned apartments in Alphabet City. Collins is a philosopher who is friends with Roger and Mark and comes over to spend Christmas with them but is robbed and beaten up o the street. It is then that he meets Angel, a gay drag queen percussionist who helps him get back on his feet and they instantly fall in love, both also have AIDS. And finally Mimi is an erotic dancer who falls for Roger and him for her, but he fights the feeling with all his will. Mimi also has AIDS and is a drug addict.
As it’s shown above every character in RENT has its correspondent in La Boheme. But even though the correspondents are quite clear because the names are so much alike, they are not exactly the same. Rodolfo for instance is divided in two characters in RENT, in Roger and Collins, same thing with Mimi who is divided in Mimi and Angel, Marcello who is divided in Mark and Joanne and finally Musetta in Maureen and Benny.
Even though both pieces have approximately the same length, RENT does have more plot development, maybe that’s a consequence of the fact that the author divided the characteristics of the original La Boheme characters in more than one character in RENT.    
Both pieces are undeniably connected, but since some of the events don’t happen in the same order it’s important to point out that I’ll be following the chronologic order of La Boheme.

Yay! There, part 1 of my thesis just to get you guys ready. I’ll post the analysis from Act1 next. Stay tuned peeps and have a great week!


  1. Good writing, Bela. Can't wait for the Act I analysis next! :oD

    1. Thanks Smorg! I'm thinking about publishing it tonight if I can finish traslating it in time :)