Linda Ayscue Gupta
Dr. Marcel Cornis-Pope
MATX 601 Texts and Textuality
Analysis of the Bohemian Motif in La Boheme and Rent
The Bohemian counterculture emerged from the collected experiences of writers, artists, students, and youth who were drawn to the left bank of the Seine in Paris during the mid-1800s (“Welcome to Bohemia” 1; par. 1 & 2). Bohemians rejected typical bourgeois values and created a lifestyle characterized by a denunciation of materialism and traditional moral values and by a devotion to work solely for artistic expression (“How Bohemians Lived” 1; par. 1). The Bohemian movement spread to the Grub St. area of London during the mid-1800s primarily because of the influence of British born writer and artist William Makepeace Thackeray (“Bohemian London” 1; par. 2). Elements of the Bohemian motif are found in the 1950’s beat culture in New York City and in the hippie movement of the 1970s (“Beat Culture: A Later Manifestation of Bohemia” 1; par. 1)
Puccini’s Italian opera La Boheme, first performed in 1896 in Turin, Italy, and Jonathan Larson’s rock opera Rent, first performed in 1996 in New York City, are both stories of a group of friends sharing the Bohemian lifestyle. For purposes of this paper, the author chose to use the 1999 performance of La Boheme by the San Francisco Opera and the movie rock opera version of Rent released in 2006.
Authorship and Audience Response
Despite the fact that a major theme of the dramas is the Bohemian counterculture movement, both operas are what Ikishawa would call “bourgeois or finished theatre” (WaldripFruin 346). There is no real opportunity for co-authorship. It is possible that the actors could
inspire audience participation, but it is not really possible for the audience members to interact with the cast during the performance. This is unfortunate because controversial issues in Rent invoke strong reaction in audiences as they confront issues/behaviors with which they are not entirely comfortable.
The settings for both operas are the living spaces and public meeting spaces of each group of friends. La Boheme takes place in Paris in the mid 1800s and the scenes are staged primarily in a sparsely furnished garret and in a representation of the Café Momus. Cafes were places for Bohemians to meet, share ideas, and watch the bourgeois (Cafes 1; par. 1). Rent takes place in New York City in the early 1990s. Most of the scenes are shot in the warehouse shared by the friends, the meeting space for the AIDS support group (their modern day Café Momus), and the subways and streets of New York City. There are also scenes shot in a restaurant on New Year’s Eve and in various other performance spaces.
Rent is a rewrite of La Boheme and thus, there are multiple intertextual parallels. Both La Boheme and Rent are linear narratives. Rent occasionally introduces flashbacks to share important historical information and/or heighten the affective impact for the reader. According to “Henry Murger and Scenes de La Boheme,” La Boheme itself is a rewrite of Henry Murger’s installments about Bohemian life in the journal Corsaire-Satan. The installments, known as “Scenes de La Boheme” were rewritten in 1849 as a musical drama and then published in written text as a collection of tales in 1851. Puccini’s opera was first performed in 1896 and Rent was performed one hundred years later in 1996 (2; par. 3). Several of the characters in La Boheme and Rent have the same names or are clearly a rewrite of a specific character in the earlier text. Musetta was a character in the original “Scenes de La Boheme.” Both hypotexts begin with a demand by the landlord for the payment of rent. This serves to quickly introduce the themes of
poverty and disregard for convention and law. Against the backdrop of conflict in both stories between adhering to Bohemian ideals or selling out for financial security, both La Boheme and Rent are...
Cited: Hopf, Courtney, Kogan, and Brown, Rachel. 2001. Welcome to Bohemia. 3 November 2007.
Diggs. DVD. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2006.
Larson, Jonathan. 1996 Rent Libretto. 3 November 2007.
thiers, genevieve. The Bel Canto Technique. 2002. Pagewise. 30 October 2007
Mitchell, W.J.T. What Do Pictures Want: The Lives and Loves of Images. Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press, 2005.
Waldrip-Fruin, Noah and Montfort, Nick. The New Media Reader. Cambridge, MA: The MIT
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