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Why La Bohème Is More Relatable Than Ever (or at least we think so)

Posted on: August 29, 2019

We’re kicking off the start of the 2019/20 season with one of the most beloved Puccini operas of all time. We know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t I see that production four years ago?” (And odds are, you might have since Operabase lists Bohème as the third most globally-performed opera of the 2018/2019 season). But word on the street is that this production of #LAOBoheme is different from any other you’ve ever seen. One of Europe’s most extraordinary directors, Barrie Kosky, leads our first new staging in 25 years. And while the scenery is new, the story you fell in love with the first time stays the same (and is actually more relevant than ever). How so?

The Rent's Too High
In Act One, the four bohemian roommates are three months behind in their rent. It’s a plight that hits too close to home for many Angelenos. This year, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) reported that Los Angeles is the nation’s third most rent burdened metropolitan area. (“Burdened” = spending more than 30% of income on housing.) Another study found that 568,255 new affordable housing units would be needed to meet demand in LA County.

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Bills, Bills, Bills
In Act Four, the bohemians have to sell their possessions to pay for Mimì’s medical treatment. The good news? Tuberculosis is totally treatable now. The bad news? What the bohemians scrounge up wouldn’t cover an emergency room visit today. And this may be 2019, but Americans can still relate. Only a third of all Americans have saved more than $1,000 for emergency expenses. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health earlier this year found that 530,000 families file for bankruptcy each year due to medical bills.

Every Rose Has Its Thorn
The journal Social Psychological and Personality Science identified the top two reasons that couples split up: breaches of trust (Marcello can’t stand Musetta’s flirting) and emotional distance (Rodolfo’s reluctance to communicate drives him from Mimì). No wonder the double break-up in Act Three feels so real. But if you need something a little more uplifting, not every opera romance ends badly. For happier endings, check out The Light in the Piazza, The Magic Flute or The Marriage of Figaro.

The Gig Economy
9:00 to 5:00’s are so three generations ago. The phrase “gig economy” was coined as recently as 2009, but the concept has been around for ages. Rodolfo freelances for a newspaper. Schaunard gets a one-day job as a musician. (We’re not sure how “philosopher” Colline pays his grocery bill.) The California Economic Summit predicts that a majority of workers will be in short-time or contract positions (as opposed to full-time jobs) by 2027.


Bohème in Popular Culture
Opera lovers aren’t the only folks who think La Bohème is timeless. You probably knew that the blockbuster musical Rent updates the action and characters of Puccini’s opera to New York’s East Village in the 1990s. (And it does so pretty faithfully.) Major elements of Bohème are found in the 2001 film Moulin Rouge! and in its current stage adaptation, now playing on Broadway. Numerous film versions over the years (including several silents) featured big name stars of their eras, like Alice Brady (1916), Lillian Gish (1926), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (1935) and Louis Jourdan (1945), to name just a few.

So when you watch La Bohème this fall, remember what they’re singing about: being broke, unemployed, and heartbroken. How millennial is that?