While Puccini’s Bohème may be well-known, did you know there’s another Bohème? It’s true! And not just because Wikipedia says so.
We all know the plot of La Bohème was inspired by the story in Henri Murger’s novel. And if you didn’t know that, you can pretend you did. (I won’t tell.) What you may not know is around the time Puccini was working on his bohemian tale, another Italian composer, Ruggero Leoncavallo, was slaving away on his own adaptation.
Leoncavallo, of course, is best known for his hit song “Send in the Clowns.” Wait, no. That’s Stephen Sondheim. Leoncavallo is best known for I Pagliacci, an opera about clowns.
So Leoncavallo is minding his own business, doing his composer thing, and runs into Puccini at a Milan café in 1895. Puccini casually mentions that he’s working on this amazing opera about young Parisians in love.
Leoncavallo is ticked. After all, he offered the libretto to Puccini first, who said he didn’t want to work on it! So Leoncavallo is pouring his heart out into this story and now he has competition!
The story gets better – two newspapers (thought to be supporters of each composer, respectively), announce that Leoncavallo and Puccini are both working on a version of La Bohème. Puccini even goes on record to say that time would tell which was the better opera. (You can guess whose opera Puccini thought would be the better.)
Puccini’s opera may be better according to some, though I hope Leoncavallo has some fans out there. I do know that despite it all, the opera world is blessed to have not one, but two beautiful operas about those crazy Parisian lovers. (And you can see Puccini’s in November.)
Ciao for now!