When I think of the premiere of La Bohème, I think…well, I think, “holy cow, that was along time ago!” Puccini first saw the story come to life in 1896 - 114 years ago.
But was it really? Inspired by Portland Opera, I decided to see what else was happening in the world that year. You see, Bohème is thought of as pretty traditional, but was actually quite modern for its time, in terms of music and subject matter.
The world, too, was seeing a modern movement. Among other advances, we saw the development of the first X-rays and the first Ford vehicle (the Quadricycle). We saw the composition of John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. The New York Telephone Company was formed. The opening ceremonies of the first modern Summer Olympics were held.
In the realm of politics, Utah was admitted as the 45th U.S. state. Despite his stirring “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic National Convention earlier in the year, William Jennings Bryan was not chosen for the presidency in favor of Republican William McKinley. The U.S. Supreme Court introduced the "separate but equal" doctrine and upheld segregation in the court case Plessy v. Ferguson. The New York State Legislature passed the Raines Law, restricting Sunday alcoholic beverage sales to hotels.
While the play itself was written only about 50 years prior to the opera, it’s hard to believe that Puccini wasn’t inspired by the changing world around him.
Ciao for now!