Throwback Thursday: Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’ Portrays ‘Great Sorrows in Little Souls’

On February 1, 1896 Puccini’s great opera La Boheme premiered in Turin at the Teatro Regio, conducted by a young Arturo Toscanini.

Based on a collection of vignettes by Henri Murger, Scènes de la vie de bohème, Murger’s tale involved scenes about young, struggling artists in Paris’ Latin Quarter in the 1840s.

Though its initial reception was mixed, La Boheme soon became one of Puccini’s most-performed and best-loved works, with countless adaptations, including 1996’s popular, Pulitzer-winning musical Rent, which took La Boheme’s themes and filtered them through the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York City.

The opera is so popular, in fact, that more than 70 versions of it have been recorded, some going way back to 1938.


This Throwback Thursday, watch La Boheme‘s famous aria, “Che gelida manina,” (what a cold little hand) performed by Pavarotti in 1986.

And, if you have a little more time to spare (41 minutes), listen to the entire orchestral score, which is full of sweeping gestures, radiant struggles, and somber despairs. Here’s one option, from 1957’s La Boheme for Orchestra, by Columbia Masterworks.

Or, if you need something slightly more optimistic to get you through the day, listen to the uplifting “Another Day” from Rent’s original Broadway cast.

Enjoy, as Puccini once put it, these “great sorrows in little souls.”