Pop goes Puccini: La Bohème in pop culture

La Bohème was composed in 1896, and was based on Henry Murger’s 1849 novel La Vie de la Boheme. It is a tragic portrait of bohemian Paris in the 1840s and has become one of the most popular operas of all time. For over a century, La Bohème has influenced pop culture from musicals and pop songs, to movies and has even featured on The Simpsons. We scoured the internet to find as many pop culture references to La Bohème as we could. Here are some of our favourites…

1. Moulin Rouge!

Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 hit movie Moulin Rouge! is an amped up, booty-shaking, near-hysterical take on La Bohème. The central character Satine (Mimi), is loved by Christian (Rodolfo) and dies of tuberculosis (consumption) while a chorus of bohemian Parisians (including Toulous Lautrec) take “Truth, beauty, freedom, love,” as their rallying cry. Luhrmann actually staged an Australian La Bohème in 1990 (which, like Opera North’s production, was set in the late 1950s) which was later taken to Broadway.

MOULIN ROUGE – TRAILER – 2001 from Andrés Cuervo on Vimeo.

2. Don’t You Know

Remember this one? Musetta’s Waltz was adapted for Bobby Worth’s 1959 R&B hit Don’t You Know, sung by Della Reese. The song reached No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts and No. 1 on the U.S. R&B charts.


3. Rent

Jonathan Larson’s 1994 musical is based directly on La Bohème, transplanting the setting to New York City where a group of poor young artists struggle in the Lower East Side. The sinister disease that spells an end to La Bohème’s Mimi (consumption) becomes HIV/AIDS in Rent. Listen out for the similarities between Quando me’n vo (Musetta’s Waltz) from La Bohème, to the guitar solo in Goodbye Love from Rent. (Check it out from about 3:22 in.)


4. Moonstruck

Forbidden love between Cher and Nicholas Cage reveals itself against the backdrop of Mimi’s heartbreak during a production of La Boheme in Norman Jewison’s 1987 melodrama.


5. Atonement

Remember that bit in Atonement where Robbie (James MacAvoy) writes that explosive and extremely revealing letter to Cecilia to the spine-tingling strains of “O Soave Fanciulla”. Smelling salts at the ready!


6. The Simpsons, Season 19, Episode 2 (In which Homer discovers an unlikely talent for opera singing)


“Rudolpho, why are you lying down”

“I hurt my foot”

(a slight re-write by The Simpsons writers there)

And so, to 2014 …

Opera North‘s La Bohème captures the joy, wit and frivolity of Paris in the late 1950s. Phyllida Lloyd – the woman behind Mamma Mia! (the movie) and The Iron Lady – directs a blockbuster production of Puccini’s beloved opera, at The Lowry Wed 14 – Sat 17 May.

Don’t forget to pack a stack of tissues and book your tickets here

Want to know more about the production? Check out the news section on our website.