March 06, 2019

Opera on Broadway: LA BOHÈME vs. RENT

Whether you’re an opera lover or a Broadway fanatic, you’ve probably heard by now that the 1996 musical Rent was loosely based on the 1896 opera La bohème. Both shows document the lives of a group of artists struggling with poverty and disease (tuberculosis in La bohème and HIV/AIDS in Rent); still, the characters are all able to find happiness through love, friendship, and the act of creation. If this is news to you, don’t worry! Let us walk you through the similarities… (some spoilers ahead!) 

Mimì/Mimi Márquez:

This character and Rodolfo/Roger fall in love at first sight, marking the beginning of a tumultuous relationship. They fight for months and end up separating, only to be brought back together by Mimi’s failing health: the only difference is that she succumbs to disease in La bohème, while in Rent, the sound of Roger’s voice is enough to keep her alive.

Rodolfo/Roger Davis:

At the beginning of both shows, this character is deeply lonely — so lonely that he sings about it — and only cheers up after meeting Mimi. He becomes jealous during their relationship due to his own need to feel loved. Roger’s romance with Mimi is downplayed slightly in Rent to make room for other storylines, but it remains an important part of the show.

Musetta/Maureen Johnson:

So fiery that she earns her own dance (“Musetta’s Waltz” and “Tango: Maureen”), this character is a source of drama in both productions. In La bohème, she's left Marcello for the rich and elderly Alcindoro, who she ditches in Act 2 to return to the poor painter. In Rent, she leaves Mark for Joanne. The big difference is that she doesn’t end up with Mark in Rent; instead, she stays with her new girlfriend and cements her place as one of the best-known bisexual characters in pop culture.

Marcello/Mark Cohen:

Marcello spends the majority of La bohème pining after Musetta. But in Rent, Mark gets over his heartbreak and ends up bonding with Maureen’s new lover. He also puts a lot of energy into his documentary: by filming intimate moments between his friends, he becomes the face of the Bohemian movement and the star of the show.

There are countless other similarities between these shows, from scripts and screenplays tossed into the fireplace to “light my candle,” the ultimate pick-up line. Don’t miss your chance to spot even more similarities when La bohème opens on October 6.

New Lyric coproduction of Puccini’s La bohème generously made possible by

Julius Frankel Foundation

Liz Stiffel

The Michael and Susan Avramovich Charitable Trust

Howard L. Gottlieb and Barbara G. Greis

Roberta L. and Robert J. Washlow

A coproduction between Lyric Opera of Chicago, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and Teatro Real Madrid.

Photo: Royal Opera House