Arthur Groos (Cornell University): ‘Mimì’s Bonnet and Colline’s Coat: Bohemian Nostalgia and the Remembrance of Things Past’
The radical revision of Henri Murger’s evocation of mid-nineteenth century bohemian life by Illica, Giacosa and Puccini in their operatic La bohème (1896) involves not only the reduction of a novel to a libretto but also a reconceptualization of its nostalgia. To be sure, the opera takes over and expands on the novel’s prominent nostalgia for lost youth and lost love, but it also places it in the larger context of longing for a vanishing pre-industrial age. Two artifacts in particular, Mimi’s hand-made bonnet – not a night-cap but a love token – and Colline’s second-hand coat, purchased together at the beginning of Act II, become the repositories of this double longing, which pervades the opera, including its conclusion, where the orchestra does not (“scream the first thing that comes into its head” –Joseph Kerman) and but rather mourns the loss of the poetry inherent in people and things that once filled the world of Bohème.
Arthur Groos is Avalon Foundation Professor of the Humanities at Cornell University, where he teaches in the departments of German Studies, Medieval Studies, and Music. In the former, his interests include Arthurian romance, Minnesang, medieval science, early modern city culture, and the Age of Goethe. In the latter his interests focus on issues of music and culture, text-music relations, and opera. Publications include Romancing the Grail: Genre, Science, and Quest in Wolfram's Parzival (1995), Medieval Christian Literary Imagery (1988), Giacomo Puccini: La bohème (Cambridge), as well as the collections Reading Opera (Princeton, 1988), Madama Butterfly: Fonti e documenti (Lucca), seven other edited volumes (most recently the Cambridge Opera Guide to Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, 2011), and numerous articles. Founding co-editor of the Cambridge Opera Journal, he is also general editor of Cambridge Studies in Opera (Cambridge University Press), and co-editor of two German monograph series, Transatlantische Studien and Signale. A co-founder and Vice President of the Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini in Lucca, Italy, he also edits Studi pucciniani. He held Guggenheim and Senior Fulbright Fellowships in Munich in 1979-80, and an Alexander von Humboldt Forschungspreis in Berlin in 2001-02. In 2007, he was Fowler Hamilton Visiting Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford, where he failed to make a dent in the wine cellar.
Refreshments will be served. All welcome.