Friday, June 6, 2008
La Bohème: from magazine to opera house
Henri Murger was a member of a literary circle called “the water drinkers,” because there was never enough money for wine. Their chief hangout was the upper floor of the Café Momus, opposite the Louvre and the church Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois (see separate post). Instead of inventing a nom-de-plume, as many writers did, he altered his given name of Henri Murger to Henry Mürger, choosing the English spelling of his first name and adding a meaningless umlaut to his last name. Weird.
Anyway, Murger received just a few francs per installment for a story that was serialized in the 1840s in the magazine Corsaire, under the title The Bohemians. This series of stories was later published as the novel Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, which became the basis for two operas (Puccini and Leoncavallo), a zarzuela, an operetta (Kálmán’s The Violet of Montmartre) and the Broadway musical Rent.
Much of the material was autobiographical, and many of the names and places were real. The Café Momus, the setting for the second act of Puccini’s opera, was located at No. 15 Rue des Prêtres Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois. The building still stands, but is no longer a café.
In this sketch, the Café Momus is on the right, and the church of Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois is on the left. The building in the center with the turret was demolished in the late 19th century to make space for the department store La Samaritaine (closed since 2005).
Métro: Pont Neuf or Louvre-Rivoli