Reflections on the Death of Mimì
This chapter reflects on the prima donna’s art of dying, focusing particularly on the extraordinary stillness of Mimi’s consumptive death in Puccini’s La bohème—a silent passing marked neither in the score nor the libretto. Contrasting with the grand tradition of operatic deaths typified by Verdi’s La traviata, Mimì’s final moments seem remote from cultural and theatrical conventions of mortality in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The chapter’s discussion emphasizes just how relative the much-vaunted concept of “realism” was in these contexts. Puccini, who was always sensitive to the specific demands of his settings and characters, might well have been inspired by the understated acting of a noted actress of the period, as the chapter argues, but the apparently inconsequential treatment of the death of one of his most popular heroines remains problematic for directors and singers preparing the work for performance today.
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