Living ‘La bohème’LEE DONG-HYUN
The author is the head of industry 1 team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“Rent” is one of only ten musicals to win a Pulitzer. Based on the plot of Puccini’s opera “La bohème,” the musical is set at the end of the 20th century in New York and depicts the anxiety and agony of artists at the turn of the millennium.
The disease that drove artists to death in “La bohème” was tuberculosis (TB). TB resulted in the most deaths in human history. In the 19th century, when “La bohème” was written, patients mostly ended up dead from the epidemic as no treatment was available. The number of infections and deaths drastically declined as tuberculosis treatments were invented.
In “Rent” (1996), TB is replaced with AIDS. Until the 1990s, AIDS was considered an uncurable disease. The Bohemians in “La bohème” were replaced by struggling artists, and the center of culture moved from Paris to New York. Mimi in “La bohème” dies from tuberculosis, but Mimi in “Rent” survives with the power of love.
The musical “Rent” began as an off-Broadway show and moved to Broadway and ran for 12 years. It won four Tony awards and zealous fans, called “Rentheads,” saw the musical multiple times. Idina Menzel, the voice of Elsa in the Disney animation “Frozen” (2013) was an original cast member of “Rent.”
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of its premiere in Korea, “Rent” started a run but closed early on Aug. 22 as Covid-19 resurged. Just like TB in the 19th century and AIDS in the 20th century, another disease with no cure or vaccine is rampant. Artists of all ages are struggling to make a living amid the epidemic.
In June, Media Today published a contribution by dance critic Park Sung-hye titled “You enjoyed content, and the creators are dying.” While people get consolation from the countless forms of art we enjoy at home, those who created them are struggling to make a living.
The government is offering a range of assistance for artists, but what’s most important is the attention of consumers who enjoy the arts. The power that saved Mimi in the 21st century has to be love, as portrayed in the lyrics of “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent.”