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Beyond the Moulin Rouge: Jane Avril’s Vie de Bohème

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). Jane Avril Leaving the Moulin Rouge, 1892. Oil on cardboard, 84.3 x 63.4 cm. Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT. Bequest of George A. Gay.

LA BOHÈME Act I by Giacomo Puccini will be performed at The Courtauld Institute of Art (Foyer) on Sunday, August 14, 2011.

The cast will include Christopher Jacklin (as Marcello), Oliver Johnston (Rodolfo), Katy Crompton (Mimi), Sam Queen (Schaunard) and Matthew Buswell (Colline). It will be directed by Joseph Timmons, with musical direction by Alisdair Kitchen (also on piano). Speaker will be Charlotte de Mille of The Courtauld Institute of Art.

From the hedonism and haphazard living of fin de siècle Monmartre this event travels to its immediate precursor – the left-bank idealism of Henri Murger’s La Vie de la Bohème, immortalised by Giacomo Puccini’s 1896 opera.

Premiered at the Teatro Regio under Arturo Toscanini, the opera reached Paris in June 1898, receiving over one hundred performances at the Opèra-Comique by 1903.

La Bohème is the exact contemporary of Toulouse-Lautrec’s evocative series of images of Jane Avril and lithographs of performers and patrons of the cabaret artistique, music-hall and café-concert venues of Monmartre.

Popular, idiomatic, and avant-garde mixed freely between venues: a lithograph of singer Yvette Guilbert at the Divan Japonais cabaret includes Avril with Eduard Dujardin, editor of the Revue Wagnérienne. Dujardin’s presence is indicative of the extent to which venues solicited cross-pollination of what might otherwise be regarded contrary genres in this period.

This performance of La Bohème is refracted by another specific inter-relation of these worlds combined in the figure of composer Adolphe Gauwin.

Research for the Courtauld Gallery’s exhibition Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge unearthed a short waltz dedicated to Avril, but Gauwin is better remembered as an adept arranger of large scores, including a 1903 Bohème.

La Bohème was self-consciously modern. Puccini parodied the forms of Italianate opera and exploited the popular romanticism of artistic life. The opera considers the conflict between patronage and creative freedom, and questions the relation of the arts through its protagonists – painter, writer, musician, and philosopher. It is then, a rich complement to Lautrec’s oeuvre.

Admission: Free – but numbers are limited and advance booking by Thursday, August 11 is essential.

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN