• Opera Characters and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: La Bohéme

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    Of all the various subjects that fascinate me, one that’s recently caught my attention is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. For anyone who doesn’t know, this system of psychological analysis was developed in the 1940s by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, based on the theories of Carl Jung. It proposes that there are sixteen different psychological “types”, based on four factors, or functions: “Extraversion (E) vs. Introversion (I),” “Intuition (N) vs. Sensing (S),” “Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F),” and “Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P).” According to theory, every person chiefly operates by a certain combination of these factors, which determine the way in which that person comprehends the world. The sixteen possible “types” are as follows: ENTJ, INTJ, ESTJ, ISTJ, ESFJ, ISFJ, ESFP, ISFP, ESTP, ISTP, ENTP, INTP, ENFP, INFP, ENFJ, and INFJ.

     

    Of course it’s been argued that this isn’t real science. How can every person in the world be pigeonholed into just sixteen personality types, especially when behaviors change depending on different situations? Besides over the years the definitions of each factor have become shaky, varying from MBTI test to MBTI test, and often being applied with gross oversimplification and stereotyping. Still, there’s no denying that this system has some real validity. Countless people who’ve discovered it have thoroughly recognized themselves in one of the types and been able to use the system to understand themselves better than they ever did before. That’s certainly how I felt when I discovered the website 16 Personalities, read the various type profiles, took the free personality test, and got the unsurprising result of “INFP” (Introverted Intuitive Feeling Perceiver). But my favorite way to use this system, which countless other people share, is to use it to analyze fictional characters. And after seeing so many people on the Internet using it to analyze characters from pop culture, I thought to myself, why not use it to analyze my beloved opera characters too?

     

    To get the strongest possible results from my analysis, the particular Myers-Briggs inspired system I chose was the one found on the blog A Little Bit of Personality. While this site might be too pop culture oriented for some tastes, it strives to offer a more scientific version of MBTI typing than many sources do. Namely by providing truly solid, easy-to-grasp definitions for each factor, as well as by emphasizing that the sixteen types aren’t really so much “personality” types as they are “cognitive” types. Two different people of the same type can still have vastly different temperaments; they just have the same fundamental way of thinking and understanding the world, which creates common tendencies (not rules) in personality.

     

    These are the definitions of each function, as defined by A Little Bit of Personality:

     

    Extraversion (E) vs. Introversion (I): Looking outside first vs. looking inside first. Cognitive Extraverts prioritize the world outside themselves and and how others view them, while Introverts prioritize their inner thoughts, emotions and knowledge. This is completely different from social extraversion vs. introversion: it’s not about how social you are, but your way of thinking.

    INtuition (N) vs. Sensing (S): Focusing on concepts vs. focusing on literal facts, and using concepts to understand facts vs. using facts to understand concepts.

    Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F): Focusing first on the use of things vs. focusing first on the meaning of things. This has nothing to do with how smart or how emotional you are. It’s about whether you evaluate things and people, including yourself, based on their literal use vs. based on their emotional meaning.

    Judging (J) vs. Perception (P): Planning and acting first vs. exploring and responding. Judgers take action based on principles and then observe the results, while Perceivers observe specific circumstances first and then taking action in response to your observations.

     

    As the first opera characters to analyze, I chose the six young leading characters from the ever-beloved La Bohéme. Keeping the above definitions of each cognitive function in mind, I reread the opera’s libretto and evaluated the “personality” of each character’s music. The entire process brought me new, sometimes surprising insights into every character and gave me new appreciation for Puccini, Giacosa and Illica’s art of characterization! As much as I’ve always loved the music of Bohéme, I used to think its characterizations were thin. I viewed the four male bohemians as interchangeably witty, impetuous figures distinguished mainly by their different voice types and love interests (or lack thereof), Mimí as just a shy, sweet “angel” (whom we’re confusingly supposed to believe is also a flirt and a part-time gold-digger), Musetta as just a caricatured “tart with a heart,” and the two couples as having more or less the same relationship, Rodolfo and Mimí just slightly more tender than Marcello and Musetta. But now, having analyzed them in MBTI terms, I can appreciate the subtleties of each characterization: not only are the six characters indeed dimensional people and distinct from each other, but each of their cognitive/personality types perfectly suits their individual professions or artistic vocations!

     

    Here are the results of my analysis:

     

    Mimí: ESFP (“The Entertainer”/“The Performer”/“The Morale Officer”)

    Extraversion: Yes, this surprised me too. But even though Mimí shows every sign of being a social introvert, it seems to me that she’s a cognitive extravert. Her focus is always on the people and things around her, not on her own inner life. Just compare the text of “Mi chiamano Mimí,” with its description of all the things she experiences every day, to Introvert Rodolfo’s “Che gelida manina,” which is all about his poetry and fantasies. Or their counterpoint passages in “O soave fanciulla,” in which he describes his own feelings while she reflects on the sweetness of his words. She tends to let other people guide her actions too. The Act I falling-in-love consists almost entirely of Rodolfo taking the initiative and her responding. Later, when we arrive at their breakup, Rodolfo is the one who first says “It’s over” and she doesn’t even concede right away, but turns to Marcello for advice first. She reflects so little on herself that she doesn’t even realize she’s dying until she overhears Rodolfo say so, and even in the one choice she makes all by herself, to go back to Rodolfo in the end, she quickly takes the focus off of her own feelings and onto his: “Perhaps he’s waiting for me.” She might be content to live “sola, soletta” until she meets Rodolfo, but cognitively, she’s more or less a pure Extravert.

    Sensing: In the words of her counterpart in RENT, Mimí lives “no day but today,” and fittingly for a seamstress (a physical, visual profession), her focus is on the literal world. Once again, compare the text of “Mi chiamano Mimí” to “Che gelida manina.” While Rodolfo’s aria revolves around his dreams, fantasies and hope for love, i.e. concepts, Mimí’s revolves around the physical things she cares about: her sewing, flowers, spring, the sun, etc. I’ve sometimes heard “Mi chiamano Mimí” disparaged as an example of opera’s “ridiculousness,” because such a beautiful, tender melody is “wasted” on mundane subject matter, but those amateur critics are missing the point both of Mimí’s character and of opera in general. Those “mundane” things are what she loves and lives for. Likewise, she never seems to turn Rodolfo or their love into a symbol the way he does with her, but stays focused on who he is, what he does, and their actual experiences together. Compare their “addio”s as they lament their pending separation in Act III: his “Farwell, dreams of love” vs. her “Farewell, sweet awakenings in the morning,” and the fact that she remembers his jealousy, while he seems to forget that their love was less than idyllic. Even her dying words are focused on a physical sensation, the warmth of her hands in Musetta’s muff. It didn’t take much analysis at all for me to label her a Sensor.

    Feeling: Of course Mimí is a very emotional character, but more importantly, she’s a cognitive Feeler too. She loves little things like flowers and sunlight with a passion, not because they’re of any practical use to her, but because she finds emotional meaning in them. She loves her work of sewing silk flowers not for any practical purpose, but for the flowers’ beauty. She doesn’t love Rodolfo because he does anything useful for her (the fact that he can’t provide for her physical needs is an important plot point and he makes a royal mess of providing for her emotional needs too), but just because she finds him lovable and because he gives her meaning by loving her. When it’s clear that the most useful course of action is to leave him, she still puts it off, and in the end she leaves the viscount’s wealth and practical comforts to die in poverty, but with her love. As befits the heroine of the quintessential romantic opera, she’s a quintessential Feeler.

    Perception: Like most of these bohemian characters, Mimí lives spontaneously and rarely seems to make plans or operate by any principles, but does what makes her happy or what she thinks is best to do in each new moment. We see this of course in her whirlwind romance with Rodolfo, but also in their breakup, where her standpoint isn’t “I won’t let him treat me this way! I’m leaving!” a la Musetta, but “He treats me this way, I’m miserable, what should I do?… Yes, you’re right, I should leave…” and where her attempt to methodically plan their separation ends in their deciding not to separate just yet after all. Also like a true, observant Perceiver, especially an Extraverted one, she’s good at reading other people, being the only character in Act II to see and sympathize with Musetta’s yearning for Marcello instead of just laughing at her antics, and knowing in Act III that Rodolfo still loves her and doesn’t mean the hurtful things he says, even if she doesn’t realize that it’s more than just “his jealousy speaking.” She constantly seems to observe and respond to the world around her.

     

    Now, it’s true that she’s not the stereotypical perky, partying ESFP, but she still displays the true hallmarks of that personality type. Warmth, friendliness, love of beauty, living in the moment, and devotion to enjoying life and to making others happy too. And of course we also see the deep sensitivity and vulnerability in her that ESFPs are prone to, as well as their peacemaking instinct and aversion to conflict (“Addio senza rancor”). The ESFP habit of effacing themselves in their attempts to make others happy also seems to be strong in her. We see this in her constantly focusing on Rodolfo’s feelings more than her own, in the unconditional forgiveness she gives him even when she sadly agrees that it’s best they part, and in the way she constantly downplays her illness as “nothing,” even pretending on her deathbed that it’s “only a little cough.” This personality type can also explain that aspect of her character that so often befuddles: how such a sweet, gentle, self-effacing girl can also be the flirt Rodolfo claims she is in Act III. Even the gentlest ESFPs are still fun-lovers, people-lovers, and prone to impulsiveness. This might also explain why her suffering sometimes causes me more visceral pain than that of other, even more tragic opera heroines: because my mother is an ESFP too.

     

    Rodolfo: INFP (“The Idealist”/“The Mediator”/“The Healer”/“The Ranger”)

    Introversion: Even though we can argue that Rodolfo is a social extravert, thriving as he does with his boisterous group of friends and shamelessly coming on to Mimí within moments of meeting her, I would argue that he’s a cognitive Introvert. It only makes sense that a poet should spend a fair amount of time inside his own head, after all. Once again, compare “Che gelida manina” to “Mi chiamano Mimí” and his counterpoint in “O soave fanciulla” to Mimí’s: where her aria describes her external world, his aria describes his poetic dreams, fantasies and budding feelings of love, and in the romantic duet, where she rhapsodizes about his words and about love “commanding” her like an outside force, he rhapsodizes in poetic detail about the feelings “trembling in [his] soul.” Later, when he realizes that Mimí is dangerously ill and that he can’t provide for her, he determines entirely in his own mind that the “solution” is to break up with her and let her find a rich man to save her, or at least let her die far from his sight, and that he doesn’t dare tell her this, so he “needs” to use jealousy to push her away. He might not have made these mistakes if he had turned to someone else for advice, but he doesn’t. Both in happy times and in dark times, he’s driven by his own mind, not external cues.

    Intuition: For Rodolfo and Mimí, being “poor yet happy” means different things. While Mimí thrives on the small physical pleasures her life offers, Rodolfo rarely gives his physical surroundings much attention except to complain about them, but thrives on his imagination (his “soul of a millionaire” in “dreams and fancies and castles-in-air”) and on his love for Mimí and his friends. Throughout the whole opera, he thinks in abstract concepts and poetic metaphors. His play is being burned for warmth? He jokes that the ardor of the love scenes is warming the room, then “going up in smoke.” Mimí leaves her bonnet as a memento for him when they break up? He secretly talks to it like a confidante who “knew [their] happiness.” And when it comes to love, the abstract concepts never stop! It’s clear both from his own words and his friends’ comments (“…his verses are not a beginner’s”) that he’s spent most of his young life thinking, dreaming and writing about love, with no hint that he’s ever really experienced it before Mimí, and he makes constant sweeping statements about the nature of love, either idealistic or cynical depending on his mood. As I mentioned above, he also tends to view both Mimí herself and their romance in symbolic terms, seeing her as the embodiment of all his romantic poetry and dreams (“In you I see the dream I want to dream forever,” “…I am the poet, she is poetry,” “Farewell, dreams of love”), and later viewing the end of their relationship as symbolizing the end of his youth. He couldn’t be more Intuitive if he tried.

    Feeling: As much of the above shows, Rodolfo looks for meaning in everything. He leads a penniless bohemian life because he refuses to live only by hard, mundane work with no joy or meaning in it. (“I don’t believe in the sweat of the brow!”) He finds poetic metaphors and meaning in almost everything he sees. He loves Mimí for the meaning he sees in her and shows his love not by “useful” acts, but with beautiful language and the gift of a bonnet… bought with money he really should have saved to pay for dinner. He eventually pays the price for such a meaning-driven life when he finds himself useless in the face of Mimí’s declining health. Like Mimí, he’s an emotional person, but it’s his emphasis on meaning that makes him a true Feeler.

    Perception: Like Mimí and most of his friends, Rodolfo is spontaneous, quick thinking, observant, and constantly exploring. When a pretty girl comes to his door and loses her key, he quickly takes in the situation and improvises both how to keep her from finding the key and how to start a conversation, then effortlessly throws himself into a whirlwind romance with her. But then he blunders through their relationship with jealousy and hurtful mistakes, lacking the kind of principles that could have made things more stable. With his keen observation skill he realizes that Mimí is dying long before she does, and that the best choice for her is to end their relationship, but he repeatedly sabotages that plan by putting off their breakup because he loves her too much. Both in good ways and in bad ways, he clearly operates by exploring and responding moment by moment, not by decisive plans, actions or principles.

     

    As an INFP myself, I see no shortage of my own traits in him. He has the classic INFP romantic dreamer’s spirit and emotional sensitivity that make him such an ardent, appealing lover. But that same emotional sensitivity gives him a potentially nasty temper and a chronic reluctance to face his own flaws. Hence why it takes him so long to confess his guilt over failing to provide for Mimí and why he only makes justifications instead of apologizing for the emotional pain his jealousy causes her. He also has the classic INFP trait of idealizing his beloved and projecting his inner fantasies onto her… which might explain his capacity for jealous rages, because we INFPs tend to be devastated when our idealized loved ones turn out to have flaws like anyone else. Another all-too-common INFP habit, which I’ve only recently realized I do constantly, is jumping to sweeping conclusions and making sweeping generalizations about the nature of the world that may or may not be true. Rodolfo does this constantly too! Just look at how quickly he can shift between cynicism and idealism about love (e.g. the beginning vs. the end of Act I), or his Act II statement that all happy lovers are jealous. Last but not least, he’s a writer, the quintessential INFP calling; most analysts agree that Shakespeare was an INFP too.

     

    Marcello: ESFP (“The Entertainer”/“The Performer”/“The Morale Officer”)

    Extraversion: Here we have a social extravert who seems to be a cognitive extravert too. This is fitting for a painter, whose art is a visual one and consists of observing images and replicating them on canvas. Unlike Rodolfo, he shows no sign of being a dreamer and spends little time contemplating his own feelings, but generally stays focused on the external world and the people around him, like Mimí does.

    Sensing: Like Mimí, Marcello rarely seems to focus on life as it could be or (unlike Rodolfo) life as he imagines it is, but enjoys life as it is, with a worldview based only on his own experiences. True, he sometimes indulges in poetic metaphors like Rodolfo, but much less often, rarely without Rodolfo initiating it, and rarely in a way that doesn’t seem based in his actual experiences. Nor does he tend to put Musetta on the kind of symbolic pedestal that Rodolfo puts Mimí. Also, compare his portion of “O Mimí, tu piú non torni” to Rodolfo’s: while as usual, Rodolfo offers more feeling-description and poetic metaphors, Marcello offers the simple visual imagery of being able to paint nothing but Musetta’s face. His Act I joke about wanting to share a “profound thought” (“I’m freezing”) arguably sums up his down-to-earth Sensing compared to Rodolfo’s imagination-driven Intuition.

    Feeling: Once again, I’m not just saying this because of his romantic ardor or his temper. Like Mimí and Rodolfo, he seems driven by the meaning of things, not their use. His vocation of painting revolves around creating visual pleasure. In Act II he’s the only bohemian who shows no interest in spending money, but just in flirting with girls on the street. (Though somehow he still spends all the money he should have saved for dinner, like his friend… of course, some productions costume the girls he flirts with in a way that implies how he spends it.) He falls back into Musetta’s arms despite her having broken his heart, just because he can’t resist her charms. Yet he also impulsively breaks up with her after two months of apparent bliss, over just one incident of her flirting back when a man flirts with her. She shows no sign of actually wanting to cheat on him or leave him for that man, but he throws a tantrum as if he had caught them in bed together, because to him the meaning is the same.

    Perception: This was hard to determine. After all, Marcello is more prone to decisive actions than Mimí or Rodolfo and he can certainly be judgmental. But those traits don’t a Judger make. In true Perceiver fashion, Marcello is an excellent observer and improviser. In Act I just look at how he determines on the spot how to wheedle Benoit out of the rent. But he’s not so excellent at plans or principles, as shown by his impulsive breakups and reconciliations with Musetta, not to mention the pseudo-principles he spouts in Act III (that love should be taken “lightly” and that jealousy is “insane”), which vanish the moment Musetta starts flirting. Also like a classic Extraverted Perceiver, he has a knack for reading people, apparently even better than Mimí’s: Mimí never suspects any motive but jealousy for Rodolfo’s behavior in Act III, but Marcello sees straight through his forced display of venom. Like most of his friends, he’s an observer and a responder.

     

    Yes, believe it or not, Marcello has the same cognitive/personality type as Mimí. Their outer layers of temperament are very different, but they share the same basic way of thinking. Marcello might not be as sweet or gentle as Mimí, but he does share her classic ESFP traits of friendliness, spontaneity, love of beauty and fun, and a knack for making his friends happy. And while he’s certainly not a self-effacing or conflict-avoiding ESFP the way Mimí is, he arguably shares her emotional vulnerability, albeit in a “masculine” way that tends to manifest in anger and moodiness instead of tears. (Temperamentally, my mom falls somewhere in between the two characters.) When it comes both to lovers and to best friends, Rodolfo has a type!

     

    Musetta: ESFJ (The Consul”/“The Caregiver”/“The Provider”/“The Cavalry”)

    Extraversion: Not only is Musetta this opera’s ultimate social extravert, her famous waltz aria is essentially “Cognitive Extraversion: The Aria,” revolving as it does around her observing the crowd (and Marcello), seeing them stare at her and savoring the desire she sees in their eyes. Both in wealth and glamor with Alcindoro and as a tavern singer with Marcello, she loves attention, loves being beautiful and sexy, loves singing, dancing and fashion, and is almost always focused on how other people are viewing her or treating her. Or, as when Mimí is dying, what other people need. The only time she really looks inside herself is in her prayer near the end, when she regrets her past behavior and calls herself “unworthy of forgiveness.” Of course this might raise questions about her self-esteem and why she chooses to live such an outward-focused, popularity-basking life, but the most important thing to know is that she’s a classic Extravert.

    Sensing: Like Mimí and Marcello, Musetta focuses on the literal world around her: things, activities, and especially people. Nor does she ever turn anything into a symbol or spout any pseudo-philosophy the way the male bohemians do. She mainly seems to care about enjoying life as much as possible, and when she’s at her best, bringing the same amount of pleasure to the people around her.

    Feeling: I leaned very close to typing her as a Thinker, but soon I realized that, no, she’s another Feeler. While it’s true that she repeatedly makes the “useful” choice of leaving the penniless, emotionally volatile Marcello and having affairs with doting sugar daddies, she always gravitates back to Marcello and happily leaves the wealthy, useful Alcindoro for him at a moment’s notice, just because she loves him. But even her flings with rich men seem to be less about the money and material goods than about her asserting her freedom, “doing as she pleases,” and relishing the attention and devotion. The same applies to her flirting in Act III. A Thinker Musetta might have justified it pragmatically, arguing that she needed to entertain the man because he was a paying tavern customer, but for the actual Musetta it’s all about her freedom. And even though she makes herself very useful when it matters (i.e. for Mimí), her chief goal clearly isn’t to be a useful person, but just to enjoy life and enjoy it only on her own terms.

    Judging: Once again, this was hard to determine. I almost typed her as yet another ESFP. But after quite a bit of thought, I realized that she’s much more of a Judger. While she’s just as spontaneous, quick-witted and observant as her Perceiving lover and friends, she doesn’t observe first and then act the way they do, but acts first, then observes the result. In Act II, all her private observations of Marcello come after an action and revolve around whether or not he’s responding to it. And she’s constantly driven by a principle: her desire for total freedom. Her main musical leitmotif heard throughout the opera is based on the phrase “Voglio fare il mio piacere” (“I want to do as I please”). When she leaves Marcello in Act III, it’s not just in a fit of anger, but because he violates her chief principle by refusing to give her freedom. A bit of a Carmen-lite, this girl is. Luckily, despite all his bluster, Marcello is no Don José. (I’m almost positive that Don José is an unhealthy INFJ, though that’s a discussion for another day.)

     

    It’s no surprise to realize that Musetta has the same Myers-Briggs type as Miss Piggy, Rarity in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Glinda in Wicked. But it was very surprising to realize that these fictional ladies all share the same type as my father! (Though of course my dad is a more understated, masculine version of the type… at any rate, he doesn’t curl his hair.) Like a classic ESFJ, Musetta has poise, charm, charisma and humor to spare, acts with strong, in-the-moment decisiveness, and often gives in to the common ESFJ vices of arrogance, attention-grubbing, stubbornness and blistering temper. (Sound familiar, Dad?). But as we see in the last act, she also has the warmth, kindness and generosity that shine from ESFJs at their best. (Yes, Dad, that sounds very familiar too.)

     

    Colline: INTJ (“The Architect”/“The Scientist”/”The Mastermind”/“The Dragon”)

    Introversion: From the start of this analysis I suspected that Colline would be an Introvert. He definitely seems to be the most socially introverted bohemian, with his bookishness, lack of interest in women and dislike of crowded cafés, not to mention his deep bass voice and the understated plod of his musical leitmotif. Of course not all social introverts are cognitive Introverts too, but I think Colline is both. Anyone can be a bookworm, but it probably takes a true Introvert to care so little about his physical appearance that he happily wears a worn-out coat and doesn’t see the point of shaving or cutting his hair. He also seems to be the most anti-authority of the bohemians (even if he’s not an anarchist like his RENT counterpart), praising his coat for “never bow[ing] before the rich and powerful.” See also the beginning of Act II, where Extraverts Marcello and Schaunard are both exhilarated by the crowded streets (Schaunard in general, Marcello just by the girls), but Colline is absorbed in the items he’s buying and only briefly acknowledges the crowd in a disparaging way. More than any of his friends, he seems to deliberately live in his own world.

    Intuitive: Colline doesn’t just dislike crowds, he “hates the vulgar mob like Horace.” His coat pockets don’t just hold his beloved books, they “shelter philosophers and poets like tranquil grottos.” Selling said coat isn’t just a sale, it’s bidding farewell to a faithful old friend. Like Rodolfo, Colline constantly thinks in metaphors and makes connections between his own experiences and the larger world. Being a philosopher, he naturally focuses on concepts, not just facts.

    Thinking: As a philosopher, Colline is the only bohemian with a vocation aimed at bringing something of practical use to the world, not just artistic pleasure. We first meet him coming home from trying to do something useful for the group, earning money by pawning his books. In Act II, he’s the only one who spends all his money on practical things: a shave, a coat (or, if the production gives the coat more sentimental value by having him wear it from the start, just having it mended), and books to serve his vocation. As mentioned above, he also dismisses romance as not worth its trouble, and of course when the dying Mimí appears in the last act, he makes himself memorably useful by pawning his coat. And while commentators often focus on the symbolism of “Vecchia zimmara” (i.e. that the coat represents la vie de bohéme and selling it represents maturing and leave that lifestyle behind), there’s no hint that Colline himself sees that meaning in the moment, or anything but a half-joking and half-poignant farewell to a favorite useful garment. Meaning never seems to interest him the way use does.

    Judging: Even though Colline has a quick verbal wit and can be exuberant and playful, he’s never shown being quite as spontaneous as his friends, but seems to let them sweep him up in their adventures while always keeping one foot in a quieter world of books and sarcasm. The bass-voiced stolidness of his music compared to theirs reinforces this impression. And since he’s a philosopher, it’s only natural that he lives less by moment-to-moment whims and more by principles than his friends do. His subtle anti-authoritarianism and his aversion to romance and other “frivolities” feel more like genuine principles of his worldview than, say, Rodolfo or Marcello’s emotion-based bouts of cynicism… not least because he stays true to them throughout the opera.

     

    Colline would be amused and at least mock-proud to know that he shares his Myers-Briggs type with Batman, Sherlock Holmes, both Dumbledore and Voldemort in Harry Potter, and no shortage of other famous villains and dark-edged heroes. Colline is more fun loving than most of them, but he still shares their intellectual, “outside-the-box” approach to life. And inasmuch as all bohemians have some idealism, he seems to have plenty of INTJ cynicism too, judging by his remarks about “the vulgar mob,” rich men, women and shaving, and by the fact that while we never get to see his philosophical writings, Schaunard calls them “grumbling.” It’s no wonder that of the two supporting male bohemians, Puccini and the librettists chose to single Colline out with his own aria. In their introverted way, INTJs always stand out.

     

    Schaunard: ESTP (“The Entrepreneur”/“The Doer”/“The Promoter”/“The Spartan”)

    Extraversion: It seems that in this opera, the baritone voice means “both socially and cognitively an Extravert.” Just like Mimí, Marcello and Musetta, Schaunard is focused on the external world and other people and is always entertaining his friends, telling them what to do, or responding to them. Like Musetta in particular, he also seems to love attention. Appropriately, as a musician, he’s the only bohemian who’s work involves performing, not just creating.

    Sensing: Music, food, pretty girls, bustling city streets, his friends’ amusing antics, his own acts of resourcefulness… these are the things that interest Schaunard, not ideas, symbolism or philosophy. Like Mimí, Marcello and Musetta, he lives in the present, literal world.

    Thinking: Schaunard always seems to have a little more money than his friends and in both Acts I and IV is the one who provides food. Judging both by his story of killing the parrot and by his haggling with the horn-vendor in Act II, he’s always on the lookout for ways to get what he needs and doesn’t mind eccentric or amoral choices as long as they’re useful. Also, like his fellow Thinker Colline, he spends his Christmas Eve “fortune” on useful things: food, firewood, wine, cigars, and new musical instruments. Nor does he show any interest in romantic love, though he seems to like girls in general and is proud of his ability to charm them: especially if it serves a purpose, as with the maid who helped him poison the parrot. Like Colline and unlike the four romantic leads, he always seems more concerned with the use of things than he is with their meaning.

    Perception: Once again we have a character who rarely seems to plan anything or operate by preconceived principles, but is an excellent explorer and improviser. His keen observation skills show in his situation-by-situation resourcefulness, in his gleeful skewering of Marcello’s feigned hardness toward Musetta during her waltz aria, and more poignantly, in the fact that he’s eventually the first to realize that Mimí is dead. Another classic Perceiver.

     

    Schaunard belongs to a grand tradition of ESTP supporting characters who provide comic relief with their wisecracking wit, bravado, hedonistic streak and occasional cowardliness (that last trait doesn’t apply to Schaunard, though), but also offer true friendship and valuable street smarts and drive for action. More recent pop culture examples include Ron in Harry Potter, Timon in The Lion King, Mushu in Mulan, Rizzo the Rat from the Muppets, Sokka in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Rainbow Dash in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s no surprise that the ever-cinematic Puccini should include such a pop culturally ubiquitous character type in his most famous opera.

     

    Of course Puccini, Giacosa and Illica never specifically set out to give the characters these cognitive/personality types. Myers and Briggs published their handbook nearly 20 years after Puccini’s death! Still, if you look for the types, they’re right there, consistent and convincing.

     

    It’s especially interesting to find that Rodolfo shares my Myers-Briggs type, that Mimí and Marcello both share my mother’s and that Musetta share’s my father’s. The fact that Marcello and Musetta share my parents’ types isn’t the least bit surprising in hindsight. I know from firsthand experience that an ESFP/ESFJ couple can carry a strong attraction and mesh together well, but also be a volatile pairing. I suppose those two types are just similar enough, yet just a little too different in some ways, and vice-versa.

     

    Realizing my cognitive kinship with Rodolfo also highlights just why I have a love-hate relationship both with his character (besides his flashes of 19th century sexism, which all the male bohemians share) and with Bohéme as a whole. On the one hand, he’s a passionate, romantic dreamer-poet after my own heart; a fictional lover who tempts me to project all my fantasies onto him, like he does with Mimí. But then he treats Mimí appallingly between Acts II and III, which triggers my INFP “How dare you have flaws?!” instinct, and worse, reminds me of how I used to emotionally torture my mom back when I was a hormonal, rage-prone teenager. My mom’s cognitive kinship with Mimí reinforces this; Mimí’s outpouring of anguish to Marcello from the depths of her sensitive ESFP heart, but at the same time unconditional, self-effacing forgiveness to Rodolfo, feels all too familiar.

     

    Nor does my kinship with Rodolfo make it easy to hear commentators discuss the terrible disillusionment and loss of innocence he faces over the course of the opera. Even though I’m older than Rodolfo now, I don’t know if I’m more mature than he is or not. After all, my Asperger’s has kept me from experiencing as much of the “real world” as most people my age. I’m not sure if I have a decent adult understanding of the world or if “the harsh realities of life” (can we please ban that hackneyed phrase from all writings about Bohéme forever?) have yet to crush my youthful spirits. When commentators imagine a bleak future for Rodolfo… e.g. that he’ll “never be the same” after Mimí’s death and will probably give up his poetry, drift apart from his friends and get a joyless, mind-numbing “real” job… it sometimes makes me worry about my own future.

     

    I can’t wait to use this method to analyze more opera characters and discover more fresh insights into the operas I love.

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