Name: La bohème (The Bohemians)
Composer: Giacomo Puccini
Librettists: Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Source: the 1851 novel Scènes de la vie de bohème (Scenes of Bohemian Life) by Henri Murger
Premiere: 1 February 1896 at the Teatro Regio in Turin
List of characters
Rodolfo: a poet, tenor
Mimì: a seamstress, soprano
Marcello: a painter, baritone
Musetta: a singer, soprano
Schaunard: a musician, baritone
Colline: a philosopher, bass
Benoît: their landlord, bass
Alcindoro: a state councillor, Musetta’s lover, bass
Parpignol: a toy vendor, tenor
A customs sergeant, bass
‘Questo Mar Rosso mi ammollisce’ (Marcello, Rodolfo)
‘Pensier profondo’ (Marcello, Rodolfo, Colline, Schaunard)
‘Abbasso, abbasso l’autor’ (Marcello, Rodolfo, Colline, Schaunard, Benoît)
‘Chi è la!? -Scusi -Una donna! …’ (Rodolfo, Mimì)
‘Che gelida manina’ (Rodolfo)
‘Sì. Mi chiamano Mimì’ (Mimì)
‘Ah! Tu sol comandi, amor!’ (Rodolfo, Mimì)
‘Aranci! Datteri!’ (Chorus)
‘Falso questo Re!’ (Schaunard, Mimì, Rodolfo, Colline, Marcello, Chorus)
‘Parpignol!’ (Chorus, Parpignol, Marcello, Schaunard, Colline, Rodolfo, Mimì)
‘Ch’io beva del tossico!’ (Marcello, Musetta, Alcindoro, Chorus, Mimì, Rodolfo, Colline, Schaunard)
‘Quando m’en vo’ (Musetta)
‘Quella gente che dira’ (Rodolfo, Schaunard, Colline, Musetta, Mimì, Alcindoro, Marcello)
‘Ecco il tambur maggiore!’ (Chorus, Mimì, Musetta, Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline, Schaunard)
‘Chi nel bel trovà il piacer’ (Chorus, Guard, Musetta, Sergeant)
‘-Mimì -Speravo di trovarvi qui’ (Mimì, Marcello)
‘Marcello. Finalmente!’ (Rodolfo, Marcello)
‘-Mimì!? -Che vuol dire?’ (Rodolfo, Marcello, Mimì)
‘Donde lieta’ (Mimì)
‘Addio dolce svegliare’ (Mimì, Rodolfo, Musetta, Marcello)
‘O Mimì tu più non torni’ (Marcello, Rodolfo)
‘Eccoci!’ (Marcello, Rodolfo, Colline, Schaunard)
‘-Musetta! -C’è Mimì’ (Marcello, Musetta, Rodolfo, Schaunard, Mimì, Colline)
‘Vecchia zimarra’ (Colline)
‘Sono andati?’ (Mimì, Rodolfo)
‘Che ha detto il medico?’ (Rodolfo, Musetta, Marcello, Schaunard, Colline)
Puccini’s four-act tragic tale follows the lives of four struggling artists, the bohemians of the title. Rodolfo, a poet, Marcello, a painter, Schaunard, a musician, and Colline, a philosopher, live together in a freezing garrett in 1830s Paris. One fateful Christmas Eve the beautiful Mimì, a seamstress, knocks on their door.
Rodolfo and Mimì fall in love at first sight, but their initial happiness comes to an end when it becomes clear that Mimì is very ill and the penniless Rodolfo can’t look after her. He drives her away, breaking both their hearts. But the two lovers are later reunited, only for Mimì to die in the poet’s arms.
It’s Christmas Eve in 1830s Paris. The opera opens in a rundown attic apartment with near-destitute poet Rodolfo and painter Marcello complaining of the bitter cold. They burn Rodolfo’s latest drama to keep warm. Flatmate Colline, a philosopher, enters, penniless having failed to sell some books. But then the fourth member of the group comes in bearing food, wine, fuel and money. Schaunard, a musician, has had the good fortune of being employed by an eccentric Englishman.
The three friends set the table for a meal, but Schaunard insists they will eat out at the popular Café Momus. However, their landlord Benoît turns up to demand the rent. They invite him in, ply him with wine and encourage him to share his amorous adventures. They feign indignation at his infidelities and throw him out – avoiding paying the rent.
While Marcello, Colline and Schaunard leave the garrett, Rodolfo remains behind for a few moments to finish an article. A knock on the door reveals beautiful seamstress Mimì, a neighbour. Her candle has gone out and she asks Rodolfo for a light. She becomes faint and Rodolfo offers her wine.
He relights the candle and she leaves, quickly realising, however, that she dropped her key. She goes back and she and Rodolfo search for the key. Both their candles go out and they continue searching in the dark. Rodolfo finds the key but hides it, wanting to draw out the time spent with his beautiful neighbour.
Rodolfo’s friends call to him from outside. He suggests that he and Mimì stay at home, but she wants to go to Café Momus with him. The pair leave, singing of their new-found love for each other.
The action has moved outside in the Quartier Latin. The streets are full of revellers and last-minute shoppers, the bustle, noise and obvious consumption contrast greatly with the poverty of the friends’ apartment.
Rodolfo buys his new beloved a bonnet and introduces her to his friends. The four men and Mimì dine at Café Momus. But their evening is interrupted when Marcello’s former sweetheart Musetta arrives with her new lover, the wealthy, but elderly Alcindoro. Musetta is determined to get the attention of her old flame. She sends Alcindoro away and it quickly becomes clear that Musetta and Marcello still have feelings for each other and they blissfully fall into one another’s arms.
The waiter arrives with the bill, but Schaumard’s money has gone missing, so Musetta suggests adding it to her own – claiming that Alcindoro will pay. The four bohemians and the two women leave quickly, while Alcindoro returns to find that his paramour has vanished, leaving him with a large bill to pay.
A few months have passed and the act opens on a cold February day on the outskirts of Paris. Mimì has come in search of Marcello, who is now living with Musetta. She finds him at the tavern where he works and tells him that Rodolfo’s jealousy is ruining their relationship and she thinks it might be best if they part.
Rodolfo appears and Mimì hides. He claims that he can no longer stand Mimì’s flirtatiousness and he wants to end their relationship. However, Marcello questions him and the poet admits that he realises that Mimì is dying and feels responsible because his poverty is such that he can’t adequately look after her.
Mimì hears all this, and when Marcello disappears inside the tavern after hearing Musetta laughing with the guests, she reveals herself. Rodolfo and Mimì admit they love each other. They can’t stay together but can’t bear to part; they agree to separate in spring. In contrast, Musetta and Marcello argue and split up.
More time has passed and it’s now spring. Rodolfo and Marcello are back sharing their garrett. Ostensibly trying to work, they spend more time lamenting the absence of their lovers, who have now left them.
Schaunard and Colline come in bearing meagre supplies for dinner, which the four friends pretend is a bountiful banquet, complete with dancing and celebrations. Musetta bursts in, interrupting their carousing to announce that Mimì is outside in the street and she is fatally ill. She wants to come inside but is too weak to climb the stairs.
Mimì is brought up to the garrett, where she settles on a bed. Musetta and Marcello leave to sell Musetta’s earrings and Colline and Schaunard go to pawn the former’s coat so they can buy warm clothes and medicine for Mimì. Now alone, Mimì and Rodolfo recall their past happiness and declare their love for each other.
The others return with a muff for Mimì’s hands and a cordial to soothe her cough. But it isn’t enough and Mimì drifts into unconsciousness, to die peacefully in her sleep. Inconsolable, Rodolfo collapses in despair.
La bohème is one of Puccini’s most-performed operas. This scene takes place outside Café Momus; it is from a 2020 Royal Opera production, directed by Richard Jones and conducted by Emmanuel Villaume (Tristram Kenton).