Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème Synopsis

The Story of Puccini's 1896 Four Act Opera

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Peter Wedd and Mary Plazas perform during the dress rehearsal of Francesco Zambello’s new production of Puccini’s much-loved opera La Boheme at the Royal Albert Hall February 25, 2004 in London. Photo by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images

The composer Giacomo Puccini created the opera La Bohème in 1896, a four-act opera that premiered on February 1, 1896, in Teatro Regio, Turin. The setting of La Bohème takes place in 1830s Paris, France. The opera is based on a collection of related stories by Henri Murger published in 1851 and follows the standard Italian opera format as a very popular performance across the world. The story shows vignettes of bohemian youths who lived in the Latin Quarter of Paris and focuses on relationships, characters, and lovers.

The Story of La Bohème, Act 1

In their tiny abysmal one-room attic apartment in Paris' Latin Quarter, the painter Marcello and his poet friend Rodolfo tear pages from Rodolfo's latest literary work and throw them into the small stove, hoping to keep the fire burning long enough to make it through the cold Christmas Eve night. Their roommates Colline (a philosopher) and Schaunard (a musician) return home with food to eat, wine to drink, cigars to smoke, fuel to burn, and a bit of money collected from an eccentric man who hired Schaunard to play the violin to his dying parrot.

Benoit, the landlord, stops by to collect the rent, and the four young men get him a little tipsy on wine then kick him out. The boys decide to go out Cafe Momus, but Rodolfo stays behind to write, promising to catch up with them later. After everyone leaves, Mimi, their pretty neighbor knocks at their door. Rodolfo opens the door to find that Mimi's candlelight has blown out.

After he relights it for her, she realizes she has lost her key. As they frantically look for it, both of their candles blow out.

They continue to look for her key within the room lit only by the moonlight. When their hands accidentally touch, something comes over Rodolfo. He tells Mimi about his dreams in the aria "Che gelida manina." In return, she tells him that she used to live alone in a small loft apartment where she would embroider flowers while waiting for the blossoms of springtime.

In the streets below the window, Rodolfo's roommates shout at him to join them. Rodolfo hollers back that he will be with them shortly. Mimi and Rodolfo are happy to be with each other and they set out to the cafe hand in hand.

Act 2

Rodolfo happily brings Mimi inside the cafe to introduce her to his friends. Moments later, Musetta, Marcello's former lover, makes her grand entrance while hanging on the arm of a wealthy elderly man named Alcindoro. Musetta has clearly grown tired of the old man's affections and resorts to attracting Marcello's attention instead. Finally after singing her famous aria, "Quando men vo,", she is able to rid herself of Alcindoro and fall back into Marcello's arms. When it is discovered that none of them has the money to pay for their meal, Musetta tells their waiter to charge everything to Alcindoro's account. With the sight of a group of soldiers marching past the cafe's windows, the bohemian friends quickly depart. Alcindoro returns to the table only to find a bill.

Act 3

In a tavern on the edge of Paris' city limits, Mimi wanders in while searching for Marcello and Musetta's new home. It isn't long until Marcello arrives and speaks with her. Mimi is concerned for Rodolfo.

Ever since they fell in love, he has been extremely jealous. She tells Marcello she feels it is in their best interest if they separate for a while. Meanwhile, Rodolfo has made his way down to the same tavern. When he enters, Mimi quickly departs, but instead of leaving, she hides in a nearby corner while Marcello and Rodolfo are unaware. Rodolfo pulls up a seat next to Marcello and tells him that he wants to separate from Mimi.

Marcello questions his reasoning and Rodolfo replies that he can't stand her sudden mood swings. Marcello doubts Rodolfo is being honest and pressures him into telling the truth. Rodolfo breaks down and confesses he fears for Mimi's life. She is constantly coughing and he believes their poverty is only making things worse. Mimi is overcome with sorrow and comes out of hiding to wish her lover a fond farewell.

Together, they remember their past happiness. Marcello, on the other hand, catches Musetta flirting with a strange man. He leaves the tavern with her as they hurl insults at each other. Mimi and Rodolfo stay behind and make a pact to stay together until spring, after which they can separate.

Act 4

Several months have passed and blossoms are emerging from the dormant earth. Marcello and Rodolfo find themselves in their apartment alone as their girlfriends left weeks before. Colline and Schaunard enter with a small meal, and it is decided among them that they will lighten their spirits with a lively dance. All of a sudden Musetta barges into the apartment informing them that Mimi awaits on the street below, too weak to climb the stairs. Rodolfo rushes down to greet her and carries her back up to their apartment.

Musetta hands Marcello her earrings while asking him to sell them so that she can buy medicine for Mimi. The other men clamor together to find things to sell and they all quickly rush down to the crowded streets. The two lovers are left alone and they think about the first time they met. Their memories are interrupted with violent fits of coughing. Finally, everyone returns, but Mimi's condition worsens. She drifts in and out of consciousness while Rodolfo holds her in his arms. Moments pass before he realizes that Mimi is no longer breathing. In his grief, he lays over her lifeless body while calling out her name.

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