La Bohème Synopsis
In the Latin Quarter of 19th-century Paris, Rodolfo, a poet, and Marcello, a painter, share a garret studio. It is Christmas Eve and bitterly cold. The two friends try to stay warm by feeding pages of Rodolfo's latest manuscript into the stove. They are joined by Colline, a philosopher, and Schaunard, a musician who has recently landed a job and who brings food, wine, firewood and money. Schaunard relates the ludicrous details of his employment by an eccentric Englishman, while the others ignore him and unpack the food. As they enjoy the wine, the landlord, Benoit, arrives to collect the rent. Plying the older man with wine, they flatter him shamelessly and urge him to tell of his flirtations, then throw him out in mock indignation.
The friends depart for a Christmas Eve celebration at Café Momus, leaving Rodolfo behind, who promises to join them as soon as he finishes writing an article. There is a knock at the door: it is a neighbour, Mimì, whose candle has gone out on the drafty stairs. She coughs painfully.
Rodolfo, distressed by her pallor, offers her a glass of wine. After she has revived, he relights her candle and helps her to the door, but she discovers that she has dropped her key. Both their candles are blown out, plunging the room into darkness. As they search for the key in the moonlight, their fingers touch.
Taking her shivering hand in his, Rodolfo tells Mimì about his life and his dreams. Mimì reveals that she is a seamstress who lives alone, waiting each year for the warmth of spring to bring the scent of real flowers instead of the ones she embroiders all winter. Drawn to each other, they declare their love and depart for the café together.
In the busy square outside Café Momus, students, urchins and townspeople jostle as street vendors hawk their wares. Rodolfo buys Mimì a bonnet before introducing her to his friends. They sit at an outdoor table, order dinner and banter good-naturedly. A toy vendor, Parpignol, passes by, besieged by children.
Marcello’s former lover Musetta sweeps in, followed by the elderly, wealthy Alcindoro, whom she treats like a dog. Musetta sits near Marcello but he studiously ignores her. Trying to regain the painter’s attention, she sings a waltz about her beauty and irresistibility. Complaining loudly that her shoe pinches, Musetta sends Alcindoro to buy her a new pair. Realizing the purpose of Musetta’s ruse, Marcello sings to her ecstatically as they fall into each other’s arms. The Bohemians join a group of marching soldiers, leaving a befuddled Alcindoro to pay the bill.
Act 3: Two Months Later
Marcello and Musetta are living in uneasy harmony at a tavern on the outskirts of Paris. Mimì, racked with coughing, appears, searching for Marcello. When the painter emerges, she weeps and pours out her heart: Rodolfo’s unrelenting jealousy has made their life together miserable; he has walked out. It is best they part, she says.
Mimì hides as Rodolfo, who has been asleep in the tavern, comes out. He confides to Marcello that he wants to leave Mimì because of her constant flirtations. Pressed, he confesses that the real reason is that Mimì is dying.
Rodolfo is consumed with remorse: he believes their poor living conditions may have worsened her illness, and in his poverty, he can no longer provide for her.
Overhearing this, Mimì cannot stifle her sobs. Wildly calling her name, Rodolfo takes her in his arms as they bid each other farewell.
Hearing Musetta's raucous laughter from inside the tavern, Marcello runs in to investigate. Crockery is smashed and the two of them storm out, hurling insults at each other. As they quarrel, Mimì and Rodolfo declare their love for each other and vow to wait until spring before they separate.
Act 4: Several Months Later
In their garret, Rodolfo and Marcello gamely pretend to work as they talk of their lost loves. Their glumness is interrupted by the arrival of Schaunard and Colline bearing rolls and a herring for dinner. The four then stage a dance, which becomes a mock sword fight. When the merriment is at its peak, Musetta rushes in. Mimì is with her, desperately ill.
As Rodolfo helps Mimì to the bed, Musetta relates how Mimì left her rich lover and begged to be brought here to die. Marcello goes with Musetta to sell her earrings for medicine. Colline leaves with Schaunard to pawn his treasured old overcoat. Alone, the lovers recall the early days. When the others return, Musetta gives Mimì her fur muff and says a prayer. After a fit of coughing, Mimì peacefully dies. With agonized sobs, Rodolfo takes her in his arms and cries out her name.
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Watch Scenes from La Boheme
La Bohème - Behind the Scenes
Go behind the scenes during rehearsals of VO's La Bohème
Conductor Leslie Dala on Love in La Bohème
Conductor Leslie Dala on Humour in La Bohème
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