La bohème

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La bohème



by Giacomo Puccini
Sung in Italian with projected English translations


Because, in the most captivating music Puccini ever composed, he shows us exactly what love is about. Mimì and Rodolfo are young lovers we all understand, and when they suffer, our hearts break for them. Their romance ultimately leads to tragedy, but along the way are treasured moments of pure ecstasy. We get to know this endearing pair and their Bohemian friends, and we totally connect with their feelings. La bohème remains forever youthful, eternally fresh.


Julius Frankel
Abbot Fund

A coproduction between Lyric Opera of Chicago, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and Teatro Real Madrid.

Approximate Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes with 1 intermission


Photo: Andrew Cioffi

La bohème Opera Resources

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La bohème

Opera Commentary

commentary by Wynne Delacoma


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La bohème

Audio Highlights

"Che gelida manina!"

"Quando m'en vo"
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Music for La bohème is generously furnished by Warner Classics.
© 2018/19 Lyric Opera Commentaries. All rights reserved. Recording & Production services provided by Mark Travis.

Photos: Catherine Ashmore/Royal Opera House

The opera is set in Paris.

An attic in the Latin Quarter, Christmas Eve

Rodolfo and Marcello complain about the bitter cold. They need to light their stove: Marcello suggests using a chair, but Rodolfo offers themanuscript of the play he is writing. Colline enters and the remaining acts of the play are burned.

Schaunard enters with wood, food, and wine. He explains that an Englishman engaged him to play his violin to hasten the death of a parrot. The friends decide to go to eat in the Latin Quarter but are interrupted by Benoît, their landlord, who has come for the rent. They ply him with wine and Benoît boasts of his sexual prowess. The Bohemians pretend outrage at Benoît’s immorality and push him out.

Marcello, Colline, and Schaunard head to Café Momus, leaving Rodolfo behind to finish an article. There is a knock at the door. It is a young woman who asks for a light for her candle. She feels faint from climbing the stairs. As she is leaving, her candle flickers out again and she realizes that she has lost her key. Rodolfo’s candle also goes out and they search for her key in the moonlight. Rodolfo takes the young woman’s icy hand and tells her of his life as a poet. She tells him her name, Mimì, and describes her simple life as a flower embroiderer. Schaunard, Colline, and Marcello shout up to Rodolfo to hurry. Mimì asks if she may join them at the Café Momus. Rodolfo suggests they might stay in, but eventually they leave together singing of their love.

The Latin Quarter
Rodolfo and Mimì wander through the Christmas Eve crowds. Rodolfo introduces Mimì to his friends. When Mimì shows her new friends the bonnet Rodolfo has brought her, Marcello expresses cynicism about romance.

As they propose a toast, Marcello’s ex-girlfriend Musetta appears, accompanied by Alcindoro, her rich admirer. Agitated at being ignored by Marcello, Musetta launches into a song – to provoke and seduce him.She complains of a painful foot and dispatches Alcindoro to buy new shoes. The bill for supper arrives, but the Bohemians have already spent their money. Musetta places their bill on Alcindoro’s plate. A marching band arrives, and the Bohemians leave with Musetta. Alcindoro returns and is presented with the bill.

Outside the Barrière d’Enfer

Workers arrive from out of town to enter the city. From inside a tavern comes the voice of Musetta. Mimì appears, ill and wracked with coughing. She asks for Marcello. He tells her that he and Musetta are now living at the inn and that Rodolfo turned up in the night. Mimì explains that Rodolfo’s jealousy is destroying their relationship and he wants to leave her. Marcello advises Mimì to go, but she hides nearby.

Rodolfo comes out of the tavern and says he will break up with Mimì: her flirting has incensed him. Eventually, however, he reveals the real reason for their separation: she is so ill that his miserable poverty offers her nothing but the prospect of death. They hear Mimì crying and coughing. As Rodolfo rushes to her, Musetta’s laughter is heard and Marcello rushes into the tavern to see what she is doing. Mimì says farewell to Rodolfo, telling him that she will send a porter for her possessions. She proposes that he keep her bonnet as a memento of their love. Marcello and Musetta quarrel and separate. Rodolfo and Mimì decide to postpone their separation until the spring.

The attic, autumn

Marcello and Rodolfo taunt each other about their ex-lovers: Rodolfo has seen Musetta in a fine carriage and Marcello has seen Mimì dressed like a queen. They pretend not to miss their lovers, but then admit that they do. Schaunard and Colline arrive with bread and a herring and the four eat and amuse each other.

Suddenly Musetta enters. She has brought Mimì, who is desperately ill. Musetta explains that she met her in the street and that Mimì begged to be taken to Rodolfo. Mimì rallies and greets the friends. Musetta instructs Marcello to sell her earrings to pay for medicine and a doctor. Colline leaves to pawn his overcoat. Alone with Rodolfo, Mimì expresses her boundless love for him. He shows her the bonnet and they reminisce about their first meeting. The others return with a muff and medicine, promising that a doctor will come. Mimì dies unnoticed while they are preparing her medicine. Colline arrives with money from the pawnbroker, but it is too late.

This synopsis was originally printed in the program of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden.

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