La Bohème

An opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini with a libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica after Henri Murger’s novel Scenes de la vie de bohème. Premiered in Turin on February 1, 1896 at the Teatro Regio (now the Teatro Regio Torino).


Paris, around 1830

Act I.          In a garret on Christmas eve

The poet Rodolfo (tenor) is looking at the snow covered rooftops, while his friend, the painter Marcello (baritone), works on a painting of the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea.  It is cold and, lacking wood, Rodolfo lights the stove with the manuscript of his latest play.  Two friends join them, the philosopher Colline (bass), and the musician Schaunard (baritone).  Schaunard brings food and wine bought with money he just earned from giving music lessons to a British tourist.  The four begin to feast when they are interrupted by the landlord Benoit (bass), who has come to claim the past due rent.  When the four bohemians loosen his tongue with a bit of wine, the old man boasts of his extra-marital affairs and the four penniless friends, feigning indignation, throw him out.  Marcello, Colline and Schaunard leave to go to Cafe Momus.  Rodolfo stays behind to finish a newspaper article he is writing.

Mimi (soprano), a neighbor, knocks at the door and asks if Rodolfo will light her candle.  She has a sudden fit of coughing and faints.  Rodolfo helps her recover.  When both candles go out (hers by accident his by intent), and Mimi drops her key on the floor, as they search, their hands touch and a tender bond is created between the two young people.  He tells her of his passion for writing, she tells him of her love of flowers and springtime.  From the courtyard Rodolfo’s friends call him to join them at the Café. Rodolfo tells them he is not alone, but that they will join them in a moment.  Rodolfo and Mimi embrace and leave together.

Act III           At the outskirts of Paris

A cold February day, at dawn.  After arguing with Mimi, Rodolfo has settled at the inn where Marcello and Musetta are living.  Mimi arrives to speak with Marcello.  She tells him she is afraid Rodolfo has left her forever, that he is insanely jealous, and they argue more and more.  She hides when Rodolfo comes out to talk with his friend, and overhears their conversation.  At first, he claims Mimi is a flirt and that he can’t trust her.  But when Marcello presses him, he admits that he believes Mimi is gravely ill and he can’t face the pain of losing her.  A fit of coughing gives Mimi away.  Rodolfo and Mimi embrace while Marcello and Musetta argue. They decide to go their separate ways, at least until spring.

Act IV          The garret apartment of Act I

Fall.  Rodolfo and Marcello are in the same situation as the opening of the opera — one writing, one painting.  This time, they cannot concentrate on their work out of melancholy for their lost loves.  Colline and Schaunard arrive and the four friends try to forget their sorrows by fooling around.  Musetta suddenly arrives, telling them that Mimi is desperately ill; she is at their doorstep and needs their help.  The men carry Mimi into the room.  Musetta sends Marcello to sell her earrings and to buy medicine while she goes out to buy a muff to warm Mimi’s icy hands.  Colline sets off to sell his coat, taking Schaunard with him.  Left alone, Rodolfo and Mimi recall their first meeting and the love they have for each other.  Their friends return, saying the doctor is on his way.  But it is too late.  Rodolfo at first thinks Mimi is asleep, until he notices the truth written on his friends’ faces.

Meet the Composer


Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in Tuscany, Italy in December 1858 into a family of five generations of church organists, choirmasters and composers.

His father died when he was 5 years old, and the young Puccini was sent to study with his uncle. As a teenager, Puccini served as an organist to the area churches and played the piano as entertainment at social events. In 1876, the 20-year old walked more than 18 miles to attend a performance of Verdi’s latest success, Aïda. He decided then that opera would be his life’s work.

The greatest influence in Puccini’s life was his mother, who petitioned and received a grant to send her son to the Milan Conservatory, where he earned his degree in 1883. While studying there, Puccini obtained a libretto from Ferdinando Fontana, and entered a competition for a one-act opera in 1882. Although he didn’t win, Le Villi was staged in 1884 at the Teatro Dal Verme and caught the attention of Giulio Ricordi, head of G. Ricordi & Co. music publishers, who commissioned a second opera, Edgar, in 1889.

Edgar failed, which may have led to Puccini’s decision to write his own libretto for his next opera, Manon Lescaut. He said that “no fool of a librettist” would spoil it. Ricordi persuaded him to accept Leoncavallo as his librettist, but Puccini soon asked Ricordi to remove him from the project. Four other librettists were then involved with the opera, due mainly to Puccini constantly changing his mind about the structure of the piece.  It was almost by accident that the final two, Illica and Giacosa, came together to complete the opera. They remained with Puccini for his next three operas and probably his greatest successes: La Bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly.

The world première of La Bohème took place in Turin in 1896 at Teatro Regio and was conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. The initial audience response was subdued, and critical responses were polarized. Despite this, the opera quickly became popular throughout Italy.

Puccini collaborated with several librettists on his works, including Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. His most famous operas include: Manon Lescaut (1893), La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904), La fanciulla del West (1810), Il Trittico—a collection of three one-act operas: Il tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi (1918) and Turandot (1926) – unfinished at the time of Puccini’s death and later completed by Franco Alfano, one of Puccini’s protégés.

Puccini was somewhat reclusive. He preferred his home in the country to hectic city life and enjoyed hunting and long walks through the countryside. He was a lifelong smoker, particularly of cigars, and in 1924 was diagnosed with throat cancer. He underwent surgery, which left him no longer able to speak. He died of a heart attack four days later in 1924 in Brussels.


James Meena


Aldo Tarabella


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