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" I see in you the dream I’d like to dream forever "
An Opera in four acts
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica based on Henri Murger’s novella Scenes de la vie de bohème
First performance: Turin; Teatro Regio, February 1, 1896
Performed in Italian with English supertitles above the stage
The world’s most popular opera! It’s Christmas Eve in Paris, complete with the abandoned revelry of Bohemian life. The novelist Henri Murger wrote a journal about his youth in Paris in the 1830s and from its pages comes a musical version that Puccini set to beautiful and passionate melody so eloquent in its expression of love won and lost that it hasn’t failed to inspire each succeeding generation. This is an opera to be seen again and again.
Colline, a philosopher
Students, working girls, townsfolk, shopkeepers, street-vendors, soldiers, waiters and children
Cast and opera are subject to change without notice.
Rodolfo, a poet, and Marcello, a painter, are at work in their garret apartment on Christmas Eve. They complain of the cold and Rodolfo decides to burn his great drama act by act in the stove. Soon they are joined by Colline, a philosopher, and Schaunard, a musician, who bursts on the scene with food, wine, cigars, firewood and money. He explains how he came into his fortune but all are too busy enjoying themselves to listen.
He soon convinces them to save the food for later and explore the Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve instead. They are interrupted by a knock on the door. It is the landlord, Benoit, who demands the rent. The friends ply him with wine and when he boasts of his conquests with the ladies, they feign indignation at the scandalous behavior of a married man and throw him out.
They prepare to leave, but Rodolfo decides he’ll finish a writing assignment and join them later. As he tries to work, he is interrupted by a knock on the door from Mimì, a seamstress, whose candle has gone out. She is pale and faints in his arms. Reviving, she lights her candle and is on her way, only to discover she has lost her door key. In the ensuing excitement, both candles are extinguished and the two find themselves alone in the darkness. They search for the key, which the poet finds and quickly conceals.
The young couple introduce themselves to each other and in the moonlight Rodolfo declares his love. Hand-in-hand they wander out to join the friends at the Café Momus.
An enormous crowd of people fills the Latin Quarter on Christmas Eve; hawkers, children, soldiers, students, and shopgirls. Schaunard haggles with a vendor about a horn; Colline gets his beloved coat mended; Marcello is out chasing girls.
The three find a table outside at the Café Momus and are joined by Rodolfo and Mimì, who shows them the bonnet that Rodolfo has just bought her.
A toy vendor and a horde of children pass by, and then in the midst of a toast, Marcello sees his former love, Musetta. She is followed by her present patron, Alcindoro, in a grand entrance. Proceeding to move heaven and earth to attract Marcello’s attention, she finally tells Alcindoro that her foot is killing her and that he must run and buy her a new pair of shoes. He grumblingly does so and Musetta throws herself into the arms of her waiting Marcello.
Musetta tells the waiter to add the group’s bill into hers and they all wonder off, following a troop of soldiers, and are lost in the crowd. Alcindoro returns with the new pair shoes and is presented with the bills.
The outskirts of the city are beginning to come alive on a winter morning. Mimì enters and asks after Marcello who then comes from a nearby tavern where he is staying with Musetta. Mimì tells Marcello of the great difficulties that she and Rodolfo are having and confesses that she believes it is all over for them. Marcello agrees that love must be pleasant in order to endure and tells Mimì that Rodolfo is asleep in the tavern now, having just arrived a few hours before. Mimì does not want to talk to him and bids Marcello farewell.
Rodolfo comes out of the tavern looking for Marcello and tells his friend that Mimì is fickle and heartless. But then, when Marcello questions him, he confesses that the real trouble is that she is gravely ill and that there is no way he can give her the care she needs. He is heartsick with guilt and frustration.
Mimì has listened nearby and an uncontrollable outburst of coughing reveals her presence. Rodolfo consoles her in his arms and, while Musetta and Marcello carry on a stormy lovers’ quarrel, the poet and seamstress decide to spend the remainder of the lonely winter together and wait till spring to go their separate ways.
Rodolfo and Marcello, alone again, muse over their lost loves. Schaunard enters with bread and a herring and they pretend to be at a banquet. Dancing and a mock duel follow, but in the midst of the horseplay the door is flung open by Musetta. With her she has brought Mimì, who is very ill. Rodolfo carries Mimì in and tries to make her comfortable. Musetta tells the others how she had met Mimì, who had asked to be brought back to Rodolfo to die. She takes off her earrings and gives them to Marcello to sell. They leave together and are soon followed by Schaunard and Colline, who bids a touching farewell to the overcoat he decides to pawn.
The lovers, left alone, dwell on the past until Mimì is seized by a terrible fit of coughing. Marcello returns with medicine and Musetta with a muff, which Mimì believes to be from Rodolfo. She puts her hands in it and gently slips into unconsciousness. One by one, the Bohemians come to the realization that Mimì has died.