The opera is set in Paris. The 1930s.
An attic in the Latin Quarter; Christmas
Rodolfo and Marcello complain of the bitter cold. They need to light
their stove: Marcello suggests using a chair, but Rodolfo offers the manuscript
of the play he is writing and they banter ironically as they enjoy the fleeting
warmth. Colline enters and the remaining acts of the play are burnt. Colline
brings wood, cigars and wine, followed by Schaunard, who explains that an
Englishman engaged him to play his violin incessantly, to hasten the death of a
neighbourґs noisy parrot: after three days he had the bird poisoned.
friends decision to eat in the Latin Quarter are interrupted by Benoit, their
landlord who has come for the rent. They ply him with wine until he boasts of
his amorous conquests: he prefers plump women to skinny ones like his wife. The
Bohemians pretend outrage at Benoitґs infidelity and push him out.
prepare to leave for the Cafи Momus, but Rodolfo says he will stay
behind to finish writing an article. There is a noise outside the door. It is a
girl who asks for a light for her candle, she feels faint after climbing the
stairs. As she is leaving, her candle flickers out again and she realizes she
has lost her key. Rodolfoґs candle goes out too as he helps her. He takes her
cold hand and tells her of his life as a poet. She says her name is Mimi and
describes her simple life as a flower embroiderer.
The voices of Rodolfoґs
friends are heard, telling him to hurry. He answers and turns to find Mimi
bathed in moonlight. They declare their love for each other. Mimi asks if she
may join the four friends in the Cafи Momus. Rodolfo at first wants to
stay, but eventually they leave, singing of love.
The Cafи "Momus" in the Latin Quarter
It is a
bustling Christmas scene; hawkers and traders cry their wares; Rodolfo and Mimi
wander through the crowd. They sit down and order dinner. Rodolfo introducing
Mimi to his friends. Parpignol, a toyseller, passes, followed by a crowd of
children. When Mimi shows her new friends the bonnet Rodolfo has bought her, it
angers Marcello: he thinks of his faithless Musetta. As they propose a toast
Musetta appears, accompanied by Alcindoro, an admirer whom she is tormenting.
Musetta, increasingly agitated at being ignored by Marcello, determines to win
him back. She launches into a song in which Marcello eventually joins. She
complains of a painful foot and dispatches Alcindoro to buy new shoes. The bill
for supper appears and no-one has any money. Musetta saves the situation by
placing the bill on Alcindoroґs plate. The friends leave as a band marches
through the square: Alcindoro returns, finds the bill, and sinks dumbfounded
into a chair.
Outside the "Enferґs Barriere"
Sweepers shout to be
let through the gate. From inside the tavern comes the voice of Musetta. Mimi
enters, ill and racked with coughing. She asks for Marcello. He tells her that
he and Musetta have been living there and that Rodolfo is now with them. Mimi
explains that Rodolfoґs jealousy is destroying their relationships and that last
night he left her. Marcello advises Mimi to go, but instead she hides
Rodolfo comes out of the tavern and says he must break with Mimi: her
flirting has driven him mad. Eventually, however, he reveals the real reason:
she is so ill that his miserable poverty offers her nothing but the prospect of
Mimi breaks down, weeping and coughing. As Rodolfo hurries to her,
Musettaґs laughter is heard and Marcello goes to see what she is up to. Mimi
says farewell to Rodolfo: all she asks is that he sends her possessions, but if
he wishes, he may keep the pink bonnet. Marcello and Musetta, quarrelling,
separate acrimoniously. Rodolfo and Mimi together, resolving to postpone their
separation until the spring.
The attic; some months later
Marcello and Rodolfo,
trying to work, are discussing their lives. Rodolfo has seen Musetta in a fine
carriage; Marcello has seen Mimi dressed like a queen. Rodolfo takes out Mimiґs
bonnet and Marcello pulls some of Musettaґs ribbons from his pocket; they both
indulge in a nostalgic recollection of times past.
Schaunard and Colline
arrive with bread and a herring and the tour clown around in mock ceremony
Suddenly Musetta enters. She has brought Mimi, who is desperately ill. Rodolfo
carries Mimi in and she is helped to bed. Musetta explains that she met Mimi in
the street and that Mimi, sensing she was dying, begged to be taken to Rodolfo.
Mimi rallies and greets the friends. Musetta instructs Marcello to sell her
earrings to pay for medicine and a doctor. Colline leaves to pawn his beloved
old coat. Mimi expresses her love for Rodolfo. They are reconciled and reminisce
about their first meeting.
Mimi is overwhelmed by a coughing fit. The others
return with a muff and medicine. But it is too late: Mimi dies unnoticed while
they are preparing her medicine.