«Una vita gaia e terribile»: è quella dei bohémien. In una Parigi fredda e invernale quattro giovani artisti tirano a campare con pochi soldi, cercando di mangiare qualcosa e godendo di sprazzi di vita al Caffe Momus. L'intreccio tra due storie d'amore, quelle di Marcello con Musetta e Rodolfo con Mimi è l'occasione per mostrare anche il lato oscuro del'amore: i litigi tra innamorati e le gelosie reciproche, che svaniscono quando qualcosa di più grande si palesa: la morte.
Opera in quattro quadri
Libretto di Luigi Illica e Giuseppe Giacosa, ispirato al romanzo Scene della vita di Bohème di Henri Murger
Musica di Giacomo Puccini
It is Christmas Eve: Rodolfo the poet and Marcello the painter are working, but their garret, high up amongst the roofs of Paris, is cold and there is no more wood for the fire. In order to warm himself up Rodolfo, without thinking twice, throws the manuscript of his latest play into the fire. Colline, the philosopher, comes in; he has tried to scrape together a bit of money at the pawnshop. Soon after this the fourth member of the party arrives, Schaunard, the musician, preceded by two lads loaded with wood and food. This sudden wealth is the result of a stroke of luck; he has helped a rich Englishman to get rid of a parrot which was being a nuisance and has received a recompense. The young men want to set to eat, but Schaunard advises them to set aside the food for the future and go and dine in the Latin Quarter. They are about to leave when there is a knock at the door; it is the landlord, Benoît, who has come to claim the rent which is in arrears. The four young men make him sit down and offer him a drink, admiring him when he recounts his amorous adventures, but when the old man lets slip that he is married, they pretend to be scandalised and chase him off without paying him. While they go off to dinner, Rodolfo stays behind to finish an article for the paper. But he is interrupted immediately: Mimì, a young neighbour, knocks at the door asking him for a match to light her lamp. The minute she comes in she is overcome by a fit of coughing and Rodolfo helps her get over it by offering her some wine. When she is about to leave, Mimì notices that she has lost her latch key and begs the young man to help her look for it. The wind again blows out the lamp and Rodolfo secretly blows on her candle. The two of them look for the key in the darkness; the poet finds it first and hides it. Their hands meet; Rodolfo talks about himself and Mimì tells him about her happy but simple life as a flower girl. From the street, Rodolfo’s friends protest about having to wait so long. The young couple, who have by now fallen for one another, kiss and, embracing, join the others.
Act Two - In the Latin Quarter
Mixed with the crowd of the Latin Quarter the four friends do their shopping; Rodolfo buys a pink bonnet for Mimì. Then they meet as arranged at the Momus Café. The poet introduces his new friend to his companions, who greet her happily. Then they all order dinner. Musetta, Marcello’s old flame, arrives on the scene with her latest boyfriend: Alcindoro, a rich, old man. To make Marcello jealous, Musetta does all sorts of strange things: she provokes him with a shameless song, then sends Alcindoro off to the cobbler with one of her shoes which is hurting her, finally she throws herself into Marcello’s arms. When the time comes to pay, Musetta adds the dinner of her five friends to the bill and goes off with them, while a military band passes by playing the retreat. Alcindoro returns with the mended shoe to find only a large bill waiting for him.
Act Three - The barrier d’Enfer
It is a cold dawn in February and it is snowing. The customs officers let the rubbish men and the peasant girls go by while from the tavern the sound of clinking glasses and Musetta’s gay voice can be heard. Mimì arrives looking for Marcello who is working at painting the sign outside the tavern. Marcello comes out of the tavern and listens to the girl’s desperate tale: Rodolfo’s absurd jealousy makes living with him impossible. When Rodolfo arrives Mimì hides and eavesdrops the conversation between the two friends. The young poet tries to justify his separation from the girl by suggesting her behaviour isn’t as it should be, but when the painter insists, Rodolfo decides to talk seriously: Mimì is very ill and needs to be properly looked after in a warm house: the life of poverty at his side is slowly killing her, so he has tried to leave her by pretending to be jealous. A fit of coughing gives away the girl, but when Mimì comes out from hiding, she seems to accept the idea of the separation. But the feeling between them is still strong and the memory of happy days leads them to express their love in a sad duet. Meanwhile the umpteenth quarrel starts up between Marcello and Musetta who he has caught flirting with a customer in the tavern. The scene ends with two contrasting situations: Mimì and Rodolfo decide to put off their separation till the ‘flower season’, Musetta and Marcello exchange angry insults.
Act Four - In the garret
Marcello and Rodolfo, who have now both been abandoned by their companions, pretend to be working intently, but they are, in fact, thinking about Musetta and Mimì exchanging nasty little remarks. Colline and Schaunard come in with some bread and a salted herring. The meal is meagre but sufficient to reawake in the garret some of their old good humour. They start joking and improvise a series of games and mimes. Suddenly the door bursts open; it is Musetta who is bringing up Mimì, exhausted and dying. Rodolfo lays her on the bed while the others busy themselves trying to make her comfortable. Musetta goes off to sell her earrings in order to buy a muff, Marcello runs off to look for a doctor, Colline decides to pawn his old overcoat. Alone, Rodolfo and Mimì think back to their first encounter and decide to stay with one another for ever. One by one the friends return bringing the muff and a cordial. Mimì, comforted by the affectionate presence of her friends, seems to rally, and gently falls asleep. Rodolfo illudes himself that she has made a sudden recovery then the behaviour of his friends quickly brings him back to reality. Desperately, he flings himself over the lifeless body of Mimì.