La bohème - Synopsis
Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
Poet Rodolfo and painter Marcello are sitting in their cold garret on Christmas Eve, freezing, hungry and flat broke as usual. To warm up the room just a little, Rodolfo burns a play script he had been working on. Downtrodden, Colline the philosopher returns home after finding the pawnshop closed for the holidays. Musician Schaunard, the final member of this quartet of friends, has been a bit more successful. He brings along food, wine and some money. The initially glum mood rapidly turns into one of great exuberance.
This, however, is rapidly interrupted by the arrival of the landlord Benoit, who demands his back rent. The friends give him some wine, causing the old man to forget the rent in his alcoholic haze and begin recounting tales of his romantic adventures. In a spasm of feigned outrage over the old man's "immorality" the four friends throw him out. Now they decide to continue partying at the Café "Momus". Only Rodolfo remains behind to complete a magazine article he is writing. At this point Mimí, their neighbor, appears and asks if she might relight her candle, which the wind had blown out. As Mimí is about to go, she loses the key to her room. Rodolfo, who has fallen in love with her, finds the key but doesn't tell Mimí. They tell one another the story of their lives and confess their love for one another.
In the Quartier Latin, outside the Café "Momus", colorful activity dominates the scene. Musetta, Marcello's former lover, show up with an elderly new admirer by the name of Alcindoro. When Musetta and Marcello lay eyes on one another again, their former love reawakens. Claiming to need a new pair of shoes that very minute, Musetta gets rid of her companion. The arrival of guard draws a huge crowd to the square. The friends take advantage of the confusion to disappear with the girl. When Alcindoro returns he has no alternative but to pick up the bill for everybody.
On a cold winter morning, Mimí comes to an inn on the edge of Paris to talk to Marcello, who is painting there. She is tortured by a terrible fit of coughing. She asks Marcello to help her, because Rodolfo has walked out on her, claiming jealousy. Rodolfo, however, tells his friend the real reason for what he did. He has left Mimí because he knows she is incurably ill, and he is too poor to look after her properly. Mimí, who has been listening in to this conversation steps out of her hiding place. Now she knows that she is doomed to die, and sadly bids him farewell. Marcello has meanwhile gotten into an argument with Musetta, who finally goes running off in a fury.
Back in the garret, Rodolfo and Marcello are together again. They try to work, struggling to conceal their longing for Mimí and Musetta. Schaunard and Colline serve up a sparse meal, which nevertheless turns into some fairly merry pranks. Then Musetta appears with the terminally ill Mimí. All attempts to save her are in vain. While Rodolfo gathers new hope as they wait for the doctor, the friends notice that Mimí has already passed away. As it becomes clear to Rodolfo, he hurls himself despondently on the corpse of his beloved.
English translation by Donald Arthur
© Bavarian State Opera