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La Bohème

La Boheme is an oft-adapted story first appearing in Henry Murger's magazine articles in the early 1800s. These were turned into a play, La Vie de Boheme, in 1849, and later were compiled into the book Scenes de la Vie de Boheme (Paris, 1851). It has also been made into several operatic versions, the most famous of them by Giacomo Puccini.

The story includes a group of friends in the Bohemian artistic subculture of France; the group is poor, and some of its female members work as courtesans. This creates complicated situations when one of these characters, suffering from tuberculosis, must balance survival against romantic love.

In the late 20th century, the musical Rent was based on La Boheme, with AIDS substituted for tuberculosis. A movie, Moulin Rouge, was also loosely based on this plot; it was directed by Baz Luhrmann, who had previously directed a wildly successful Australian production of Puccini's opera version which opened on Broadway in 2002.

Table of contents
1 Versions of the La Boheme/dying courtesan theme
2 Puccini operatic version
3 Leoncavallo operatic version
4 References and external links:

Versions of the La Boheme/dying courtesan theme

Puccini operatic version

Perhaps the most famous version of La Boheme is the
opera by Giacomo Puccini. The story was taken from scenes of Henry Murger's "La Vie de Boheme." Libretto by Giacosa and Illica. First production, Turin, February 1, 1896.


Place, Paris.
Time, about 1830.

Act I. Garret. Marcel is painting while Rudolf gazes out of the window. As they have no fire, they use the manuscript of Rudolf's drama for fuel. Collin enters shivering; he is followed by three young fellows with victuals, wood and cigars. Schaunard, who follows, explains the source of his riches. Nobody listens, but they fall ravenously upon the food, which is removed by Schaunard, leaving only the wine. While they drink, Bernard, the landlord, arrives to collect the rent from Marcel. They flatter him and give him wine. In his drunkenness, he recites his amorous adventures, but when he also declares he is married, they thrust him from the room in comic moral indignation. The rent money is divided for a carousal in the Quartier Latin. The other Bohemians go out, but Rudolf remains alone in order to work. Some one knocks, and Mimi, whose candle has been snuffed out, asks Rudolf to light it. She departs, but returns in a few minutes, saying she has forgotten her key. Both candles are extinguished; they stumble in the dark, and Rudolf finds the key, which he pockets. They relate the story of their varied experiences in the two arias. ("Who am I? Then hear"; and "They call me merely Mimi.") The waiting friends call Rudolf impatiently. He wishes to remain at home with Mimi (Rudolf: "Your tiny hand is frozen"), but she decides to accompany him. Departing they sing of their love. (Duet, Rudolf, Mimi: "Love alone.")

Act II. Quartier Latin. A great crowd on the street, sellers praise their wares. (Chorus: "Come buy my oranges."). The friends repair to a café, While they eat, Musette, formerly beloved of Marcel, arrives with her rich admirer Alcindor. She tries to attract Marcel's attention (Song, Musette: "As through the streets I wander"), and succeeds after many efforts. She feigns to be suffering from a tight shoe, and to get rid of him, sends Alcindor to the shoemaker. (Duet, Marcel, Musette: "Break it, tear it, I can't bear it.") During the ensemble, Musette and Marcel fall into each other's arms. The friends wish to pay the bill, but to their consternation find Schaunard's riches gone. Musette has the entire bill charged to Alcindor. The police appear, and they rush in all directions. Marcel and Collin carry Musette out on their arms amid the applause of the spectators. When all have gone, Alcindor arrives with the shoe seeking Musette. The waiter hands him the bill, and horror-stricken at the amount he sinks upon a chair.

Act III. At the toll gate. (Chorus: "Pass the glass! Let each toast his lass!") Clothing peddlers come to the city. Mimi, coughing violently, wishes to speak to Marcel, who resides in a little tavern near the barrier where he paints signs for the innkeeper. She tells him of her hard life with Rudolf, who has abandoned her that night. (Mimi: "O good Marcel.") Marcel tells her that Rudolf is sleeping at the inn. He has just awakened and is seeking Marcel. Mimi conceals herself. Rudolf speaks of her deadly illness. Rudolf: "Love in my heart was dying.") Marcel, out of charity for Mimi, endeavours to silence him, but she has already heard all. She is discovered by her coughing. Marcel joins Musette, Rudolf and Mimi are about to separate, but are finally reconciled. (Duet: "Adieu, glad awakenings.") Musette approaches with Marcel, who is jealous. They depart after a fierce quarrel. (Duet, Musette, Marcel: "You were laughing, you were flirting.")

Act IV. Garret room. Marcel and Rudolf are seemingly at work. (Duet: "Ah Mimi, ah Musette.") Schaunard and Collin arrive with the dinner. They parody a plentiful banquet, dance and sing. (Quartet: "Now take your partners.") Musette and the suffering Mimi appear; all assist the dying girl. Mimi and Rudolf, left alone, recall their past happiness. (Duet, Mimi, Rudolf: "Have they left us?") The others return, and while Musette prays aloud, Mimi dies. (Prayer, Musette: "O virgin, save.")

Leoncavallo operatic version

A lyric opera in four acts was written by Ruggiero Leoncavallo. Libretto by the composer. German by Ludwig Hartmann. First production, Milan, 1897.


Place, Paris.
Time, one year from Christmas, 1837 to Christmas, 1838.

Act 1. At the Cafeé Momus. The innkeeper Gaudenzio tries in vain to eject the Bohemians, who never pay, and are always in mischief. During the conversation another piece of horseplay on their part is discovered. They sit down to dine, while Musette gaily sings. (Canzonette: "Mimi is the name of my sweet blonde.") Naturally when they are asked to pay the score, they have no money. A comic fight ensues between them and the innkeeper, who has called his servants to assist him. It is ended by Barbemache, who offers to pay the bill.

Act II. In the court of Musette's house. Musette's lover has left her and refuses to pay her debts any longer. In consequence, her furniture is levied upon and carried down to the courtyard. When this has been done, she returns home; she expects guests and cannot entertain them in any other way than by receiving them in the courtyard. Here the Bohemians, who arrive in large numbers, celebrate joyously. In vain the neighbours awakened from sleep protest, and the scene ends in a general fight between the two factions.

Act III. Garret room of Marcel. Musette, who can no longer bear the sufferings of hunger and want, desires to leave him. Mimi, during the festival in the courtyard, has allowed herself to be carried off by Count Paul, but actuated by love for Rudolf, returns. Musette begs her to go with her, but in vain. Marcel and Rudolf in anger compel both to leave the apartment.

Act IV. Garret room of Rudolf. Mimi returns to Rudolf in a dying condition. Musette, who accidentally meets her there, sacrifices her jewels to procure fuel to warm the room for Mimi. As the Christmas chimes are heard, Mimi expires.

References and external links:

Opera plots taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.