La bohème[1] is an opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on Scènes de la vie de Bohème by Henri Murger. The world première performance of La bohème was in Turin on February 1, 1896 at the Teatro Regio (now the Teatro Regio Torino) and conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. In 1946, fifty years after the opera's premiere, Toscanini conducted a performance of it on U.S. radio, and this performance was eventually released on records and on compact disc. It is the only recording of a Puccini opera by its original conductor (info on this recording can be found below in the Selected recordings section).

Ruggero Leoncavallo composed an opera of the same name and it is based on the same story, but with his own libretto. His La bohème, which was premiered in 1897, focuses more on the Musetta and Marcello relationship, rather than that of Mimì and Rodolfo as in Puccini's version. Leoncavallo's version is almost never performed, while Puccini's is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire.

It appears on Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America[2], where it appears as Number 2, second only to Madama Butterfly, also a masterpiece by Puccini. It has much in common with La traviata, including the death of the heroine and the music ending in C-sharp minor.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, February 1, 1896
(Conductor: Arturo Toscanini)
Rodolfo, a poet tenor Evan Gorgo
Mimì, a seamstress soprano Cesira Ferrani
Marcello, a painter baritone Tieste Wilmant
Schaunard, a musician baritone Antonio Pini-Corsi
Colline, a philosopher bass Michele Mazzara
Musetta, a singer soprano Camilla Pasini
Benoît, their landlord bass Alessandro Polonini
Alcindoro, a state councillor bass Alessandro Polonini
Parpignol, a toy vendor tenor Dante Zucchi
A customs Sergeant bass Felice Fogli
Students, working girls, townsfolk, shopkeepers, street-vendors, soldiers, waiters, children



Original poster

The story is set in Paris, between 1830 and 1831.

Act I[]

In the four bohemians' garret.

Marcello is painting while Rodolfo gazes out of the window. In order to keep warm, they burn the manuscript of Rodolfo's drama. Colline, the philosopher, enters shivering and disgruntled at not having been able to pawn some books. Schaunard, the musician of the group, arrives with food, firewood, wine, cigars, and money, and he explains the source of his riches, a job with an eccentric English gentleman. The others hardly listen to his tale as they fall ravenously upon the food. Schaunard interrupts them by whisking the meal away and declaring that they will all celebrate his good fortune by dining at Cafe Momus instead.

While they drink, Benoit, the landlord, arrives to collect the rent. They flatter him and ply him with wine. In his drunkenness, he recites his amorous adventures, but when he also declares he is married, they thrust him from the room--without the rent payment--in comic moral indignation. The rent money is divided for their carousal in the Quartier Latin.

The other Bohemians go out, but Rodolfo remains alone for a moment in order to finish a newspaper article, promising to join his friends soon. There is a knock at the door, and Mimì, a seamstress who lives in a flat below, enters. Her candle has blown out, and she has no matches; she asks Rodolfo to light it. She thanks him, but returns a few seconds later, saying she has lost her key. Both candles are extinguished; the pair stumble in the dark. Rodolfo, eager to spend time with Mimi, finds the key and pockets it, feigning innocence. In two arias (Rodolfo's "Che gelida manina — What a cold little hand" and Mimi's "Sì, mi chiamano Mimì — Yes, they call me Mimì"), they tell each other about their different backgrounds. Impatiently, the waiting friends call Rodolfo, but, while he suggests remaining at home with Mimì, she decides to accompany him. As they leave, they sing of their newfound love. (Duet, Rodolfo and Mimì: "O soave fanciulla — Oh gentle maiden")

Act II[]

Quartier Latin.

A great crowd has gathered with street sellers announcing their wares. (Chorus: "Aranci, datteri! Caldi i marroni — Oranges, dates! Hot chestnuts."). The friends appear, flushed with gaiety; Rodolfo buys Mimi a bonnet from a vendor. Parisians gossip with friends and bargain with the vendors; children clamor to see the wares of Parpignol, the toy seller. The friends enter the Cafe Momus.

As the men and Mimi dine at the cafe, Musetta, formerly Marcello's sweetheart, arrives with her rich (and aging) government minister admirer, Alcindoro, to whom she speaks as she might to a lapdog. It is clear she has tired of him. To the delight of the Parisians and the embarrassment of her patron, she sings a risqué song ("Quando me'n vo — When I go along"), hoping to reclaim Marcello's attention. Soon Marcello is burning with jealousy. To be rid of Alcindoro for a bit, she pretends to be suffering from a tight shoe and sends him with it to the shoemaker to be fixed. During the ensemble that follows, Musetta and Marcello fall into each other's arms and reconcile.

The friends are presented with the bill, and to their consternation find that Schaunard's money is not enough to pay it. The sly Musetta has the entire bill charged to Alcindoro. The sound of approaching soldiers is heard, and, picking up Musetta, Marcello and Colline carry her out on their shoulders amid the applause of the spectators. When all have gone, Alcindoro arrives with the repaired shoe seeking Musetta. The waiter hands him the bill, and, horror-stricken at the charge, Alcindoro sinks into a chair.

Act III[]

At the toll gate.

Peddlers pass through the barriers and enter the city. Amongst them is Mimì, coughing violently. She tries to find Marcello, who lives in a little tavern nearby where he paints signs for the innkeeper. She tells him of her hard life with Rodolfo, who has abandoned her that night. ("O buon Marcello, aiuto! – Oh, good Marcello, help me!"). Marcello tells her that Rodolfo is asleep inside, but he wakes up and comes out looking for Marcello. Mimì hides and overhears Rodolfo first telling Marcello that he left Mimi because of her coquettishness, but finally confessing that he fears she is slowly being consumed by a deadly illness (most likely tuberculosis, known by the catchall name "consumption" in the nineteenth century). Rodolfo, in his poverty, can do little to help Mimi and hopes that his pretended unkindness will inspire her to seek another, wealthier suitor. Out of kindness towards Mimì, Marcello tries to silence him, but she has already heard all. Her coughing reveals her presence, and Rodolfo and Mimì sing of their lost love. They make plans to separate amicably (Mimì: "Donde lieta uscì – From here she happily left"), but their love for one another is too strong. As a compromise, they agree to remain together until the spring, when the world is coming to life again and no one feels truly alone. Meanwhile, Marcello has joined Musetta, and the couple quarrel fiercely: an antithetical counterpoint to the others' reconciliation. (Quartet: Mimì, Rodolfo, Musetta, Marcello: "Addio dolce svegliare alla mattina! – Goodbye, sweet awakening in the morning!")

Act IV[]

Back in the garret.

Marcello and Rodolfo are seemingly at work, though they are primarily bemoaning the loss of their respective loves. (Duet: "O Mimì, tu più non torni" – O Mimì, will you not return?). Schaunard and Colline arrive with a very frugal dinner and all parody eating a plentiful banquet, dance together, and sing. Musetta arrives with news: Mimi, who took up with a wealthy viscount after leaving Rodolfo in the spring, has left her patron. Musetta has found her wandering the streets, severely weakened by her illness, and has brought her back to the garret. Mimi, haggard and pale, is assisted into a chair. Musetta and Marcello leave to sell Musetta's earrings in order to buy medicine, and Colline leaves to pawn his overcoat (Colline: "Vecchia zimarra – Old coat"). Schaunard, urged by Colline, quietly departs to give Mimi and Rodolfo time together. Left alone, they recall their past happiness. (Duet, Mimì and Rodolfo: "Sono andati? – Have they gone?"). They relive their first meeting--the candles, the lost key--and, to Mimi's delight, Rodolfo presents her with the little hat he bought her, which he has kept as a souvenir of their love. The others return, with a gift of a muff to warm Mimi's hands and some medicine, and tell Rodolfo that a doctor has been summoned, but it is too late to help their friend, who lapses into unconsciousness. As Musetta prays, Mimi dies. Schaunard discovers Mimi lifeless. Rodolfo cries out Mimì's name in anguish, and weeps helplessly.

Noted arias[]

  • "Che gelida manina" (What a frozen little hand) - Rodolfo in Act I)[3]
  • "Sì, mi chiamano Mimì" (Yes, they call me Mimì) - Mimì in Act I
  • "O soave fanciulla" (O gentle maiden) - Rodolfo & Mimì in Act I
  • "Quando me n'vo soletta per la via" (When I go out alone in the street) - Musetta in Act II
  • "Donde lieta uscì al tuo grido d'amore" (From here she happily left [to the sound of] your cry of love) - Mimì in Act III
  • "O Mimì, tu più non torni" (O Mimì, will you not return?) - Rodolfo & Marcello in Act IV
  • "Vecchia zimarra" (Old coat) - Colline in Act IV
  • "Sono andati? Fingevo di dormire" (Have they gone? I was pretending to sleep) - Mimì in Act IV


La bohème is scored for:

Selected recordings[]

Year Cast
(Rodolfo, Mimì, Marcello, Schaunard, Colline, Musetta)
Opera House and Orchestra
1942 Frederick Jagel,
Grace Moore,
Francesco Valentino,
Wilfred Engelman,
Ezio Pinza,
Frances Greer
Cesare Sodero,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: Line Music/Cantus Classics
Cat: 5.00284
ASIN: B0007V43EQ (different label)
1946 Jan Peerce,
Licia Albanese,
Francesco Valentino,
George Cehanovsky,
Nicola Moscona,
Anne McKnight
Arturo Toscanini,
NBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: Line Music/Cantus Classics
Cat: 5.00294
ASIN: B00000I6N5 (different label)
1956 Jussi Björling,
Victoria de los Ángeles,
Robert Merrill,
John Rearden,
Giorgio Tozzi,
Lucine Amara
Thomas Beecham,
RCA Victor Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: EMI Classics
Cat: 7243-5-67753-2-9 (Digitally remastered, 2002)

Note: "Cat:" is short for catalogue number by the label company; "ASIN" is product reference number.


  • 1959 - "Musetta's Waltz" was adapted by songwriter Bobby Worth for the 1959 pop song "Don't You Know?", a hit for Della Reese.
  • 1983 - The opera was adapted into short story form by the novelist V. S. Pritchett for publication by the Metropolitan Opera Association[4]
  • 1993 - Baz Luhrmann's produced the opera for Opera Australia in 1993 with modernized supertitle translations, and a budget of only AU$60,000. A DVD was issued of the stage show. This version was set in 1957, rather than the original period of 1830. The reason for updating La bohème to this period, according to Baz Luhrmann, was that "... [they] discovered that 1957 was a very, very accurate match for the social and economic realities of Paris in the 1840s." In 2003, Luhrmann restaged his version on Broadway and won a Tony Award. To play the eight performances per week on Broadway, three casts of Mimìs and Rudolfos, and two Musettas and Marcellos, were used in rotation.
  • 1996 - La bohème was also the inspiration for the hit Broadway musical Rent. The show debuted starring Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, and Daphne Ruben Vega in 1996 and was turned into a film with most of the original cast in 2005.


The following movies contain music from "La bohème" in their soundtrack:

  • Mimi: a 1935 British film starring Gertrude Lawrence and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr..
  • The Great Caruso: a 1951 film starring Mario Lanza and Ann Blyth.
  • The Boondock Saints: a 1999 film starring Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus.
  • Moonstruck: a 1987 film starring Cher and Nicolas Cage.
  • Atonement: a 2007 film starring James McAvoy and Keira Knightley


  1. The title, which is French and is Template:Pronounced (although the opera is sung in Italian), refers to the bohemian life the characters lead (not to the historical region in the present-day Czech Republic, Bohemia). (Another possible translation, and perhaps a secondary meaning intended by the librettists, is "The bohemian girl," i.e. Mimi herself.)
  2. OPERA America's "The Top 20" list of most-performed operas
  3. This aria is generally referred to in English as "Your tiny hand is frozen",Template:Citation but the opening line has been translated several ways, "How cold your little hand is!", Template:Citation "What an icy little hand" Template:Cite book
  4. Template:Cite book


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

External links[]