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La boheme

Home | La boheme

Opera Background

ComposerGiacomo Puccini
LibrettistLuigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Language Italian
Date of PremierFebruary 1, 1896
Number of ActsFour
Music Length 1 hr 50 min

The Libretto of La boheme is based on the 1851 novel, Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger’s. La boheme’s relatable themes and beautiful scenes make it an undeniable Italian classic, and one of the most commonly performed opera’s in the world.

Set in Paris in the 1800s, La boheme follows the covers the lives of “bohemians”, a group of low-income artisans.

Quick Answers

Is La boheme in French or Italian?

La boheme is set in France, but is sung entirely in Italian.

La boheme was written by one of the world’s most famous composers to ever live, Giacomo Puccini. Together with the world renown librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, this opera gained lots of praise and critic right from it’s premier. To this day, the musical numbers and libretto are considered Italian opera classics.

What does La Boheme mean?

The French term  “la bohème” signifies the bohemian lifestyle, an unconventional lifestyle often in the company of like-minded people and with few permanent ties (normally artists).

What movies were based on La boheme?

The 1993 musical Rent (later adapted as a movie of the same name) was loosely based on Puccini’s La boheme. In it, one can find common themes and even musical nods to the original opera.

2001 film Moulin Rouge follows the story of bohemian artists, and is said by the director to have pulled much inspiration from La Boheme, as well as Verdi’s opera, La Traviata

The popular 1987 film Moonstruck starring Nicholas Cage and Cher is also filled with La boheme references, and even includes a scene where they see La boheme live at the Metropolitan theater in New York

What does Mimi die of in La boheme?

It is not said explicitly in La boheme the precise disease that Mimi has, although most assume that it is tuberculosis, or “consumption” as it was referred to in the nineteenth century, a bacteria that attacked the lungs.


  • Rodolfo, a poet (tenor)
  • Mimi, a seamstress (soprano)
  • Marcello, a painter (baritone)
  • Musetta, a singer (soprano)
  • Schaunard, a musician (baritone)
  • Colline, a philosopher (bass)
  • Benoit, their landlord (bass)
  • Alcindoro, a state councilor (bass)
  • Parpignal, a toy vendor (tenor)

Musical Numbers

Musical Numbers – Act 1

  • “Questo Mar Rosso”: Rodolfo and Marcello complain of the cold
  • “Pensier profonodo”: Rodolfo, Marcello, and Colline sing of the play manuscript of Rodolfo’s they are burning for warmth
  • “Abasso, abasso l’autor”: Marcello and Colline playfully attack Rodolfo as Schaunard enters with gifts
  • “Si puo, chi e la”: The landlord benoit comes to collect the rent
  • “Io resto”: Rodolfo stays behind to finish an article as the rest of the men go out
  • “Chi e la”: Mimi appears at Rodolfo’s door, claiming her candle has gone out
  • “Si sente meglio”: Rodolfo and Mimi begin to flirt, looking for Mimi’s key in a dark room
  • “Che gelida manina”: Rodolfo introduces himself to Mimi
  • “Si! Mi chiamo Mimi”: Mimi introduces herself to Rodolfo
  • “O soave fanciulla”: Rodolfo sings to Mimi in the moonlight, the two realize they have fallen in love

Musical Numbers – Act 2

  • “Aranci, datteri! Caldi i marroni!”: Bustling scene on the streets of the Latin District
  • “Chi guardi?”: Rodolfo finds Mimi lost in the crowd
  • “Viva Parpignol”: Children clamour around Parpignol the toy vendor
  • “Oh!…Essa!…Musetta!”: Musetta arrives in the café
  • “Quando m’en vo”: Known colloquially as “Musetta’s waltz”, she sings of how men admire her beauty
  • “Chi l’hai richiesto?”: The group settles the check at the café

Musical Numbers – Act 3

  • “Ohe, la, le guardie!”: Passerby’s walk near the city gates
  • “Mimi! Speravo di trovarvi qui”: Mimi tells Marcello of the problems happening in her and Rodolfo’s relationship
  • “Marcello, finalmente!”: Rodolfo tells Marcello of his troubles with Mimi
  • “Mimi e una civetta”: Rodolfo tells of Mimi’s “flirtatious” ways
  • “Mimi e tanto malata”: Rodolfo admits he is severely troubled by Mimi’s recent sickness
  • “Donde lieta usci”: Mimi tries to leave Rodolfo

Muiscal Numbers – Act 4

  • “In un coupe?”: Marcello talks of seeing Musetta in a carriage
  • “O Mimi, tu piu non torna”: Rodolfo and Marcello try to focus on work but can only think of their women
  • Gavotta“: Rodolfo, Marcello, Schaunard, and Colline play around the room dancing, eating, and fighting
  • “C’e Mimi”: Mimi is taken care of in the apartment room
  • “Vecchia zimarra, senti”: Colline leaves to sell his coat for extra money
  • Sono andati?”: Rodolfo and Mimi sing of their love for each other

La Boheme Full Synopsis

Full Synopsis – Act 1

Rodolfo and Marcello are in a room together on Christmas Eve. They complain of the cold and hunger while Marcello is painting and Rodolfo looks out the window (“Questo Mar Rosso” – “This Red Sea”).

“Questo Mar Rosso” and “Pensier Profondo” performed live

Looking for something to burn to keep warm, they start to use a play manuscript of Rodolfo’s as kindle for a fire. Colline enters the room cold and disappointed that he can’t sell a stack a books, as all the pawn shops are closed on Christmas Eve. Colline approaches the fire and all three men amusingly start to sing of the burning play giving them warmth (“Pensier profondo” – “Profound and thoughtful”).

As Colline and Marcello begin to playfully attack Rodolfo for his short-lived play, Schaunard enters with firewood, cigars, food and wine much to the joy of the men (“abasso, abasso l’autor” – “down, down with the author”). Schaunard begins to retell the tale of how he received this new money. He explains an English lord hired him to play music until his parrot died, which took three days. As the men scurry around the table to begin the feast, Schaunard starts to remove food from the table, telling them that it’s a shame to be eating at home on Christmas Eve while the streets of the Latin Quarter are bustling. The men agree to drink at home, then go out to eat.

Just then there is a knock at the door. To the dismay of the tenants, it is the landlord Benoit come to collect rent (“Si puo-Chi e la?” – “May I?-Who’s there? “)

“Si Puo – Chi e la?” Performed May 9th 2009 at Centre Culturel Houdremont in La Courneuve.

The men attempt to change the subject of rent by sitting Benoit down and offering him wine and a cigar. With Benoit drinking, they get him to talk about his attraction to women at the cabaret, and after admitting he finds his wife whinny, the men begin to shout loudly out the door that Benoit is a dishonest man. They silence benoits rebuttals and kick him out of the room.

As the men prepare to go out, Rodolfo announces that he must stay behind for a moment to finish an article, and that he will join up with the men downstairs (“Io resto” – “I’ll stay here”). Shortly after Rodolfo begins writing his article, a knock is heard at the door. A voice answers that it is Mimi, a neighbor who’s candle went out (“Chi e la” – “Who is it”). Rodolfo invites Mimi inside the room to light the candle for her. Upon entering, Mimi nearly faints from the walk up the staircase. Sat on a chair, she regains full consciousness. Rodolfo asks if she is feeling better and offers her a bit of wine (“Si sente meglio?” – “do you feel better?”).

Rodolfo and Mimi in a 2014 production of La boheme

As she is about to leave, Mimi claims she had dropped her keys in the room, forcing both of them to fumble in the dark looking for the Key. As they continue to search on the floor for the key, Rodolfo grasps Mimi’s hand, commenting on on how cold it is (“Che gelida manina” – “What an icy little hand”). Rodolfo goes on to introduce himself, his work and explains that he lives in poverty but his spirit is a millionare in dreams and fantasies.

Luciano Pavarotti performing “Che gelida manina” followed by Fiamma Izzo performing “Si. Mi chiamo Mimi” in a 1986 Production of La boheme

Rodolfo then asks Mimi to introduce herself. She explains that she is a seamstress that also lives in a small apartment, but finds particulur joy in flowers, arts, and poetry (“Si. Mi chiamo Mimi” – “Yes, my name is Mimi”).

As Mimi finishes her introduction, the men’s voices are heard from outside the window beckoning Rodolfo. Rodolfo yells down that he has met somebody, and they will meet them soon. Looking back, Rodolfo turns to Mimi, lit by moonlight, and signs a gentle love song to her (“O soave fanciulla” – “Oh, lovely girl”). Realizing they have fallen in love, they sing their way out the door to meet the rest of the group.

Nicole Car and Michael Fabiano sing “O soave fanciulla” at the Royal Opera House

Full Synopsis – Act 2

Act 2 opens on the street, where a bustling crowd including passerbys, groups of children, and street vendors (“Aranci, datteri! Caldi i marroni!”—”Oranges, dates! Hot chestnuts!”).

Set design by Adolfo Hohenstein for Act II of La boheme

People shops around the vendors, and Rodolfo buys Mimi a bonnet. Parpignol the toy vendor arrives much the pleasure of the children. Rodolfo finds Mimi who seems to be lost in the crowd (“Chi guardi?” – “Who are you looking at?”) and they enter the Café Momos. Rodolfo introduces Mimi to the group waiting in the Café. Outside, Parpignol is surrounded by a chorus of Children who attempt to buy toys while the group inside orders a proper feast (“Viva Parpignol” – “Long live Parpignol”).

“Viva Parpignol” performed at the Teatro alla Scala in 2017

As the group becomes introduced to Mimi, Musetta (Marcello’s former sweetheart) arrives in an extravagant outfit. She enters the Café leading a noticeably wealthy, older man she is clearly not interested in. The men comment that Musetta “changes lovers like she changes clothes” (“Oh!…Essa!…Musetta! – Oh!…It’s her!…Musetta!”). Musetta begins to make a scene as Marcello explains that she is the reason he no longer has a heart. Musetta is upset that Marcello won’t look her way. The busy crowd in the café quiets as all eyes turn to Musetta, who begins to sing a provocative song about men being attracted to her (“Quando m’en vo” – “When I go along”).

Olga Kulchynska sings an excerpt from Musetta’s aria in the final dress rehearsal at the Metropolitan Opera

Musetta, obviously still in love with Marcello, sends the elderly man away to fetch her a new shoe, and falls into the arms of Marcello. They kiss.

The check comes to the table, but the group is out of money and can’t pay. Musetta snatches the check from their hands and tells the waiter to put it on her (the elderly man’s) tab. Musetta exclaims that it will be a “going away gift” for the old man (“Chi l’hai richiesto” – “Who requested this?”). The military parade marches on outside as the group exits. The elderly man comes back shocked at his bill.

Full Synopsis – Act 3

Act 3 opens up at the gates of the city on a cold, early morning (“Ohe, la, le guardie”). Mimi enters, coughing and noticeably sick. She asks a passerby for directions to a tavern that Marcello is working in (“Sa dirmi, scusi” – “can you tell me, pardon”). Marcello exits the tavern to greet Mimi, telling her he’s been living at the tavern painting signs while Musetta gives singing lessons (“Mimi! Speravo di trovarvi qui” – “Mimi, I was hoping to find you here”).

“Mimi! Speravo di trovarvi qui” performed by Angela Gheorghiu as Mimi

Mimi inquires to whether Rodolfo is inside, and hearing that he is, refuses to go inside. She explains that Rodolfo ran out the previous night, and that he is consumed by a jealous anger. She begs Marcello to help as she says Rodolfo has been yelling constantly. Mimi comments that they must end the relationship. She begins to cough violently, to which Marcello expresses concern.

Rodolfo awakes and is looking for Marcello. Marcello tells Mimi to go home and let him talk to Rodolfo, but Mimi takes the opportunity to hide while the two men speak (“Marcello, finalmente!” – “Marcello, finally!”). Marcello reprimands Rodolfo for how he is acting with Mimi. Rodolfo responds by saying Mimi flirts with everybody (“Mimi e una civetta” – “Mimi is an owl”), but Marcello sees through this and proclaims there is something deeper going on. Rodolfo finally admits that Marcello is right. His true torment is that he is absolutely in love with Mimi, but is constantly troubled by her recent sickness (“Mimi e tanto malata” – “Mimi is so sick”). Rodolfo is riddled with guilt as he can’t even keep his tiny “hovel” warm, and can not provide for Mimi in her sickness.

Mimi’s coughing and crying reveals her location, Rodolfo rushes to her side. Musetta is heard laughing inside the tavern and Marcello goes to see what’s going on, leaving Rodolfo and Mimi alone outside. Mimi tells Rodolfo that she is leaving him (“Donde lieta usci” – “from here she happily left”). She wishes to separate peacefully with no hard feelings. She also tells him he is welcome to keep the pink bonnet (that he bought in act 2) to remember them by. The two join together in song, and agree to wait until the spring to separate. At the same time, Marcello and Musetta exit the tavern in a passionate fight about Musetta’s flirting. Musetta storms off as the two yell insults at eachother.

Sonya Yoncheva, performing the role of Mimì, sings “Donde lieta usci”

Full Synopsis – Act 4

Act 4 opens with Rodolfo and Marcello back in their home. Marcello is painting while he tells Rodolfo about how he saw Musetta pass by in a carriage (“In un coupe?” – “In a carriage?”). The men then attempt to get back to work, but are unable as Rodolfo’s mind is on Mimi and Marcello can’t tear his mind off of Musetta (“O Mimi, tu piu non torni” – “Oh Mimi, You’re never coming back”).

“In un coupe?” and “O Mimi, tu piu non torni” performed in 1982 at the Royal Opera House

Schaunard and Colline enter with bread and fish and the men joke around over a mock “banquet feast”. The men begin to dance around the room, which escalates into a mock fight (“Gavotta”). Just then, Musetta bursts through the door, saying that Mimi is right behind her, and is very sick (“C’e Mimi” – “It’s Mimi”). Musetta reveals that Mimi had recently abandoned a wealthy Viscount who she had been together with, and she found her on the streets barely able to walk. They assist Mimi to the bed, as she is hardly able to walk on her own. She is clearly dying.

Marcello and Musetta leave to get supplies for Mimi. Then Schaunard and Colline leave to sell Colline’s cloak for extra money (“Vecchia zimarra, senti” – “Old cloak, listen”). Left alone, Mimi and Rodolfo sing a love duet about how they met and their love for each other (“Sono andati?—”Have they gone?”)

“Sono andati?” performed by Anna Netrebko as Mimì and Piotr Beczala as Rodolfo at the vienna philharmonic

The gourp begins to return to Mimi coughing and cold on the bed. Rodolfo gives her a handwarmer as the group expresse their concerns. Musetta begins to pray for god to spare her, but by the time she finishes praying, Schaunard pronounces Mimi dead. Rodolfo yells out her name (“Oh dio, Mimi” – “Oh god, Mimi!”). Rodlofo continues to yell and cry as the curtain falls.

“Oh Dio, Mimi!” Performed in May 9th 2009 at Centre Culturel Houdremont in La Courneuve.