“La Boheme” or “Bohemia” an opera in four acts with book by Giacosa and Illica and music by Giacomo Puccini, was first presented at the Teatro Regio, Turin, Feb. 1, 1896. The plot is based on Merger’s novel, Bohemian Life.
Rudolph, a poet. Marcel, a painter. Colline, a philosopher. Schaunard, a musician. Benoit, an importunate landlord. Alcindoro, a state councilor and follower of Musetta. Parpignol. Musetta, a grisette. Mimi, a maker of embroidery. Students, work-girls, citizens, shopkeepers, street-vendors, soldiers, restaurant waiters, boys, girls, etc. Time, about 1830.
The action begins in an attic-studio in the Latin Quarter in Paris, where are discovered Rudolph and Marcel, the latter painting on what he announces is to be his masterpiece, ” The Passage of the Red Sea.” It is cold and there is no fuel and Marcel is about to sacrifice one of the rickety chairs, when Rudolph insists upon using instead his drama manuscript.
As a cheerful blaze is kindled, Colline joins them, grumbling because he has been unable to pawn his books. Their joy is great when Schaunard comes, bringing a supply of food and fuel. and a feast is soon in progress. Benoit, the landlord, interrupts it with demands for rent money but they give him wine and lead him to confess that he is a sad old rogue, until under the pretense of fearing contamination, they forcibly eject him. Finally they all leave with the exception of Rudolph who begins to write, but stops at the knock of Mimi, a girl of beautiful but delicate appearance, who comes to his door to ask for a light. She faints at the threshold but is restored with wine. As she is leaving, she loses her key, and both candles are accidentally extinguished. While groping about for the key, their hands meet in the dark, and they ac-knowledge their sudden and mutual love. They go out together, the enamored Rudolph and the frail poetical girl, who lives alone in an attic and by her embroidery earns a meager living.
The second act takes place near the Café Momus, where the lights are gay and the picturesque and motley crowd of the Latin Quarter flit about; where the air is full of the cheerful cries of the street-vendors, acclaiming their wares, hot coffee, chestnuts and sweetmeats; while above all is heard the strident inquiry, ” Who’ll buy some pretty toys from Parpignol ? ” This spot is regularly frequented by the four inseparable companions, who are nicknamed ” The Four Musketeers.” Rudolph buys Mimi a bonnet and introduces her to his comrades, whom he finds at supper. At this instant, Musetta, a famous grisette, whose ” surname is Temptation,” a being petulant and unprincipled but fascinating, appears with Alcindoro, a foolish old state councilor, who is dancing attendance upon her. Marcel has formerly been her gallant, but has been discarded. He struggles to appear indifferent, but his agitation is plainly evident. Musetta boldly tries to draw his attention and finally pretending that her shoe pinches, orders old Alcindoro off to buy her a new pair. In his absence a most ardent reconciliation is effected. The comrades find they have not the wherewithal for the meal and Musetta saves the situation by adding their bill to hers and leaving them both for Alcindoro, after which subtle strategy Marcel and Colline carry her off shoeless through the crowd.
Rudolph and Mimi have been living together for several months when Act III begins ; but, alas, not happily, for the very intensity of their love brings them pain. Rudolph is continually jealous and for purely fanciful reasons. The lovers realize the advisability of saying fare-well forever. Mimi has come to the tavern where Musetta and Marcel are staying and have been joined .by Rudolph, with this purpose in mind. It is February and snow covers the ground. Over the tavern hangs, as its sign-board, Marcel’s familiar canvas, ” The Passage of the Red Sea.” Marcel finds the girl gazing wistfully into the gaily lighted hostelry. She is in the clutches of consumption and coughing interrupts her words. The sympathetic Marcel upholds her in her intention and when Rudolph appears they say a pathetic farewell and go their separate ways.
The fourth act occurs in the attic-studio of the first act. Here Rudolph and Marcel, again separated from Musetta, pretend to work but are really absorbed in thoughts of the past. Colline and Schaunard enter with four rolls and a herring and they try to make merry over this poor fare. While thus engaged, Musetta rushes in to tell them that Mimi is on the stairs below, too weak to ascend. They bring her in and, while they get her in bed, Musetta relates how she found Mimi dying and begging to be taken to Rudolph. Mimi revives, commends to Marcel Musetta, whose real love for him she has fathomed and feigns sleepiness in order to be left alone with her lover. They embrace affectionately, she assures him of her unfaltering love and he brings out for her to try on the little rose-covered bonnet he had bought for her when first they fell in love. While they are laughing over the memory, Mimi is seized with a spasm of suffocation and falls back dead, and the curtain slowly falls on the sorrow of the stricken Rudolph and his friends.
Among the striking numbers in the score are, in the first act, the duet of Rudolph and Marcel, expressive of their trials and the duet of Mimi and Rodolfo; in the second act, Musetta’s waltz song and in Act IV, Marcel’s final scene with the dying Mimi.