La Boheme

November 6, 2013


In their Parisian garret, young bohemians, the near-destitute painter Marcello and poet Rodolfo try to keep warm on Christmas Eve by feeding the stove with pages from Rodolfo’s latest drama. They are soon joined by their roommates – Colline, a philosopher, and Schaunard, a musician, who brings food, fuel, and funds he has collected from an eccentric student. When the landlord, Benoit, comes to collect the rent, they ply the older man with wine, then throw him out. As his friends leave for the Café Momus, Rodolfo promises to join them later, remaining behind to finish an article he’s writing. There is a knock at the door; the visitor is a neighbour, Mimi, whose candle has gone out on the stairway. Rodolfo relights it. Mimi realises she has lost her key and, in the confusion, both candles are blown out. As the two search for the key in the moonlight, their hands meet. Rodolfo tells Mimi his dreams. She then recounts her life alone in a lofty garret, embroidering flowers and waiting for the spring. Rodolfo’s friends are heard outside, urging him to join them; he calls back that he is not alone and will be along shortly. Expressing their joy in finding each other, Mimi and Rodolfo embrace and leave for the café.


At the Café Momus, Rodolfo introduces Mimi to his friends. Marcello’s former sweetheart, Musetta, makes a noisy entrance on the arm of the elderly but wealthy Alcindoro. The ensuing tumult reaches its peak when, trying to regain Marcello’s attention, she sings a waltz about her popularity. Sending Alcindoro off on an errand, she falls into Marcello’s arms and tells the waiter to charge everything to Alcindoro. Soldiers march by the café, and the bohemians fall in behind.


At dawn by a tavern on the snowy outskirts of Paris, a customs official admits farm women to the city. Mimi arrives, searching for the place where Marcello and Musetta now live. When the painter emerges, she tells him of her distress over Rodolfo’s incessant jealousy. She says she believes it is best that they part. When Rodolfo appears from the tavern, Mimi hides nearby, though Marcello thinks she has gone. The poet tells Marcello that he wants to separate from his sweetheart, citing her fickleness; pressed for the real reason, he breaks down, saying that her coughing can only grow worse in the poverty they share; he’s desperately afraid she will die from her illness. Overcome with tears, Mimi stumbles forward to bid her lover farewell. While Mimi and Rodolfo recall past happiness, Musetta quarrels with Marcello, who has caught her flirting. The painter and his mistress part, hurling insults at each other, but Mimi and Rodolfo decide to remain together until spring.


Now separated from their girlfriends, Rodolfo and Marcello lament their loneliness in the garret. Colline and Schaunard bring a meagre meal. To lighten their spirits the four begin dancing, when suddenly Musetta bursts in to tell them that Mimi is outside, too weak to come upstairs. Rodolfo carries her in, while Musetta asks Marcello to sell her earrings for medicine and Colline goes off to pawn his overcoat. Left alone, Mimi and Rodolfo recall their first meeting and their happy days, but she is seized with violent coughing. The others return and Mimi drifts into unconsciousness. Rodolfo at last realizes that she is dead. He throws himself despairingly on her body, calling her name.

What will the show look like?

Since its premiere in 1896 La Boheme has been an audience favourite and is said to be the most performed opera worldwide. The characters in the opera are taken from the novel Scènes de la vie de Bohème set in the 1840’s of the Latin Quarter of Paris. It is to this period that Stephen Medcalf has found inspiration for his production to be staged at the 2015 Grange Park Opera festival – being something of a GPO audience favourite himself following his successes with Onegin 2012 (also featuring at the 2015 festival) Capriccio 2010, Fancuilla 2008 and The Magic Flute in 2007.

Recommended recordings:
Karajan/Pavarotti/Freni on DECCA (find it on Amazon or iTunes)
Beecham/Björling/de los Angeles on EMI (find it on Amazon or iTunes)