12 Jun - 08 Jul 2021
Regularly voted as the world’s favourite opera – Puccini’s evocation of life, love and death in Bohemian Paris at the turn of the century has had audiences weeping into their handkerchiefs ever since its premiere in 1896.
When Rodolfo, a penniless poet, meets Mimì, a seamstress, they fall passionately in love. But their relationship is turbulent and happiness eludes them.
Some months later Mimì, gravely ill, staggers into their garret. Her Bohemian friends do everything to save her.
An opera in four acts
Sung in Italian with surtitles in English
Music: Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Libretto: Luigi Ilica & Giuseppe Giacosa, based on Scènes de la Vie de Bohème by Henri Murger 1851
First performance: 1 Feburary 1896, Teatro Regio, Turin
UK première: 22 April 1897, Theatre Royal Manchester, in English, supervised by Puccini
Act 1 An attic; Christmas Eve
Young bohemians, the near-destitute painter Marcello and poet Rodolfo try to keep warm by feeding the stove with pages from Rodolfo’s latest drama. Colline, a philosopher, and Schaunard, a musician, join them, bringing food, fuel and funds. The landlord, Benoit, comes to collect the rent. He is plied with wine and thrown out. The friends leave for the Café Momus, but Rodolfo stays back to finish an article he’s writing. There is a knock; the visitor is a neighbour, Mimì, whose candle has blown out. Rodolfo relights it. Mimì is about to go but realises she has lost her key. They search for it and their hands meet. They tell one another about their lives. Rodolfo’s friends shout from outside, urging him to join them. Mimì and Rodolfo embrace and leave for the café.
Act 2 The Café Momus
Rodolfo introduces Mimì to his friends. Marcello’s former sweetheart, Musetta, makes a noisy entrance on the arm of the elderly but wealthy Alcindoro. Trying to gain Marcello’s attention, she sings a flamboyant song and sends Alcindoro 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 join in the high spirits of Christmas Eve.
Act 3 The outskirts of Paris
A customs official admits women to the city. Mimì arrives, searching for the place where Marcello and Musetta now live. She tells the painter of her distress over Rodolfo’s incessant jealousy. She says she believes it is best that they part. When Rodolfo appears, Mimì hides nearby, though Marcello thinks she has gone. Rodolfo, too, confides in Marcello: Mimì is fickle and he wants to separate. 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, Mimì stumbles forward to bid her lover farewell. Musetta and Marcello quarrel, hurling insults at each other. Mimì and Rodolfo recall past happinesses and decide to remain together until spring.
Act 4 The attic, some time later
Rodolfo and Marcello lament their loneliness. Colline and Schaunard bring a meagre meal and to lighten the mood the four dance. Musetta bursts in to tell them that Mimì is outside, too weak to come upstairs. Rodolfo carries her in. In order to buy her medicine Musetta will sell her earrings and Colline his overcoat. Left alone, Mimì and Rodolfo recall their first meeting and their happy days, but she is seized with violent coughing.
The others return; Mimì drifts into unconsciousness and death.