Premiered on February 1, 1896 at Teatro Reggio in Turin, Italy
Composed by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto written by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
An attic in the Latin Quarter in Paris on Christmas Eve
It’s bitterly cold in the attic where Rodolfo, a poet, lives a poor existence with his friend Marcello. With nothing to light the stove, Rodolfo tosses in the manuscript of the play he is writing.
Soon after, Colline, one of their roommates, enters. He is followed by Schaunard, their musician friend and roommate, who shares the wood, food and wine he just bought with money he earned playing his violin.
As the friends prepare to go out for the night, they are interrupted by Benoit, their landlord, coming to collect the rent. They fill him with wine as a distraction, which causes him to boast of his amorous trysts, despite being married. The friends feign outrage at Benoit’s infidelity and shove him out the door.
The friends then divvy up Schaunard’s money and leave for the café. Rodolfo stays behind to work a short while longer.
A young woman happens upon the attic in search of a flame for her candle. She coughs and feels faint. Rodolfo gives her the light she seeks.
As she is leaving, her tiny flame goes out again. Rodolfo takes her hand and they tell each other about their lives. Her name is Mimì and it is clear that the two have fallen in love.
Rodolfo’s friends yell to him from downstairs to hurry. Wanting to stay with Rodolfo, Mimì asks to join him at the café. They leave for the café together.
A café in the Latin Quarter
On the street, people are everywhere, selling and buying wares. Rodolfo buys Mimì a bonnet. Once at the café, she easily fits in with Rodolfo’s friends.
Musetta, Marcello’s former girlfriend, enters with the wealthy Alcindoro. Greedy for attention, she tries to get Marcello to notice her. She eventually succeeds and Musetta and Marcello reconcile. To get rid of Alcindoro, Musetta complains of a pain in her foot and sends him away to buy new shoes.
When the waiter brings the bill for dinner, the friends discover that they have no money left. Musetta saves the day by leaving the bill for Alcindoro. He returns after the others have left. The waiter then hands Alcindoro the bill.
On the outskirts of Paris
Ill and coughing, Mimì goes to the place where Marcello and Musetta are now living. She tells Marcello that Rodolfo is trying to push her away. Marcello urges Mimì to leave; she hides instead.
Rodolfo, who now lives with Marcello and Musetta, tells his friend that he plans to break up with Mimì. Her flirting is intolerable he says. However, his true motive, he eventually reveals, is that his extreme poverty is making her ill.
Rodolfo hears Mimì crying. He rushes to her as Marcello goes to see who Musetta is flirting with. Marcello and Musetta can later be heard arguing.
Mimì bids farewell to Rodolfo, but in the end they decide to wait until spring to separate.
Back at the attic, months later
While Marcello and Rodolfo are working, they talk about the fortune that Musetta and Mimì have found since parting from them.
Suddenly Musetta enters. She has found Mimì desperately ill in the street and has brought her to Rodolfo. Musetta leaves with Marcello to sell her earrings to pay for medicine and a doctor. Colline leaves to pawn his coat.
Alone, Rodolfo and Mimi reminisce about their first moments together.
The friends return with a muff and medicine. While Musetta prays and the others work to make the attic more comfortable, Mimì dies.