La bohème is an opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on Scènes de la vie de Bohème by Henri Murger. The world première of La bohème was performed in Turin on February 1, 1896 at the Teatro Regio (now the Teatro Regio Torino) and conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. In 1946, fifty years after the opera's premiere, Toscanini conducted a performance of it on U.S. radio, and this performance was eventually released on records and on compact disc. It is the only recording of a Puccini opera led by its original conductor.
La bohème is Puccini's most famous and popular opera as well as one of the most performed operas in the standard operatic repertoire.
Leoncavallo composed an opera of the same name and based on the same story, but with his own libretto. His La bohème, which was premiered in 1897, focuses more on the Musetta and Marcello relationship, rather than that of Mimì and Rodolfo as in Puccini's. Leoncavallo's La bohème is almost never played anymore, while Puccini's is, according to Opera America, the second most performed opera in North America, second only to Madama Butterfly, also a masterpiece by Puccini.
In 2003, the opera was given a Tony Award-winning Broadway production by Baz Luhrmann, with modernized supertitle translations. To play the eight performances per week, three casts of Mimìs and Rudolfos, and two Musettas and Marcellos, were used in rotation. This production was originally done by Opera Australia in 1993 with a budget of only AU$60,000.
Act I. In the four bohemians' garret. Marcello is painting while Rodolfo gazes out of the window. As they have no fire, they use the manuscript of Rodolfo's drama for fuel. Colline, the philosopher, enters shivering and disgruntled at not having been able to pawn some books. Schaunard, the musician of the group, arrives with food, wood, wine, and money, and he explains the source of his riches — a job with an English gentleman. Nobody listens, but they fall ravenously upon the food, which is removed by Schaunard, leaving only the wine. While they drink, Benoit, the landlord, arrives to collect the rent. They flatter him and give him wine. In his drunkenness, he recites his amorous adventures, but when he also declares he is married, they thrust him from the room in comic moral indignation. The rent money is divided for a carousal in the Quartier Latin. The other Bohemians go out, but Rodolfo remains alone in order to work. Some one knocks, and Mimì, whose candle has been snuffed out, asks Rodolfo to light it. She departs, but returns in a few minutes, saying she has forgotten her key. Both candles are extinguished; they stumble in the dark, and Rodolfo finds the key, which he pockets. They relate the story of their varied experiences in the two arias. ("Che gelida manina — What a cold little hand"; and "Sì, mi chiamano Mimì — Yes, they call me Mimì.") The waiting friends call Rodolfo impatiently. He wishes to remain at home with Mimì, but she decides to accompany him. Departing they sing of their love. (Duet, Rodolfo and Mimì: "O soave fanciulla — Oh gentle maiden")
Act II. Quartier Latin. A great crowd on the street, sellers praise their wares. (Chorus: "Aranci, datteri! Caldi i marroni — Oranges, dates! Hot chestnuts."). The friends repair to Café Momus. While they eat, Musetta, formerly beloved of Marcello, arrives with her rich government minister admirer Alcindoro. She tries to attract Marcello's attention with a risque song (Song, Musetta: "Quando me'n vo — When I go along"), and succeeds after many efforts. She feigns suffering from a tight shoe, and to get rid of him, sends Alcindoro to the shoemaker. During the ensemble, Musetta and Marcello fall into each other's arms and reconcile. The friends wish to pay the bill, but to their consternation find Schaunard's riches gone; the sly Musetta has the entire bill charged to Alcindoro. The police appear, and they rush in all directions. Marcello and Colline carry Musetta out on their arms amid the applause of the spectators. When all have gone, Alcindoro arrives with the shoe seeking Musetta. The waiter hands him the bill, and horror-stricken at the amount he sinks upon a chair.
Act III. At the toll gate. Clothing peddlers come to the city. Mimì, coughing violently, wishes to speak to Marcello, who resides in a little tavern near the barrier where he paints signs for the innkeeper. She tells him of her hard life with Rodolfo, who has abandoned her that night. (Mimì: "O buon Marcello, aiuto! -- Oh, good Marcello, help me!") Marcello tells her that Rodolfo is sleeping at the inn. He has just awakened and is seeking Marcello, and Mimì conceals herself. Rodolfo first claims he left Mimi because of her coquettishness, but finally lets on that he fears she is consumed with a deadly illness and should be comforted by a wealthier suitor. Marcello, out of charity for Mimì, endeavours to silence him, but she has already heard all; she is discovered by her coughing. Marcello joins Musetta, Rodolfo and Mimì are about to separate (Mimì: "Donde lieta uscì -- From here she happily left"), but are finally reconciled. Musetta approaches with Marcello, who is jealous. They depart after a fierce quarrel. (Quartet: Mimì, Rodolfo, Musetta, Marcello: "Addio dolce svegliare alla mattina! -- Goodbye, sweet awakening in the morning!")
Act IV. Back in the garret. Marcello and Rodolfo are seemingly at work, though they are primarily bemoaning the loss of their respective beloveds. (Duet: "O Mimì, tu più non torni" -- O Mimì, will you not return?) Schaunard and Colline arrive with a very frugal dinner. They parody a plentiful banquet, dance and sing. Musetta appears and says that Mimì is back, but she's very weakened by her illness, and all assist the dying girl. Musetta and Marcello depart to sell Musetta's earrings to get money for medicine; while Colline and Schaunard leave to pawn Colline's coat (Colline: "Vecchia zimarra -- Old coat") Mimì and Rodolfo, left alone, recall their past happiness. (Duet, Mimì and Rodolfo: "Sono andati? -- Have they gone?") The others return, and while Musetta prays aloud, Mimi dies. Schaunard checks on Mimì and sadly says that she's dead, Rodolfo is horrified, cries out Mimì's name and starts sobbing.
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