Opera For Beginners

Opera Profile: Puccini’s Ever-Popular ‘La Bohème’

Everyone knows “La Bohème,” even people that know nothing about opera.

Arguably the most famous opera of all time, next to Bizet’s “Carmen,” Puccini’s masterwork is renowned for its celebrated melodies and unforgettable characters.

The opera had its world premiere on Feb. 1, 1896, with Arturo Toscanini in the pit. Legend has it that Puccini opted to write the opera upon hearing that rival composer Leoncavallo was at work on a similar work based on Henri Murger’s novel “Scènes de la vie bohème.” The opera was a not an instant success at its premiere but has since turned into a staple of every major opera company every single season.

Short Plot Summary

Four bohemians, Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline, and Schaunard are fooling around in their poverty-stricken apartment in Paris. After overcoming their landlord Benoit, they head out for a night on the town. Rodolfo stays behind to finish up an article he has to write and is interrupted by a neighbor, Mimì, who is looking for someone to light her candle. The two instantly fall in love and Mimì decides to go out with Rodolfo.

Now in the Latin Quarter of Paris, Rodolfo and Mimì reunite with the friends at Café Momus. Marcello’s old lover Musetta storms in with her current lover Alcindoro and makes a scene. Eventually, she and Marcello reunite and the lovers head off to enjoy the Christmas Eve celebration.

A few months later, in the dead of winter, Mimì is seeking out Rodolfo. They have broken up but she has some unfinished business. She encounters Marcello and asks for his help. Marcello talks to Rodolfo who confesses that he is afraid for Mimì’s health and can’t stand the thought of losing her. The two lovers reunite and promise to remain together until spring. Meanwhile, Musetta and Marcello duke it out.

A few months later the four Bohemians are fooling around in their apartment when Mimì arrives with Musetta. Mimì is dying and in her final moments, she gets a chance to express her love for Rodolfo. She dies and her lover shouts out her name in agony as the opera draws to a close.

Famous Musical Numbers

The opera has a wealth of famous moments including the famed love scene between Rodolfo and Mimì which includes two arias (one for each) and a clinching love duet, “O soave fanciulla.”

Musetta’s “Quando m’en vo” is arguably the most famous piece from the opera from a pop culture perspective. The third act is filled with memorable musical moment, including the close quartet “Addio dolce svegliare” and Mimì’s aria “Donde lieta uscì.”

The fourth act is also famous for the duet between Mimì and Rodolfo, “Sono andati,” and Rodolfo’s final cries of “Mimì.”

Watch and Listen 

Here is a filmed version of the opera with Rolando Villazón and Anna Netrebko as the two lovers.

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