Giacomo Puccini "La Boheme" (opera in 4 acts)
Performed in Italian (with Russian supertitles)
Premiere of this production: 20 Feb 1996
The performance has 1 intermission
Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
based on Henry Murger’s novel Scenes de la Vie de Boheme
In an unheated garret Marcello, an artist, is working on his canvas “Crossing the Red Sea”. He has difficulty holding his brush because the cold has so cramped his fingers. His friend, the poet Rodolfo, enviously looks at the smoke emerging from the smokestacks of the well-heated Parisian houses. Marcello sadly muses over his flighty and unfaithful girl-friend Musetta. Rodolfo turns down Marcello’s offer to fire the stove with his unfinished “Red Sea” and decides to sacrifice the first act of his drama rather than break up the chair for this purpose.
Another friend, the philosopher Colline, returns with a bundle of books that he wanted to sell, but since this is Christmas eve the stores were closed. His bad mood is dispelled by the warmth of the heated stove.
The fourth member of the group of friends arrives. The musician Schaunard with the help of errand-boys has brought delicious snacks, wine, cigars, firewood and a bunch of coins. All are so aghast at the sight of such riches that they are not listening to Schaunard’s story about what happened. He became acquainted with a bored Englishman who wanted nothing more of him than that he “play” until death a parrot that was disturbing him. The successful job, which was not completed without a little poison, was generously rewarded. Schaunard hinders the immediate consumption of the food, but allows them to enjoy the wine. Then, in a condescending tone, he invites his friends to partake in Latin Quarter cuisine.
The joyful mood is disturbed by the arrival of Benoit, the old landlord, who demands the long-overdue rent. They reassure him by showing that they have money and offer him wine. He becomes somewhat tight and boasts of past amorous escapades, whereupon they hit him with his own weapon of Philistine morals: indignantly, they turn the shameful “debauchee” out of the room without paying the rent. Schaunard magnanimously shares his money with his friends and all head for their favourite cafe. Rodolfo decides to stay for a few minutes to finish an article. The friends will wait for him below.
Mimi, a neighbour, comes to ask that her extinguished candle be lighted. A coughing spell detains her in the room. Rodolfo is captivated by the tender creature. After leaving, Mimi returns in search of her key. The draft extinguishes both candles. Rodolfo and Mimi rummage in the dark in search of the key. Rodolfo finds it and unnoticed hides it. Taking advantage of the situation, he dares to touch Mimi’s hand.
Rodolfo contemplates: can he build castles in the air when he is merely a hopelessly poor poet? But Mimi’s beautiful eyes immediately give him reason for optimism.
Mimi tells about herself: she is a seamstress. Her simple existence is warmed by the modest happiness of “unrealizable fantasies” and the “poetry” of minutiae. Rodolfo’s friends are still waiting below and call to him. He tells them to go on and promises to follow shortly. In the enchanting beams of the moonlight penetrating the attic, Rodolfo and Mimi speak of their love for each other. Then, Mimi remembers their promise, so hand in hand they head for the Latin Quarter.
In the Latin Quarter
At the Christmas fair in front of the cafe, traders offer their goods. Each of the friends, having come into means, makes his purchases. Schaunard buys a defective horn, Colline acquires a stack of books and Rodolfo a mob-cap for Mimi. Only Marcello, yearning for Musetta, cannot find consolation in spending money or flirting with other girls. The companions finally meet in the cafe. Mimi is gladly accepted as one of the group. While in the street children noisily surround Parpignol, the trader of toys. They order exquisite viands. Rodolfo and Mimi’s love makes Marcello utter bitter truths.
The season for Marcello’s dejected state soon comes to light. The appearance of Musetta, accompanied by a rich and already piqued suitor, calls forth a burst of animation in the cafe. The darling of the Latin Quarter tries by all means to attract the attention of her former lover. Marcello, despite all efforts, cannot hide that he is not indifferent to her. When Musetta, to Alcindoro’s shame, sings a song directed only to
Marcello, the ice breaks. Enfeebled Alcindoro is unable to pacify excited Musetta. Musetta gets rid of her suitor by claiming that her foot hurts and she needs new shoes. As soon as he leaves, Musetta and Marcello fall into each others arms. The check brought by the waiter causes bewilderment, but Musetta puts the bill on Alcindoro’s account. When Alcindoro returns, he finds the cafe empty. He remains alone with the box of shoes and the unpaid bill.
At the Gate d’Enfer
Marcello and Musetta have found temporary quarters in a tavern on the outskirts of Paris. Marcello is painting a signboard for the owner. Mimi, plagued by coughing spells, asks the sergeant about the artist Marcello. She calls him from the tavern and tells him about her troubles. She knows that Rodolfo loves her, but nevertheless he has left her.
Marcello confirms that Rodolfo has come here early morning and, exhausted, is now sleeping. Under such circumstances, he is also for separation. He, like Musetta, prefers a light relationship. Rodolfo wants to open his heart to his friend. Marcello does not hide that he thinks Marcello is concealing something. Rodolfo claims that Mimi continuously flirts with other men, so that living with her has become impossible. When Marcello expresses doubts, Rodolfo reveals the real reason for his decision: Mimi’s incurable disease and his poor room with northern exposure is undermining her health further. Marcello is unable to prevent Mimi from learning the bitter truth. A coughing spell reveals her presence. Repenting, Rodolfo embraces Mimi, while jealous Marcello, infuriated by the flirtatious laughter of Musetta, rushes into the tavern.
Now, Mimi has decided to leave Rodolfo. But recalling their life together does not allow them to separate. While Marcello makes a scene out of jealousy and Musetta leaves him again, Rodolfo and Mimi decide to postpone separation until Spring.
Several months later. Rodolfo and Marcello are again alone in the garret. They cannot forget their past happiness. The friends are submerged in thoughts. Each is looking at his pledge of love: Marcello at Musetta’s portrait and Rodolfo at the mob-cap, his present to Mimi.
Schaunard and Colline enter and bring only stale bread and a wretched herring. With the humour of gallows-birds, they act as though before them is a richly-laden table.
At the height of the merriment, Musetta rushes in with the news that Mimi feels her end is approaching. Rodolfo seats Mimi in an arm-chair. Life returns. Everyone tries to lighten Mimi’s suffering. Marcello is to sell Musetta’s ear-rings and bring medicine. Musetta wants to buy a muff for Mimi’s hands that are always cold.
Colline is taking his old, worn coat to be pawned. Schaunard, who has nothing, contributes his only available contribution: he leaves Mimi and Rodolfo alone.
Happiness returns to Rodolfo and Mimi. They talk about memories of their past. A sudden choking spell makes Mimi silent. Marcello returns with medicine, Musetta with the desired muff. She supports Mimi’s illusion that it is Rodolfo’s gift. Mimi falls asleep happy. Marcello reports that the doctor will come soon. Schaunard is the first to realize that Mimi is dead. Colline returns with money from the pawnshop. The change in the behaviour of Marcello and Schaunard makes Rodolfo realize that Mimi has died.
© Bolshoi Theatre
© Photo by Damir Yusupov, Igor Zakharkin
1 Teatralnaya ploschad (1 Theatre Square), Moscow, Russia
Bol'shaya Dmitrovka Street, 4/2, Moscow, Russia