In an attic apartment in the Latin Quarter of Paris, a group of young artists are living together in poverty. Their neighbour, the little seamstress Mimi, introduces herself, seeking a light for her candle, when Rodolfo is left alone. They fall in love. At the Café Momus Rodolfo presents Mimi to his friends, while the singer Musetta abandons her elderly rich lover Alcindoro in order to join Marcello. Alcindoro is left to settle the bill for all of them. Time has passed. Mimi has lived with Rodolfo, but they quarrel, because of his apparent jealousy. He has planned to leave her, as we learn in a scene set on a cold winter morning by the city gates. Musetta, a contrast in character to the gentle Mimi, later returns to the attic apartment of the four young men, bringing with her the dying Mimi, whom they now try to comfort, but in vain, as she dies before their eyes of the consumption that has racked her.
Ruggero Leoncavallo claimed priority in his own operatic version of La Bohème, with a libretto of his own devising, based on the novel by Murger. His version was first performed on 6th May 1897 at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, and won immediate, if not lasting success of the same degree as Puccini’s opera. The latter version is among the best known of all works in the current repertoire, a thoroughly romantic treatment, with an element of realism in its setting. The score has provided singers with operatic recital repertoire, in particular the tenor Che gelida manina (Your tiny hand is frozen), Mimi’s Mi chiamano Mimi (They call me Mimi), Rodolfo’s O soave fanciulla (O sweet girl) and Musetta’s Waltz.