The plot and the protagonists of La BohèmeCast of Characters
Rodolfo: a poet
Schaunard: a musician
Benoît: the Landlord
Mimì: a seamstress
Marcello: an artist
Colline: a philosopher
Alcindoro: Musetta's elderly admirer
Musetta: Marcello's girlfriend
Parpignol: a street trader
Setting: the Latin Quarter in Paris, c. 1830
In a garret in the Latin Quarter of Paris on Christmas Eve. Marcello, the painter and the poet Rodolfo try to keep warm by burning pages from Rodolfo's latest drama. They are joined by their young friends Colline, a young Philosopher and Schaunard, a musician. The latter has brought money and food. They are celebrating their new-found fortune when there is a knock on the door. It is their landlord Benoit who has come to collect the overdue rent. Plying him with wine, they urge him to speak of his infidelities and finally they throw him out in mock indignation at his disloyalty to his wife. Colline, Schaunard and Marcello depart for the Café Domus. Rodolfo remains at home to write, promising to join them very shortly. There is a gentle tap at the door and this time the visitor turns out to be a pretty young woman, one of their neighbours, Mimì, who is pale and weak. Her candle has been blown out on the draughty stairs and she would like it to be re-lit. Rodolfo does what she asks and just when she is about to leave she feels faint. Rodolfo offers her some wine to restore her energy. Mimì then realizes she has lost her key and as they are both searching for it on the stairs, their candles are blown out. The poet takes the girl's hand and tells her his dreams in the moonlight. Mimì explains that she leads a simple and solitary life and embroiders flowers. She adores the springtime. Rodolfo in the meantime finds Mimì's key but hides it in his pocket. From outside, Rodolfo's friends beckon him to come along to Café Momus. He calls to them to keep two seats for him that he will be along very soon. Rodolfo and Mimì, who are very drawn to each other, leave for the bar to join the others.
There are great festivities going on in the Latin Quarter. Rodolfo buys a pink bonnet for Mimì, one which she has desired for a long time. Colline in the meantime has bought himself a patched-up coat. In the bar Marcello's ex-girlfriend Musetta enters with her elderly admirer Alcindoro. She is obviously still attracted to Marcello, and he to her, but he tries to ignore her as she sings about how popular she is with men to try and gain his attention. She pretends that her shoes are hurting her and she sends Alcindoro to buy her some new shoes. When he leaves, she throws herself into Marcello's arms. The group then leaves and Musetta tells the waiter in the café that Alcindoro will look after the bill.
At dawn on a snowy morning in February on the outskirts of Paris, Mimì, breaking down in coughing fits, approaches the tavern where Marcello and Musetta, reunited, now live. Mimì reveals to Marcello that she can no longer remain with Rodolfo due to his incessant jealousy. It is advisable that they part company. Suddenly Rodolfo's voice is heard and Mimì conceals herself from him. The poet informs Marcello that he wishes to terminate his relationship with Mimì as a result of her being fickle and flirtatious and also because of their frequent quarrelling. Subsequently, he breaks down and reveals the truth. He admits that he fears for Mimì's health and believes she will become worse if she remains in his poverty-stricken and chilly garret. Mimì takes a fit of coughing and emerges from her place of hiding. Rodolfo is distraught as he knows his sweetheart has heard everything. She bids him farewell but he insists that they stay together until spring as winter would be too lonely a season for them to stay apart. In the meantime Marcello runs back into the tavern as Musetta can be heard laughing and flirting with another man. Marcello and Musetta part in anger while Rodolfo and Mimì resolve to stay together until spring.
Months later in the garret, Marcello and Rodolfo lament about their loneliness having both parted from their loved ones. Colline and Shaunard enter offering a small meal. The four bohemians decide to make the most of it, pretending it is a banquet. They dance around the room, laughing and joking and eventually stage a mock sword fight. Their merriment comes quickly to a close as Musetta bursts in with news of Mimì who has collapsed on the stairs and has demanded to see Rodolfo. The weak and faint Mimì is transported upstairs and is made comfortable in the bed. With no money for a doctor or medication, Musetta removes her own earrings and urges Marcello to pawn them. Colline makes the decision to sell his prized overcoat to help with the costs. After he and Schaunard leave the room, Mimì and Rodolfo are alone. They reminisce about how they first met and discuss their love for one another. They vow to remain together always. The others return with a muff to warm Mimì's cold hands and news of the doctor who will shortly visit the garret. Mimi is overtaken by a coughing fit and as Rodolfo turns away momentarily, Schaunard notices that Mimì has passed away. Everyone but Rodolfo is aware of the fact. He believes her to be resting and does not want to give in to the force of destiny. Finally he discovers the truth and cries out her name in desperation.