La bohème (Leoncavallo)

La bohème is an Italian opera in four acts, with music and libretto by Ruggero Leoncavallo, based on La Vie de Bohème by Henri Murger. The opera received its premiere at the Teatro la Fenice, Venice on May 6 1897. Leoncavallo wrote his opera La bohème in parallel with Giacomo Puccini's own treatment of the same story, contemperaneously. Puccini's version has become a standard in the operatic repertoire, whilst Leoncavallo's opera is rarely performed. Leoncavallo's version did not receive its UK premiere until May 1970.

Allan W Atlas has analysed in detail the different treatments of the death of the character Mimi in both Leoncavallo's and Puccini's treatments of La bohème, to contrast the historical success of Puccini's opera and the relative failure of Leoncavallo's.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, May 6 1897
(Conductor: - )
Schaunard, a musician baritone
Marcello, a painter tenor Evan Gorga
Rodolfo, a poet baritone
Mimi soprano
Musetta mezzo-soprano
Gaudenzio tenor
Loafer tenor
Colline, a philosopher baritone
Eufemia mezzo-soprano
Barbemuche bass
Durand tenor
Students, working girls, townsfolk, shopkeepers, street-vendors,
soldiers, waiters, women and children - chorus

Noted Arias

  • "Musette svaria sulla bocca viva" (Mimì)
  • "Da quel suon soavemente" (Musette)


Place: Paris.
Time: one year from Christmas, 1837 to Christmas, 1838.

Act I. At the Café Momus. The innkeeper Gaudenzio tries in vain to eject the Bohemians, who never pay, and are always in mischief. During the conversation another piece of horseplay on their part is discovered. They sit down to dine, while Musetta gaily sings. (Canzonette: "Mimi is the name of my sweet blonde.") Naturally when they are asked to pay the score, they have no money. A comic fight ensues between them and the innkeeper, who has called his servants to assist him. It is ended by Barbemache, who offers to pay the bill.

Act II. In the court of Musetta's house. Musetta's lover has left her and refuses to pay her debts any longer. In consequence, her furniture is levied upon and carried down to the courtyard. When this has been done, she returns home; she expects guests and cannot entertain them in any other way than by receiving them in the courtyard. Here the Bohemians, who arrive in large numbers, celebrate joyously. The neighbours, awakened from sleep, protest in vain and the scene ends in a general fight between the two factions.

Act III. Garret room of Marcello. Musetta, who can no longer bear the sufferings of hunger and want, desires to leave him. Mimi, during the festival in the courtyard, has allowed herself to be carried off by Count Paul, but actuated by love for Rodolfo, returns. Musetta begs her to go with her, but in vain. Marcello and Rodolfo in anger compel both to leave the apartment.

Act IV. Garret room of Rodolfo. Mimi returns to Rodolfo in a dying condition. Musetta, who accidentally meets her there, sacrifices her jewels to procure fuel to warm the room for Mimi. As the Christmas chimes are heard, Mimi dies.



  • Opera plots taken from The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.

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