Opera in 4 acts
Performed in Italian with Russian subtitles
Libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, based on Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger
The opera was written in 1896, this version was first performed in Perm in 2017. The 2020 revival
This is a coproduction of Festspielhaus Baden-Baden and Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre
La bohème is a gem of late 19th century lyrical psychological opera. It follows the traditions of Verdi's La traviata and is dedicated, according to music historian Mikhail Muginstein, to the "sad mystery of life investigated from the perspective of time’s irreversibility."
Philipp Himmelmann, a stage director from Germany, is known to Russian audiences as the director of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro staged in Perm in 2012. His interpretation of the opera by Puccini is set in Paris in the 1960s. It was a legendary time that gave birth to the new cinematography, fashion and understanding of the role of personality in history.
The production’s stage designer is Raimund Bauer, well-known for his work with leading theatres and festivals in Europe, while Kathi Maurer, who has worked on performances at the Salzburg Festival, RUHRtriennale and the Aix-en-Provence Festival, is costume designer.
Rodolfo, a poet
Marcello, a painter
Schaunard, a musician
Colline, a philosopher
Benoît, landlord of the aforementioned
Alcindoro, Musetta's rich admirer
Parpignol, a toy vendor
A Customs Sergeant
Students, grisettes, townsfolk, shopkeepers, street-vendors, soldiers, waiters in the cafe, boys, girls, and others
On Christmas eve, in the afternoon, in an attic room with a view overlooking the Paris rooftops, painter Marcello and poet Rodolfo are both busy toiling away with their work. They are both rather cold, but they have no firewood to light the stove. Rodolfo suggests lighting it with one of his drama manuscripts ― nobody besides its author cares about it anyway.
When the first act of his play turns to ashes philosopher Colline enters the room. He is disappointed to tell his friends that he failed to pawn his books because the shop was closed early on Christmas eve. Musician Schaunard appears in a totally different mood: he has brought food, wine, cigarettes and firewood. While the friends lay the table, Schaunard tells them an amusing story about how he made some good money from giving just a couple of music lessons. In the end, he concludes, one has a right to eat properly at least on Christmas eve.
Suddenly there is a knock on the door ― their landlord Benoît has come to collect his rent. The friends let him in and offer him some wine to change the subject. After a few drops of alcohol the landlord trustingly imparts memories of amorous adventures to them. Pretending they are insulted by the filthy stories, the friends see "the lech" out without having paid him. Then they start preparing to go out and celebrate their unexpected good fortune. Rodolfo is the only one who stays in ― to finish an article ― but he promises to catch up with his friends in about five minutes.
When Marcello, Schaunard and Colline are gone, there is a gentle knock at the door. Mimì, their neighbour, walks in and asks Rodolfo to help her light a candle. The girl coughs and Rodolfo walks her home. A bit later Mimì returns ― she had lost her key somewhere and her candle had gone out again. Rodolfo lights it again and they start looking for the key together. He is the first one to find it, but he does not tell Mimì about it. Quite the opposite, he puts out her candle, as if by accident, and they continue searching for the key in the dark. Their hands touch, and a sudden feeling overcomes them. Without holding back, they confess their love for each other. In the meantime, they can hear their friends shouting from the street impatiently. Rodolfo replies that he is already going out and invites Mimì to join him on an evening stroll around Paris.
It is a little later on in the story. The streets are full of jolly townsfolk and the friends are spending what’s left of Schaunard's earnings: Rodolfo buys Mimì a pink kerchief, Colline has a look at some books and an old coat, Schaunard examines the price of a trumpet.
When everyone gathers at the table in a street cafe, Rodolfo introduces Mimì to his friends. Everyone but Marcello congratulate the couple. The painter grows sour as he sees his former girlfriend Musetta appear in the distance together with womaniser Alcindoro. Flirting with the man, Musetta tries to attract Marcelo's attention. Finally, pretending to be in pain from a shoe that’s too tight, Musetta sends Alcindoro to get her a new pair and falls into Marcello's arms. In their excitement over what has occurred, the friends leave the cafe all together. When Alcindoro comes back, he finds no one but the waiter who presents him with an entire bill.
Two months later. Early morning, it has just stopped snowing. People are on their way to work. Musetta and Marcello have a temporary accommodation here, in an inn on the edge of the city. Mimì ventures there to seek her friend's help. She tells him that her life with Rodolfo has become unbearable ― her lover is jealous of every man who comes near her. The painter pragmatically advises they should separate. At this moment, Rodolfo walks in from behind the bar having spent the night there. Mimì hides.
Rodolfo then confides in Marcello that he wants to leave Mimì. According to him it is not only because she flirts with everyone, but also because she is fatally ill. Upon hearing Musetta's laugh, Marcello heads back to the bar. At that same moment, Mimì’s cough reveals her whereabouts. She tells her lover that she is going to leave him and asks Rodolfo to return her things, but lets him keep the pink kerchief as a keepsake.
Both are downhearted. They decide to take a break from their relationship until the snow melts. In the meantime, Marcello and Musetta are having a loud row in the bar and Musetta stages a very public break-up with him, again, for all the world to see.
A few more months later. Rodolfo and Marcello are back in their attic room: Marcello is at the easel, and Rodolfo is tending to his manuscript. Both are pretending to be working, but they are actually deep in thought about their former happiness. Schaunard and Colline bring them some food ― dry bread and herring. Despite the meagre contents of the meal, it cheers them up.
In the midst of their merriment, Musetta bursts in, alarmed: Mimì is here, and she is dying. Rodolfo helps the girl to get into bed. Musetta gives Marcello her earrings to be pawned for some medicine. She leaves to get a muff for the shivering Mimì. Colline is preparing to take his coat to a pawn shop. Schaunard comes up with an excuse to leave Mimì and Rodolfo alone. The lovers recollect their first meeting, and Mimì confesses that she knew Rodolfo's trick with the key from the start.
Their friends are back to announce that the doctor is on the way. Musetta gives her muff to Mimì, and the girl falls asleep. The sorrowful silence of his friends tells Rodolfo that Mimì has passed away.