In a Latin Quarter garret on Christmas Eve, Rodolfo, a poet, and Marcello, a painter, burn pages from Rodolfo’s latest manuscript to stay warm. Soon they are joined by Colline, a philosopher, and Schaunard, a musician, who brings food and money earned from his recent brief employment. Their landlord, Benoit, knocks on the door asking for the overdue rent. They invite him in for a drink and, made garrulous by the wine, Benoit boasts of his many conquests. The four friends feign indignation over the exploits of a married man and throw him out.
Marcello, Colline, and Schaunard leave for Café Momus, while Rodolfo stays behind to finish writing, promising to join them shortly. There is a knock at the door and Rodolfo opens it to the young seamstress Mimì, who asks for a light for her candle. Seeing that she is weak, Rodolfo ushers her to a chair and offers her wine. As she is leaving, Mimì tells Rodolfo she has lost her key and they search for it together. He tells her about himself and his dreams and Mimì replies with the story of her own modest life as a seamstress. The two realize their love for one another and leave to join his friends.
Rodolfo introduces Mimì to his friends at the Café Momus and they all sit down to dinner. Marcello’s former girlfriend, Musetta, appears with the wealthy and older Alcindoro. Despite Musetta’s and Marcello’s attempt to appear indifferent to each other’s presence, it is plain that they are not. In order to gain his attention, Musetta sings a song boasting about her popularity. Complaining that her shoe is hurting her, she sends Alcindoro off to the cobbler’s. She then is free to join her old friends, leaving Alcindoro to pay everyone’s bill when he returns.
Several weeks later, the ailing Mimì seeks out Marcello at the tavern where he is now employed as a mural painter. She tells him that she is afraid Rodolfo’s jealousy will drive them apart. As she starts to leave, Rodolfo comes out of the tavern and Mimì quickly hides. After some prodding from Marcello, Rodolfo admits that his jealous fits hide his real feelings of despair over Mimì’s increasingly serious illness. As coughing fit reveals Mimì’s presence just as Marcello, hearing Musetta’s raucous laughter, rushed back into the tavern to investigate. Mimì tells Rodolfo that they should separate and the lovers exchange memories of their happiness. Marcello and Musetta come out of the tavern in the midst of a heated argument. The two exchange insults and part angrily, while Rodolfo and Mimì agree to stay together until spring.
Several months later back in their garret, Rodolfo and Marcello commiserate over their loneliness. Colline and Schaunard enter, breaking the mood and offering a small meal. They are interrupted when Musetta arrives with the news that Mimì is outside, very ill, and has asked to be brought to Rodolfo. While Rodolfo helps Mimì lie down, Musetta gives her earrings to Marcello, telling him to go buy medicine and send for a doctor. She runs out to buy a muff for Mimì’s cold hands and Colline leaves to sell his coat to get more money. Left alone, Rodolfo and Mimì reminisce about their first meeting and the love that they shared. Soon the others return, bearing medicine and a muff to warm Mimì’s hands. As Mimì succumbs to her illness, it is obvious to everyone but Rodolfo that the help has come too late. He is the last to realize that Mimì has died and he falls on her lifeless body calling her name.
Production of the Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofía” in Valencia, Spain, in 2012