In the Garret
A garret in the Latin Quarter – the student centre of Paris. Winter. Young dwellers of the garret – poet Rodolfo and painter Marcello are almost destitute. The room is cold – there is no firewood to burn. But the carefree youth accept their hardships with humour. They are joined by friends – the philosopher Colline and musician Schaunard. Schaunard, who has managed to make a little money, brings food, wine, firewood. The friends perk up; they play a trick on their landlord Benoit who comes to demand rent, and after sending him away they leave to a tavern. Rodolfo stays home – he needs to finish his magazine article. The poet sits on the floor, struggling to make any progress. There’s a soft knock on the door – a girl stands at the entrance. She is their neighbour Mimi. She asks for a fire to light a candle that has just gone out. Rodolfo lights it, and Mimi leaves, but comes right back: she has dropped the key to her room. The candle goes out again while they’re searching for the key. Rodolfo is starting to feel fondness for the frail girl. Mimi’s story of her solitary, modest life deeply touches the youth. He confesses his love to her and she returns his love.
In the Latin Quarter
Christmas Eve. The square and the café are abuzz. Rodolfo introduces his friends to Mimi. Marcel’s friend Musetta arrives at the height of the banquet. She is accompanied by a haughty old man, her wealthy admirer Alcindoro. Musetta tries, in vain, to turn Marcel’s attention to her – he feigns indifference to her charms. The resourceful girl comes up with an excuse to send away her companion. She sends old man Alcindoro away on an errand. Musetta embraces Marcel tenderly. The jolly party departs, leaving Musetta’s elderly companion with the unpaid bill.
At the Outpost
Early February morning. A tavern near a Parisian outpost. After much searching Mimi manages to find Marcel. Worried, she asks for his advice: What is to be done? Rodolfo loves her, but his jealousy and short temper are intolerable; should she leave him? Rodolfo appears. Marcel says goodbye to Mimi, but she stays. Rodolfo discloses to Marcel that Mimi is seriously ill; she is dying of consumption. Overcome with emotion, Mimi hears everything. Despite Rodolfo’s futile attempts to comfort her she tells him they must part company. Marcel and Musetta quarrel. Marcel accuses her of excessive coquetry. The lovers’ brawl leads to yet another separation.
In the Garret
The same garret. Several months later. Marcello and Rodolfo try to work, unsuccessfully. They yearn for their beloveds. Suddenly, an anxious Musetta appears. Mimi came with her, but she is too weak to come upstairs. Rodolfo hurries downstairs and brings the severely weakened girl. The room is still cold, and Musetta sacrifices her earrings, so they can buy something for Mimi and get a doctor. Everyone leaves, except Rodolfo. Mimi and Rodolfo reminisce about their first encounter. They still tenderly love each other. But the ill girl’s strength peters out. Despite Rodolfo’s hopes Mimi dies…