Audio tracks are embedded within each activity. A pronunciation guide and "Who's Who" chart can be found here.
ACT I Christmas Eve, in a tiny room at the top of a house in Paris’s Latin Quarter. The poet Rodolfo and the painter Marcello feed the stove with pages from Rodolfo’s latest drama, just to stay warm. Their two other roommates arrive: Colline, a philosopher, and the musician Schaunard, who brings food, fuel, and a bit of money—just in time for the landlord, Benoit, to come ask for the rent. But instead of paying, the four get the old man drunk enough to tell tales of his flirtations, then they throw him out, accusing him of cheating on his wife.
All but Rodolfo head off to the Café Momus. He wants some time to write. But before he gets started, a pretty neighbor, Mimì, knocks at the door. The draft in the stairway has blown out her candle. Mimì feels faint and stumbles. Rodolfo rouses her with a glass of wine, then helps her to the door and relights her candle. She realizes she doesn’t have her key and must have dropped it when she fainted. As Rodolfo and Mimì look for it, both their candles are extinguished. Rodolfo finds the key—and slips it into his pocket. Then he takes Mimì’s cold hands and tells her of his dreams. She responds by talking about her life and how she sits in her own room, waiting for the spring. Rodolfo’s friends are heard calling from the street, asking him to join them. Happy to have found each other, Mimì and Rodolfo set out for the Café Momus, arm in arm.
ACT II Café Momus and the surrounding streets. In the crowded streets around the café, vendors are selling their wares. Schaunard is inspecting musical instruments and Colline old books, while Marcello flirts with passing girls. Rodolfo stops to buy Mimì a bonnet. Colline and Schaunard complain about the crowds. Children run by, chasing a man selling toys. Seated at last, the friends tease each other, toast, and chat about love. Marcello’s former girlfriend, Musetta, makes a grand entrance with her new suitor, a rich old man named Alcindoro. Musetta flirts with Marcello. When the embarrassed Alcindoro tries to stop her, she sends him to buy her a new pair of shoes, then promptly hooks up with Marcello. The bill arrives and Musetta leaves it for Alcindoro to pay. A military guard marches by and the crowd, including Rodolfo, Mimì, and their friends, falls in behind.
ACT III A tavern at the gates of Paris. On a snowy morning a few weeks later, Mimì comes to a tavern at the gates of the city, looking for Marcello, who lives there with Musetta. Marcello comes out to meet her, but she won’t go in, because Rodolfo is inside too. Mimì says Rodolfo’s jealousy has become unbearable: they need to break up. She is coughing badly. Marcello sees Rodolfo coming over and Mimì pretends to leave but hides instead. Now Rodolfo tells Marcello he needs to break up with Mimì. He says he’s bored with her, but before long admits that he’s worried his freezing apartment is making her sicker than ever. He blames himself for Mimì’s illness. Mimì, who has overheard it all, comes forward and says goodbye to Rodolfo. Meanwhile Marcello gets into a fight with Musetta over her flirtatious behavior and they part. But Mimì and Rodolfo, still plainly and painfully in love, decide to stay together at least until spring.
ACT IV Rodolfo’s apartment in the Latin Quarter. Months have passed, and Rodolfo and Mimì are separated. He and Marcello are back in their old apartment, trying to work, talking about their ex-girlfriends as if they didn’t care. Colline and Schaunard come in with a meager dinner, and the four pretend to feast like nobles, dance, and stage a mock duel. Their game is cut short when Musetta rushes in, followed by Mimì, who is by now seriously ill. The men prepare a bed. Marcello and Musetta go off to buy a muff to keep Mimì’s hands warm. Colline decides to pawn his old overcoat for money to help her and leaves with Schaunard. Alone at last with Mimì, Rodolfo produces the bonnet he bought her by the Café Momus. The others return, bringing the muff and a bit to drink. They have summoned a doctor as well. Mimì seems to fall asleep, but Schaunard notices the sad truth: she has died. The opera ends with Rodolfo’s cry of grief.