Opera – La Bohene
According to its title page, the libretto of La bohème is based on Henri Murger’s novel, Scènes de la vie de bohème, a collection of vignettes portraying young bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s. Although usually called a novel, it has no unified plot. Like the 1849 play by Murger and Théodore Barrière, the opera’s libretto focuses on the relationship between Rodolfo and Mimì, ending with her death. Also like the play, the libretto combines two characters from the novel, Mimì and Francine, into a single Mimì character.
Much of the libretto is original. The main plots of acts two and three are the librettists’ invention, with only a few passing references to incidents and characters in Murger. Most of acts one and four follow the novel, piecing together episodes from various chapters. The final scenes in acts one and four —the scenes with Rodolfo and Mimì— resemble both the play and the novel. The story of their meeting closely follows chapter 18 of the novel, in which the two lovers living in the garret are not Rodolphe and Mimì at all, but rather Jacques and Francine. The story of Mimì’s death in the opera draws from two different chapters in the novel, one relating Francine’s death and the other relating Mimì’s.
The published libretto includes a note from the librettists briefly discussing their adaptation. Without mentioning the play directly, they defend their conflation of Francine and Mimì into a single character: “Chi puo non confondere nel delicato profilo di una sola donna quelli di Mimì e di Francine?” (“Who cannot detect in the delicate profile of one woman the personality both of Mimì and of Francine?”) At the time, the novel was in the public domain, Murger having died without heirs, but rights to the play were still controlled by Barrière’s heirs.