Semi-staged by James Garnon
La Bohème premiered in 1896 at Milan’s La Scala under the baton of a 29-year-old Arturo Toscanini. Set amid the noise and energy of Bohemian life in Paris, it opens with new young love and gaiety, but ends in tragedy with the death of consumptive Mimi. Its emotional potency is further heightened by a structure inviting us to draw parallels: the outer two acts are both set in the bohemians’ garret, both opening with the bohemians’ bounding motif, and with Act IV recalling Act I arias; Act II is set in a merrily raucous and warm cafe in the city centre and opens with a celebratory descending brass line, while Act III is set in a cold, quiet tavern on the city outskirts and opens with nervously descending woodwind. Musical centrepieces include Mimi’s Act I ‘Che gelida manima’, Musetta’s Act II aria ‘Quando me’n vo’, and the Act III quartet.