Rodolfo and Marcello are freezing in their cold attic-room.
Despite the poet throwing the manuscript of his play in the fire,
the burning love scenes cannot exude enough heat. Colline arrives -
with empty hands, as pawnshops are closed on Christmas Eve.
Schaunard, however, brings money and delicious food. They divide
the money, and eat ravenously. Unexpectedly, the landlord turns up
to collect the unsettled rent, but soon they manage to get rid of
him, and make their way to the café. However. Rodolfo has to write
a poem first, so he follows his three friends later. Hardly has he
got down to work when there is a knock at the door: Mimì is
standing at the threshold. The wind has blown her candle out. The
two hearts soon reconcile, and love starts to blossom in the small
attic-room lit by the magical moonlight.
While a colourful crowd is whirling in the bustling streets, in
Cafe Momus the four good friends and Mimì are celebrating Christmas
Eve. Marcello's former love, Musetta appears with an elderly
gallant, Alcindoro. She immediately seizes the opportunity to
regain the painter's affection. With some clever acting, she loses
the fooled gallant, and falls into Marcello's arms. As the
bohemians have run out of money, when Alcindoro returns to the cafe
he finds only the unsettled bill.
At a foggy and cold dawn near Barriére d'Enfer, in the outskirts
of Paris. Mimì is looking for Marcello, who is living with Musetta
in the tavern next door. She tells him of her grief: Rodolfo is
continuously torturing her with his jealousy, and always suggests
that they should separate. Both suffer terribly, and still cannot
live without the other. Marcello promises to help them. Mimì walks
off, but after some steps she hides behind a tree. Rodolfo steps
out of the tavern, and after some hesitation he tells his friend
the reason for his strange behaviour. He still passionately loves
Mimi, as strongly as at the start, but the girl is fatally ill; she
only has a chance to survive if they separate and Mimì finds
someone who can provide more adequate living conditions. Mimì's
loud weeping reveals her presence and that she has heard
everything. Mimì and Rodolfo, both in tears, decide to remain
together until the spring, while Musetta and Marcello start one of
their usual quarrels.
Rodolfo and Marcello are working in the attic-room again, or,
rather, they would be working if their memories did not disrupt
their imagination. They are both daydreaming about Mimì and
Musetta. Schaunard arrives with Colline, and the mood brightens.
When the high spirits are at their zenith, Musetta arrives
suddenly: Mimì is coming. She has collected all her strength so she
could die in the place where she used to be so happy. The two
lovers are left alone, and they recall their first encounter. Then
the bohemians and Musetta return one by one. When Colline, the last
to arrive, closes the door, Mimì - silently, and almost
unnoticeably - falls into an eternal sleep.