It’s Christmas Eve in the Parisian Latin Quarter and four struggling artists are meeting to dine together at the Cafe Momus. The poet Rodolfo needs to meet a deadline and asks his friends to reserve a seat for him. Someone knocks on his door. Seamstress Mimi holds a candle and asks for a light. She suddenly feels queasy and drops her key. The two search for it in the dark. Rodolfo takes Mimi’s hand and tells her all about his career and dreams. Mimi also shares her life experience. Under the moonlight, they declare their love for each other.
In front of Cafe Momus, a large crowd has gathered and is restless. The poet introduces Mimi to his three friends. Musetta, the ex-girlfriend of the painter Marcello, who is there with her new lover Alcindoro, a government minister, for dinner. Coquettish Musetta is actually still in love with the painter. She sends the minister away on a false errand while she rekindles her love with Marcello. Marcello and Musetta are now employed in a tavern near a toll gate in Paris. One day in winter, Mimi, who is ill, comes to the tavern in the morning and complains to Marcello in tears about Rodolfo’s terrible jealousy. When Rodolfo arrives to meet Marcello, Mimi hides in a corner. Rodolfo reveals that because of Mimi’s deteriorating health, he will leave her so that she can find someone better. Mimi reveals herself and sadly bids Rodolfo farewell. They finally agree to be together until the coming spring. Meanwhile, Marcello quarrels with Musetta for always trying to seduce the guests at the tavern. She teases him and finally they break up.
Through pining for their ex-girlfriends, the poet and the painter are both distracted from their work. Musetta appears suddenly and announces that Mimi is seriously ill, before fainting in the doorway. Rodolfo brings her indoors. The friends sell their jewellery and clothes to buy a muff and drugs for Mimi. The poet and the seamstress, alone in the shabby room, recall the good old days. When the friends return, Mimi succumbs to her illness and dies. Rodolfo is immersed in grief.
Each performance consists of eleven musical numbers:
- Poet Encounters with Seamstress
- Poet’s Dream
- Mimi’s Life Experience
- The Vow of Love under the Moon
- Gathering at Cafe Momus
- The Song of Musetta
- Farewell and No more Hatred
- Stay Together until Next Spring
- Cannot Forget the Lost Warmth
- Back Home
- Love like a Deep Sea