La bohème is an opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini. The Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa is based on the Henry Murger novel Scènes de la vie de Bohème.
When Puccini was composing the music for La bohème, he learned that a rival composer, Leoncavallo, was working on a similar project. Puccini declared: "Let him compose. I will compose. The audience will decide." Puccini them wrote with an urgent speed, completing his opera a year before Leoncavallo's now all but forgotten work.
La bohème was premiered in Turin on February 1, 1896 at the Teatro Regio. Though the initial response of the critics was mixed, the work quickly became popular throughout Italy and productions were soon mounted by a number of opera companies.
La bohème tells the tragic love story of seamstress Mimi and poet Rodolpho in 1830s Paris. Unlike earlier operas, with their 'larger-than-life' characters, the work portrays the gritty realism of ordinary people's everyday struggles. La boheme proved that opera didn't have to be about monarchs, aristocrats or gods to be a hit. Puccini went on to write Madame Butterfly and Gianni Schicchi in the same realistic vein, establishing him as one of the finest ever opera composers.
The Turin premiere was conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini. Fifty years after the opera's premiere, Toscanini conducted a performance of La bohème on radio with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. This performance was eventually released on a record and it is the only recording of a Puccini opera by its original conductor.