Giacomo Puccini's "La Boheme" has been characterized by V.S. Pritchett (1983) as a Paris Latin Quarter-based opera in which a frustrated relationship between the beautiful but frail Mimi and the handsome Rodolfo ends in tragedy with Mimi's death and Rodolfo's anguish. Pritchett (1983) notes that this circa-1830 opera explores the vulnerability of bohemians and marginal workers such as Mimi, while also examining the ease with which even deeply beloved women are abandoned when they no longer can be cared for by their lovers. At issue in this analysis is a discussion of the role played by one of the most significant arias written for the character of Mimi by Puccini, examining its poetic and dramatic qualities and its place within the development of plot and characterization within the opera.
The aria occurs in Act I shortly after Mimi, a seamstress who makes artificial flowers, has met her neighbor, Rodolfo. Titled "Mi Chiamano Mimi," this brief lyric aria introduces Mimi (whose name is actually Lucia) to Rodolfo. Her story, she says, is "a short one. In my little room I embroider silk and satin. I am content and happy. I love to fashion the rose and the lily" (John, 1982, p. 66). The association of Mimi with these beautiful flowers that "speak to me of love, of lovely springtime" is affirmed (John, 1982, p. 66).
The listener also learns that Mimi does not know why this has been her name but she is always alone having a frugal supper, going to mass "but seldom" and "alone but not lonely" (John, 1982, p. 66). Mimi's delicacy is such that in her room she looks out at the sun's light and opens to it as do the roses in the garden. However, the flowers that she fashions "have no perfume" (John, 1982, p. 66). Mimi attempts to dismiss herself as nothing more than "your tiresome neighbor that at an awkward moment intrudes upon you" (John, 1982, p. 66).
Mimi's character and her fragile appeal are therefore establis...