La Bohème was not on the whole well received by the critics at its first performance on Februay 1, 1896.
[Puccini cannot be forgiven for] composing his music hurriedly and with very little effor to select and polish.. ... [The work contains] music that can delight but rarely move. ... Even the Finale of the opera, so intensely dramatic in situation, seems to me deficient in musical form and color. ... La Bohème, even as it leaves little impression on the minds of the audience, will leave no great trace upon the history of our lyric theater, and it will be well if the composer returns to the straight road of art, persuading himself that this has been a brief deviation.
Carlo Bersezio, in La Stampa
We wonder what could have started Puccini toward the degradation of this Bohème. The question is a bitter one, and we do not ask it without a pang, we who applauded and shall continue to applaud [his last opera], in which was revealed a composer who could combine masterly orchestration with a conception in keeping with the best spirit of Italy.
You are young and strong, Puccini; you have talent, culture, and imaginative ability such as few possess: you have today conceived the whim of forcing the public to applaud you where and when you will. That is all very well for once, but for once only. For the future, turn back to the great and difficult battles of art.
Berta, in the Gazzetta del Popolo