Some say that ballet was the ultimate expression of the Romantic imagination. Others would argue that grand opera more fully captures that Romantic imagination. What did the Romantic imagination encompass? Which one captured it best?
This is a trick question, and one that requires a vast amount of time greater than the 20 minutes I am given to answer it. However.
The Romantic imagination of its era could be described as deliberate provocation. This is the era from which we receive the "starving artist" stereotype. La Vie Boheme is the epitome of this era, and you will notice that as an opera, it actually encompasses all the above: music, dance, social outsiders, iconoclasts, people who shocked the "mainstream" by the way they dressed and their debauched lifestyles.
That is the romantic imagination. La Vie Boheme is easily the best representation of all of these disparate elements. The goal was art as suffering, the artist as a noble provocateur, the madman genius who cannot live within the confines of normal society.