Birth name Giacomo
Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini
Born December 22, 1858
Died November 29, 1924
Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini (December 22,
1858 – November 29, 1924) was an Italian composer whose operas,
including La bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly, are among the
most frequently performed in the standard repertoire. Some of his
melodies, such as "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi
and "Nessun Dorma" from Turandot, have become part of modern
culture. One of the few operatic composers to successfully use both
German and Italian techniques of opera, Puccini is regarded as the successor
of Giuseppe Verdi.
Puccini was born in Lucca in Tuscany, Italy into a family with five
generations of musical history behind them. His father died when he
was five years old, and he was sent to study with his uncle Fortunato
Magi, who considered him to be a poor and undisciplined student. Later,
he took the position of church organist and choir master in Lucca, but
it was not until he saw a performance of Verdi's Aida that he became
inspired to be an opera composer. He and a friend walked 18.5 miles
(30 kilometers) to see the performance in Pisa.
In 1880, with the
help of a relative and a grant, Puccini enrolled in the Milan Conservatory
to study composition with Amilcare Ponchielli and Antonio Bazzini. In
the same year, at the age of 21, he composed the Messa, which marks
the culmination of his family's long association with church music in
his native Lucca. Although Puccini himself correctly titled the work
a Messa, referring to a setting of the full Catholic Mass, today the
work is popularly known as his Messa di Gloria, a name that technically
refers to a setting of only the first two prayers of the Mass, the Kyrie
and the Gloria, while omitting the Credo, the Sanctus, and the Agnus
Dei. Puccini's work is, in fact, a Messa.
The work anticipates
Puccini's career as an operatic composer by offering glimpses of the
dramatic power that he would soon unleash on the stage; the powerful
“arias” for tenor and bass soloists are certainly more operatic
than is usual in church music and, in its orchestration and dramatic
power, the Messa compares interestingly with Verdi's Requiem.
While studying at
the Conservatory, Puccini obtained a libretto from Ferdinando Fontano
and entered a competition for a one-act opera in 1882. Although he did
not win, Le Villi was later staged in 1884 at the Teatro dal Verme and
it caught the attention of Giulio Ricordi, head of G. Ricordi &
Co. music publishers, who commissioned a second opera, Edgar, in 1889.
Puccini and Fontana were to become life-long friends.
Puccini at Torre del Lago
From 1891 onwards, Puccini spent more of his time at Torre del Lago,
a small community about fifteen miles from Lucca situated between the
Tyrrhenian Sea and Lake Massaciuccoli, just south of Viareggio. While
renting a house there, he spent time hunting but regularly visited Lucca.
By 1900 he had acquired land and built a villa on the lake, now known
as the "Villa Museo Puccini". He lived there until 1921 when
pollution produced by peat works on the lake forced him to move to Viareggio,
a few kilometres north. After his death, a mausoleum was created in
the Villa Puccini and the composer is buried there in the chapel, along
with his wife and son who died later.
Museo Puccini" is presently owned by his granddaughter, Simonetta
Puccini, and is open to the public.
Original poster for Puccini's Tosca
Operas written at Torre del Lago
Manon Lescaut (1893), his third opera, was his first great success.
It launched his remarkable relationship with the librettests Luigi Illica
and Giuseppe Giacosa, who collaborated with him on his next three operas,
which became his three most famous and most performed operas. These
(1896) is considered one of his best works as well as one of the most
romantic operas ever composed. It is arguably today's most popular opera.
Tosca (1900) was arguably Puccini's first foray into verismo, the realistic
depiction of many facets of real life including violence. The opera
is generally considered of major importance in the history of opera
because of its many significant features.
Madama Butterfly (1904) was initially greeted with great hostility (mostly
orchestrated by his rivals) but, after some reworking, became another
of his most successful operas.
After 1904, compositions were less frequent. Following his passion for
driving fast cars, Puccini was nearly killed in a major accident in
1903. In 1906 Giacosa died and, in 1909, there was scandal after Puccini's
wife, Elvira, falsely accused their maid Doria Manfredi of having an
affair with Puccini. The maid then committed suicide. Elvira was successfully
sued by the Manfredis, and Giacomo had to pay daimages. Finally, in
1912, the death of Giulio Ricordi, Puccini’s editor and publisher,
ended a productive period of his career.
completed La fanciulla del West in 1910 and finished the score of La
rondine in 1917, a piece he reworked from an operetta he had attempted
to compose, only to find that his style and talent were incompatible
with the genre.
In 1918, Il Trittico
premiered in New York. This work is composed of three one-act operas:
a horrific episode (Il Tabarro), in the style of the Parisian Grand
Guignol, a sentimental tragedy (Suor Angelica), and a comedy (Gianni
Schicchi). Of the three, Gianni Schicchi has remained the most popular,
containing the popular O mio babbino caro.
The final years
Giacomo Puccini with conductor Arturo ToscaniniA habitual cigarette
chain smoker, Puccini began to complain of chronic sore throats towards
the end of 1923. A diagnosis of throat cancer led his doctors to recommend
a new and experimental radiation therapy treatment, which was being
offered in Brussels, Belgium. Puccini and his wife never knew how serious
the cancer was, as the news was only revealed to his son.
Puccini died there
on November 29, 1924 from complications from the treatment; uncontrolled
bleeding led to a heart attack the day after surgery. News of his death
reached Rome during a performance of La bohème. The opera was
immediately stopped, and the orchestra played Chopin's Funeral March
for the stunned audience. He was buried in Milan, but in 1926 his son
arranged for the transfer of his father's remains to a specially-created
chapel inside the Puccini villa at Torre del Lago.
Turandot, his final
opera, was left unfinished and the last two scenes were completed by
Franco Alfano based on the composer's sketches. When Arturo Toscanini
conducted the premiere performance in April 1926, (in front of a sold-out
crowd with every prominent Italian with the exception of Benito Mussolini
in attendance), he had chosen not to perform Alfano's portion of the
score. The performance reached the point where Puccini had completed
the score, at which time Toscanani stopped the orchestra. The conductor
turned to the audience and said: "Here the opera finishes, because
at this point the Maestro died". (Some record that he said, more
poetically, “Here the Maestro laid down his pen”).
In 2001 an official
new ending was composed by Luciano Berio from original sketches, but
this finale is performed infrequently.
Unlike Wagner and Verdi, Puccini did not appear to be active in the
politics of his day. However, Mussolini, Fascist dictator of Italy at
the time, claimed that Puccini applied for admission to the National
Fascist Party. This appears to be highly unlikely. There appear to be
no records or proof of any application given to the party by Puccini.
In addition, it can be noted that had Puccini done so, his close friend,
Arturo Toscanini, (an extreme anti-fascist), would have sufficiently
influenced Puccini, and would not have been as friendly to the composer
as he was.
Giacomo PucciniPuccini's style has been one long avoided by musicologists;
this avoidance can perhaps be attributed to the perception that his
work, with its emphasis on melody and evident popular appeal, lacked
"seriousness" (a similar prejudice beset Rachmaninoff during
his lifetime). Despite the place Puccini clearly occupies in the popular
tradition of Verdi, his style of orchestration also shows the strong
influence of Wagner, matching specific orchestral configurations and
timbres to different dramatic moments. His operas contain an unparalleled
manipulation of orchestral colors, with the orchestra often creating
the scene’s atmosphere.
The structures of
Puccini's works are also noteworthy. While it is to an extent possible
to divide his operas into arias or numbers (like Verdi's), his scores
generally present a very strong sense of continuous flow and connectivity,
perhaps another sign of Wagner’s influence. Like Wagner, Puccini
used leitmotifs to connote characters (or combinations of characters).
This is apparent in Tosca, where the three chords which signal the beginning
of the opera are used throughout to announce Scarpia. Several motifs
are also linked to Mimi and the Bohemians in La Bohème and to
Cio-Cio-San's eventual suicide in Butterfly. Unlike Wagner, though,
Puccini's motifs are static: where Wagner's motifs develop into more
complicated figures as the characters develop, Puccini's remain more
or less identical throughout the opera (in this respect anticipating
the themes of modern musical theatre).
quality in Puccini's works is the use of the voice in the style of speech:
characters sing short phrases one after another, as if they were talking
to each other. Puccini is celebrated, on the other hand, for his melodic
gift, and many of his melodies are both memorable and enduringly popular.
These melodies are often made of sequences from the scale, a very distinctive
example being Quando me'n vo' (Musetta's Waltz) from La Bohème
and E lucevan le stelle from Act III of Tosca. Today, it is rare not
to find at least one Puccini aria included in an operatic singer's CD
album or recital.
Puccini emerged into the twentieth century music world as the "King
of Verismo," not through the conducting background of Mascagni
or through the skilled compositional ability of Giordano, but as a master
of theater. Puccini wrote solely for the operatic stage and he understood
the dramatic intensity and melodic poignancy of real life subject matter.
Critics have sometimes dismissed his work as overly impassioned, melodramatic,
and sentimental. The composer himself proclaimed, "The only music
I can make is that of small things," although he admired the grander
stylistic abilities of Verdi and Wagner. Despite that admiration, Puccini
chose to concentrate on life's familiar bittersweet passions and intense
Puccini was born
in Lucca, Italy and descended from a long line of musicians, conductors,
and composers. It was assumed he would inherit the talent and interest
to continue in his family's chosen craft. At the tender age of six years,
upon his father's premature death, he fell heir to the position of choir
master and organist at San Martino Church and professor of music at
Collegio Ponziano. However, plans to preserve these posts for the young
Puccini may as well have been canceled the day he hiked thirteen miles
to the city of Pisa to witness a production of Giuseppe Verdi's latest
work, Aida. He determined his own future at that moment, falling completely
under the spell of opera, never to recover.
A stipend from a
wealthy great-uncle and a scholarship from Queen Margherita herself
supported Puccini in his education at the music conservatory in Milan.
The great composers Antonio Bazzini and Amilcare Ponchielli taught the
young musician; Ponchielli eventually encouraging Puccini's participation
in a one-act opera competition sponsored by the publishing house of
Sonzogno. Friends of Ponchielli even provided the libretto. Unfortunately,
Puccini's first opera, La Villi , didn't take the prize. However, the
powerful critic/librettist, Arrigo Boito, raised funds for its performance
before appreciative audiences at La Scala and Ricordi published the
score. The modest success bolstered Puccini's confidence, but provided
little compensation. A second opera, Edgar , failed as the result of
a poor libretto.
was rewarded with the production of Manon Lescaut . Premiered in February
1893 in Turin, the opera proved a resounding triumph. Puccini was suddenly
established as a wealthy composer and artistic successor to Maestro
Giuseppi Verdi. The two operas that followed, La Bohème and Tosca,
achieved success gradually with Bohème peaking after three productions
and Tosca, after five years of presentations throughout Europe.
As Puccini acquired
substantial wealth, he took on the persona which accompanied him throughout
the rest of his life as the "grand seigneur." He built a reputation
as a dedicated game hunter, collector of cars and motor boats, and a
great romantic figure. "I am almost always in love!," he declared,
and defined himself as "a mighty hunter of wild fowl, operatic
librettos and attractive women." His appreciation and compassion
for women abounds in the substance of his operatic heroines, their valiant
struggles and, most often, melancholy demise. He created these elegant,
three-dimensional characters with the material of sweet and haunting
melody. The innocent Mimi, embattled Tosca, abandoned Butterfly, embittered
Turandot - each one a fascinating study in feminine psychology, each
the perfect counterpart to an equally interesting tenor role. Puccini's
own stormy relationship with Elvira Gemignani evoked a certain horror
in fans and attracted something of a lurid interest from the general
public. A married woman, she eloped with the composer and they were
not married until some time after her husband's death. Seemingly an
uninteresting and strangely unchallenging partner, she is said to have
limited Puccini intellectually and emotionally, inexplicably cutting
him off from most personal relationships with friends and other artists.
embroiled the household in scandal, hounding a young maid unmercifully
with accusations of a liaison with her husband. The girl committed suicide
and Elvira was jailed for five months. The Puccinis separated, then
reconciled, but their relationship was forever damaged. Puccini fought
hard to keep his difficult private life private, against impossible
odds. "What a subject for an opera!," one social columnist
exclaimed. During this tragic episode, despite his obvious emotional
turmoil, the composer completed the opera La Fanciulla del West , which
met with immediate acclaim.
In general, Puccini
seems to have lived in artistic isolation. Even a productive relationship
with Arturo Toscanini blew hot and cold. In one comic exchange, Puccini
forgot he and Toscanini were currently estranged and sent a Christmas
pannetone. Realizing the error, Puccini wired Toscanini with an explanation:
PANNETONE SENT BY
BY MISTAKE, TOSCANINI.
It was Toscanini
who conducted the famous opening night of Madama Butterfly , which ran
in its original form for that one performance only. After serious reworking,
including changing the basic framework from two acts to three and replacing
some objectionable arias with more melodic ones, Butterfly triumphed
in a new opening under the baton of Arturo Toscanini.
In the single decade
before his death, Puccini completed La Rondine , and the trilogy of
Il Tabarro , Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi . He was in the process
of finishing Turandot , the opera he considered his crowning achievement,
when a persistent throat ailment was diagnosed as cancer. He died a
few days after surgery and completion of the work was left to colleague,
Franco Alfano. Shortly before his death, Puccini wrote that the music
audience had lost its taste for melody and tolerated music devoid of
logic and sensibility. He predicted "the end of opera" and,
in fact, Turandot , was the last opera to rank as an internationally
accepted standard repertory piece. No one since Puccini has enjoyed
such a following.