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Puccini

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Family and education[edit]

Puccini's birthplace, seen in 1984
Statue of Puccini in front of his birthplace

Puccini was born in Lucca in Tuscany, in 1858. He was one of seven children of Michele Puccini and Albina Magi. The Puccini family was established in Lucca as a local musical dynasty by Puccini's great-great grandfather – also named Giacomo (1712–1781).[2][3] This first Giacomo Puccini was maestro di cappella of the Catedrale di San Martino in Lucca.[4] He was succeeded in this position by his son, Antonio Puccini,[4] and then by Antonio's son Domenico, and Domenico's son Michele (father of the subject of this article).[2] Each of these men studied music at Bologna, and some took additional musical studies elsewhere.[2][4] Domenico Puccini studied for a time under Giovanni Paisiello.[2] Each composed music for the church. In addition, Domenico composed several operas, and Michele composed one opera.[2] Puccini's father Michele enjoyed a reputation throughout northern Italy, and his funeral was an occasion of public mourning, at which the then-famed composer Giovanni Pacini conducted a Requiem.[5]

With the Puccini family having occupied the position of maestro di cappella for 124 years (1740–1864) by the time of Michele's death, it was anticipated that Michele's son Giacomo would occupy that position as well when he was old enough.[3] However, when Michele Puccini died in 1864, his son Giacomo was only six years old, and thus not capable of taking over his father's job.[2] As a child, he nevertheless participated in the musical life of the Catredale di San Martino, as a member of the boys' choir and later as a substitute organist.[3]

Puccini was given a general education at the seminary of San Michele in Lucca, and then at the seminary of the cathedral.[2] One of Puccini's uncles, Fortunato Magi, supervised his musical education. Puccini got a diploma from the Pacini School of Music in Lucca in 1880, having studied there with his uncle Fortunato, and later with Carlo Angeloni, who had also instructed Alfredo Catalani. A grant from the queen of Italy, and assistance from another uncle, Nicholas Cerù, provided the funds necessary for Puccini to continue his studies at the Milan Conservatory,[2][5] where he studied composition with Stefano Ronchetti-MontevitiAmilcare Ponchielli, and Antonio Bazzini. Puccini studied at the conservatory for three years. In 1880, at the age of 21, Puccini composed his Mass, which marks the culmination of his family's long association with church music in his native Lucca.[n 2]

Early career and first operas[edit]

As something in the nature of a thesis composition for the Milan Conservatory, Puccini wrote an orchestral piece called the Capriccio sinfonica. Puccini's teachers Ponchielli and Bazzini were impressed by the work. The Capriccio sinfonica was performed at a student concert at the conservatory, and Puccini's work was favorably reviewed in a Milanese publication Perseveranza.[2] Thus Puccini began to build a reputation as a young composer of promise in Milanese music circles.

Le villi[edit]

After the premiere of the Capriccio sinfonica, Ponchielli and Puccini discussed the possibility that Puccini's next work might be an opera. Ponchielli invited Puccini to stay at his villa, where Puccini was introduced to another young man named Fernando Fontana.[2]Puccini and Fontana agreed to collaborate on an opera, for which Fontana would provide the libretto. The work, Le villi, was entered into a competition sponsored by the Sozogno music publishing company in 1883 (the same competition in which Pietro Mascagni'sCavalleria rusticana was the winner in 1889).[2] Although it did not win, Le villi was later staged at the Teatro Dal Verme, premiering on 31 May 1884.[2] G. Ricordi & Co. music publishers, assisted with the premier by printing the libretto without charge.[2] Fellow students from the Milan Conservatory formed a large part of the orchestra.[2] The performance was enough of a success that Casa Ricordi purchased the opera.[2] Revised to a two-act version with an intermezzo between the acts, Le villi was performed at La Scalain Milan, on 24 January 1885. Ricordi did not publish the score until 1887, however, hindering further performance of the work.[2]

Edgar[edit]

Giulio Ricordi, head of G. Ricordi & Co. music publishers, was sufficiently impressed with Le villi and its young composer that he commissioned a second opera, which turned out to be Edgar. Work was begun in 1884, when Fontana began working out the scenario for the libretto.[6] Puccini finished primary composition in 1887, and orchestration in 1888.[6] Edgar premiered at La Scala on 21 April 1889 to a lukewarm response.[6] The work was withdrawn for revisions after its third performance.[6] In a Milanese newspaper, Giulio Ricordi published a defense of Puccini's skill as a composer, while criticizing Fontana's libretto. A revised version met with success at the Teatro di Giglio in Puccini's native Lucca on 5 September 1891.[6] In 1892, further revisions reduced the length of the opera to three acts from four, in a version that was well received in Ferrara and was performed in Turin and in Spain.[6] Puccini made further revisions in 1901 and 1905, but the work never achieved popularity.[6] But for the personal support of Ricordi, Edgar might have cost Puccini his career. Puccini had eloped with his former piano student, the married Elvira Gemignani, and Ricordi's associates were willing to turn a blind eye to his life style as long as he was successful. When Edgar failed, they suggested to Ricordi that he should drop Puccini, but Ricordi said that he would stay with him and continued his allowance until his next opera.[7]

Manon Lescaut[edit]

On commencing his next opera, Manon Lescaut, Puccini announced that he would write his own libretto so that "no fool of a librettist"[8] could spoil it. Ricordi persuaded him to accept Ruggero Leoncavallo as his librettist, but Puccini soon asked Ricordi to remove him from the project. Four other librettists were then involved with the opera, as Puccini constantly changed his mind about the structure of the piece. It was almost by accident that the final two, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, came together to complete the opera.

Manon Lescaut premiered at the Teatro Regio in Turin on 2 February 1893.[9] By coincidence, Puccini's first enduringly popular opera appeared within a week of the premiere of Verdi's last opera, Falstaff, which was first performed on 9 February 1893.[9] In anticipation of the premiere, La Stampa wrote that Puccini was a young man concerning whom "great hopes" had a real basis ("un giovane che e tra i pochi sul quale le larghe speranze non siano benigne illusioni").[9] Because of the failure of Edgar, however, the failure of Manon Lescaut could have jeopardized Puccini's future as a composer. Although Giulio Ricordi, head of Casa Ricordi, was supportive of Puccini, while Manon Lescaut was still in development, the Casa Ricordi board of directors was considering cutting off Puccini's financial support.[10] In the event, "Manon Lescaut was Puccini's first and only uncontested triumph, acclaimed by critics and public alike."[11] After the London premiere in 1894, George Bernard Shaw pronounced: "Puccini looks to me more like the heir of Verdi than any of his rivals."[12]

Illica and Giacosa returned as librettists for Puccini for his next three operas and probably his greatest successes: La bohèmeTosca and Madama ButterflyManon Lescaut was a great success and established Puccini's reputation as the most promising rising composer of his generation, and the most likely "successor" to Verdi as the leading exponent of the Italian operatic tradition.[5]

Middle career[edit]

Original poster for Puccini'sTosca

La bohème[edit]

Puccini's next work after Manon Lescaut was La bohème, based on the 1851 book by Henri MurgerLa Vie de BohèmeLa bohème was premiered in Turin in 1896, conducted by Arturo Toscanini.[13] The opera quickly became popular throughout Italy and productions were soon mounted all over the world.[14]

The opera freely adapted Murger's episodic novel into a four-act opera focusing on six young bohemians in Paris. The libretto of the opera combines comic elements of the impoverished life of the young protagonists of the opera with the tragic aspects, such as the death of Mimí. The world premiere performance of La bohème was in Turin on 1 February 1896 at the Teatro Regio and conducted by the young Arturo Toscanini.

Puccini's own life as young man in Milan served as a source of inspiration for elements of the libretto. During Puccini's years as a conservatory student and in the years before Manon Lescaut, Puccini experienced poverty similar to that of the bohemians in La bohème, including chronic shortage of necessities like food, clothing and money to pay rent. Although Puccini was granted a small monthly stipend by the Congregation of Charity in Rome (Congregazione di caritá), he frequently had to pawn possessions in order to cover basic expenses.[2][15] Indeed, early biographers of Puccini such as Wakeling Dry and Eugenio Checchi, who were his contemporaries, drew express parallels between these incidents and particular events in the opera La bohème.[2][15] Checchi cited a diary kept by Puccini while he was still a student, which recorded an occasion in which, as in Act 4 of the opera, a single herring served as a dinner for four people.[2][15] Puccini was quoted as commenting: "I lived that Bohème, when there wasn't yet any thought stirring in my brain of seeking the theme of an opera. (Quella Bohème io l’ho vissuta, quando ancora non mi mulinava nel cervello l’idea di cercarvi l’argomento per un’opera in musica.)"[15]

Within a few years, La bohème had been performed throughout many of the leading opera houses of Europe, including Britain, as well as in the United States.[16] It was a popular success, and remains one of the most frequently performed operas ever written.

Tosca[edit]

Puccini's next work after La bohème was Tosca (1900), arguably Puccini's first foray into verismo, the realistic depiction of many facets of real life including violence. Puccini had been considering an opera on this theme since he saw the play Tosca by Victorien Sardou in 1889, when he wrote to his publisher, Giulio Ricordi, begging him to get Sardou's permission for the work to be made into an opera: "I see in this Tosca the opera I need, with no overblown proportions, no elaborate spectacle, nor will it call for the usual excessive amount of music."[17]

Puccini photographed in 1908

The music of Tosca employs musical signatures for particular characters and emotions, which have been compared to Wagnerian leitmotivs, and some contemporaries saw Puccini as thereby adopting a new musical style influenced by Wagner. Others viewed the work differently. Rejecting the allegation that Tosca displayed Wagnerian influences, a critic reporting on the 20 February 1900 Torino premiere wrote: "I don't think you could find a more Puccinian score than this."[18]

Automobile accident and near death[edit]

On 25 February 1903, Puccini was seriously injured in a car accident during a nighttime journey on the road from Lucca to Torre del Lago. The car was driven by Puccini's chauffeur and was carrying Puccini, his wife Elvira, and their son Antonio. It went off the road, fell several meters, and flipped over. Elvira and Antonio were flung from the car and escaped with minor injuries. Puccini's chauffeur, also thrown from the car, suffered a serious fracture of his femur. Puccini was pinned under the vehicle, with a severe fracture of his right leg and with a portion of the car pressing down on his chest. A doctor living near the scene of the accident, together with another person who came to investigate, saved Puccini from the wreckage.[19] The injury did not heal well, and Puccini remained under treatment for months. During the medical examinations that he underwent it was also found that he was suffering from a form of diabetes.[20] The accident and its consequences slowed Puccini's completion of his next work, Madama Butterfly.

Madama Butterfly[edit]

The original version of Madama Butterfly, premiered at La Scala on 17 February 1904, was initially greeted with great hostility (probably largely owing to inadequate rehearsals). This version[21] was in two acts; after its disastrous premiere, Puccini withdrew the opera, revising it for what was virtually a second premiere at Brescia in May 1904[22] and performances in the USA and Paris. In 1907, Puccini made his final revisions to the opera in a fifth version,[23]which has become known as the "standard version". Today, the standard version of the opera is the version most often performed around the world. However, the original 1904 version is occasionally performed as well, and has been recorded.[24]

Later works[edit]

Giacomo Puccini with conductor Arturo Toscanini

After 1904, Puccini's compositions were less frequent. 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. Finally, in 1912, the death of Giulio Ricordi, Puccini's editor and publisher, ended a productive period of his career.

La fanciulla del West[edit]

Puccini completed La fanciulla del West, based on a play by David Belasco, in 1910. This was commissioned by, and first performed at, the Metropolitan Opera in New York on 10 December 1910 with Met stars Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn for whom Puccini created the leading roles of Dick Johnson and Minnie. Toscanini, then the musical director of the Met, conducted.[25] This was the first world premiere of an opera at the Met.[26]The premiere was a great success.[27] However, the compositional style employed in the opera, with few stand-alone arias, was criticized at the time[28] and remains a barrier to the opera's complete acceptance into the standard repertoire. Some contemporaries also criticized the opera for failing to achieve an "American" tone.[29][30] However, the opera has been acclaimed for its incorporation of advanced harmonic language and rhythmic complexity into the Italian operatic form.[31] In addition, one aria from the opera, Ch'ella mi creda, has become a staple of compilation albums by operatic tenors. It is said that during World War I, Italian soldiers sang this aria to maintain their spirits.[32][33]

La rondine[edit]

Puccini completed the score of 


 

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