Sunday, December 22, 8858
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) - Operas
[Giacomo Puccini and Arturo Toscanini]
Giacomo [Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria] Puccini (December 22, 1858 – November 29, 1924) was an Italian composer whose operas, including -- La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot -- are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire.
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, Puccini 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 his brother, Michele, walked 18.5 mi (30 km) 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.
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 Fontana 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.
From 1891 onwards, Puccini spent most 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.
The "Villa Museo Puccini" is presently owned by his granddaughter, Simonetta Puccini, and is open to the public.
Manon Lescaut (1893), his third opera, was his first great success. It launched his remarkable relationship with the librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, who collaborated with him on his next three operas, which became his three most famous and most performed operas.
Manon Lescaut (1893)
La Boheme (1896)
Act I, Finale
Act III (Beginning)
Act IV (Conclusion)
La Bohème (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: E Lucevon le Stelle (1900)
Tosca (1900) was perhaps Puccini's first foray into verismo, the realistic depiction of many facets of real life including violence.
Madama Butterfly (1904) was initially greeted with great hostility (mostly organized by his rivals) but, after some reworking, became another of his most successful operas.
Madama Butterfly (1904)
Act I (Star-Spangled Banner Quote)
Act II (Un bel di vedremo)
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 damages.
La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) (1910)
In 1912, the death of Giulio Ricordi, Puccini’s editor and publisher, ended a productive period of his career.
Puccini finished the score of La Rondine in 1917.
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 Grand Guignol was a theatre (Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol) in the Pigalle area of Paris (at 20 bis, rue Chaptal), which, from its opening in 1897 to its closing in 1962, specialized in naturalistic horror shows. The name is often used as a general term for graphic, amoral horror entertainment.
Il Trittico (1918)
---Gianni Schicchi: O Mio Babbino Caro (1918)
Act I, Popoli di Pekino (People of Peking [Beijing])
A habitual Toscano cigar 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. 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. Some dispute whether Alfano followed the sketches or not, since the sketches were said to be indecipherable, but he is believed to have done so, since, together with the autographs, he was given (still existing) transcriptions from Guido Zuccoli who was accustomed to interpreting Puccini's handiwork.
When Arturo Toscanini conducted the premiere performance in April 1926, (in front of a sold-out crowd, with every prominent Italian except for 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 Toscanini 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.”).
Toscanini edited Alfano's suggested completion ('Alfano I'), to produce a version now known as 'Alfano II', and this is the version usually used in performance. However, some musicians (eg Ashbrook & Powers, 1991) consider Alfano I to be a more dramatically complete version.
In 2002 an official new ending was composed by Luciano Berio from original sketches, but this finale has to date been performed only infrequently.
Alessandro Moreschi (November 11, 1858 - April 21, 1922) was the most famous castrato singer of the late 19th century, and the only castrato of the classic bel canto tradition to make solo sound recordings.
[8860 Arapaho / 8858 Puccini / 8854 Sousa]