Giacomo Puccini


(Lucca, 22 December 1858 — Bruxelles, 29 November 1924)

The last of a dynasty

He was born into a family that had been prominent in the musical life of Lucca for several generations. The fifth of seven children, he lost his father at the age of six. His maternal uncle taught him the rudiments of music, and he then continued his studies with Carlo Angeloni, director of the Istituto Musicale “Pacini”, and played the organ in churches in Lucca and the surrounding area. He did not tackle composition until he was about sixteen, but in 1876 he showed the progress he had made with a Preludio sinfonico, followed the next year by a cantata for solo voices and orchestra, I figli d'Italia bella.

Arrival in Milan 

In 1878 he composed a Motet and a Credo which he was to insert two years later into the work known as the Messa di Gloria. But it was above all theatre that particularly attracted him (a performance of Aida in Pisa in 1876 was a revelation for the young composer); he moved to Milan in 1880 in pursuit of a more intense musical life, and with the help of a scholarship from Queen Margherita he enrolled at the Conservatory, where his teachers were Bazzini and Ponchielli. He graduated in 1883 with the Capriccio sinfonico whose theme he was later to use in La bohème.

A fortunate defeat, and his firststeps 

In the same year he wrote his first opera, Le Villi, for the “Teatro Illustrato” competition promoted by the publisher Sonzogno. He did not win, but friends led by Boito enabled the opera to he heard by subscribing to a performance at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan in 1884. Giulio Ricordi immediately acquired the rights of the score, commissioned a second opera from Puccini for La Scala, and provided him with a monthly stipend of 200 lire for a year. That second opera was to be Edgar (La Scala 1889). But Puccini achieved true success only with Manon  Lescaut (Turin 1893), which embodies the characteristic traits of Puccini's theatre, that is to say of the concluding phase of 19th-century Italian opera: lyrical-sentimental-bourgeois opera.

Mature achievements 

The operas which followed Manon Lescaut were La  bohème, Tosca, Madama  Butterfly and La fanciulla del West; the first three – with librettos by Illica and Giacosa – were written quite quickly, apart from the interruption to work on Butterfly caused by a car accident (1903) and by the diabetes which delayed the composer's recovery. The fourth, laboriously prepared by Zangarini and Civinini, was be set by the difficulties that Puccini was to encounter for the rest of his career: on the one hand the tormented search for a libretto and a poet, on the other the anxious desire to keep technically up-to-date with avant-garde experiments in Paris and Vienna. During the First World War he wrote La rondine, an opera which grew out of an initial idea to write an operetta and turned out a hybrid of the two genres.  Then came the three one-act works which make up   Il trittico, and finally, from July 1920 until his death, he worked on the score of Turandot, which he did not manage to finish. He died in a clinic in Brussels while undergoing surgical treatment for cancer of the throat, discovered at the beginning of 1924. The score of Turandot  was completed by Alfano and the opera had its first performance at La Scala in 1926, conducted by Toscanini.

 

 

Operas

1884

  • Le Villi (F. Fontana – Milan, Teatro Dal Verme)

1889

  • Edgar (F. Fontana – Milan, La Scala)

1893

  • Manon  Lescaut (M. Praga, D. Oliva and L. Illica – Turin, Teatro Regio)

1896

  • La  bohème (G. Giacosa and L. Illica – Turin, Teatro Regio)

1900

  • Tosca (G. Giacosa and L. Illica – Rome, Teatro Costanzi)

1904

  • Madama  Butterfly (G. Giacosa and L.Illica – Milan, La Scala; then revised, Brescia, Teatro Grande)

1910

  • La fanciulla del West (G. Civinini and C. Zangarini – New York, Metropolitan)

1917

  • La rondine (G. Adami – Monte Carlo, Teatro del Casino)

1918

  • The triptych:

 

Il tabarro (G. Adami)
Suor Angelica (G. Forzano)
Gianni Schicchi (G. Forzano) (New York, Metropolitan)


1926

  • Turandot (R. Simoni and G. Adami – Milan, La Scala)

 

And also:

1880

  • Messa for soli and orchestra (called Messa di Gloria)

1883

  • Capriccio sinfonico

1890

  • Crisantemi for quartet

1896

  • 3 Minuetti for quartet

1905

  • Requiem for 3 voices and organ
  • Works for voice and piano, and a few early sacred and symphonic compositions.