GIACOMO PUCCINI AND HIS VERSILIA
INTRODUCTION TO GIACOMO PUCCINI
One of the most important Italian composers of any time, well known and acclaimed all around the world, he is an artist whose operas ("La Bohème", "Tosca" and "Madama Butterfly" just to mention some of them) are classified among the most popular belonging to opera repertory and among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire.
Puccini is one of the major figures standing out in the Italian opera between 19th and 20th century, even if he tried to break away from the two main slants of his time, the "verista" (Italian literary and artistic style which tried to give an image of society and people exactly as they were in ordinary life) first, then the "dannunziana" (artistic style connected to the famous Italian poet and artist Gabriele D'Annunzio), in order to create a new personal style appreciated and celebrated until now.
Puccini dedicated his work exclusively to theater music and, unlike the big names of vanguard movement of the 20th century, he always composed while thinking about his audience taste and made numerous trips all around the world to assist with rehearsals and to be present for performances of his operas in Europe and in America.
During his life, he created a limited number of operas – exactly 12 – since his main interest was constant improvement of his theatrical mechanisms in order to realize perfect plays, able to establish for a long time in the major opera houses repertories of the world. Interest, variety, rapidity, synthesis, depth and plenty scenic tricks are the ingredients of his theatre.
Audience, although sometimes confused about originality contained in his operas, has always got behind him while music criticism, especially the Italian critics, looked at him in a suspicious and even adverse way. This sort of distaste can perhaps be attributed to the common perception that his work, with emphasis on melody and evident popular appeal, was lacking seriousness.
But in the last decay of the same century his work was revalued and he was highly appreciated by the major composers of his time, such as Stravinskij, Schoenberg, Ravel and Webern in fact, he deserves the separation from deep nationalism and at the same time, assimilation to different musical codes and cultures.
Puccini style of orchestration shows the strong influence of Wagner and matches specific orchestral configurations and timbres to different dramatic moments: it is often the orchestra to create the scene's atmosphere.
Talking about the structures, it is possible to divide his operas into arias or numbers, but his scores usually present a very strong sense of continuous flow and connectivity, in particular he used leitmotifs to connote characters, and this is another sign of Wagner's influence. But, differently from the German artist, who developed motifs into more complicated figures as the characters develop, Puccini's remain more or less identical throughout the opera (anticipating the themes of modern musical theatre).
Among the distinctive qualities of the composer's works, we can find the use of the voice in the style of speech, that's to say that characters sing short phrases one after another as if they were talking to each other. On the other hand, Puccini is highly celebrated for his melodies, both memorable and always popular, which contribute to turn him into an icon of opera: it is rare not to find at least one Puccini aria included in an operatic singer's CD album or recital.
LIFE OF GIACOMO PUCCINI
Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca on December 22nd, 1858 and died in November 1924 in Bruxelles, after a serious throat surgery; his whole name was Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini. He was the sixth of nine children and his parents were Michele Puccini (1813–1864) and Albina Magi (1830–1884).
His family had five generations of musical history behind them and also him, who lost his father at the age of 5, went to study with his uncle, who considered him to be a poor and undisciplined student. He achieved best results thanks to the teaching by Carlo Angeloni (who had been a student of Michele Puccini and involved Giacomo in his love for opera by exposing him to several scores written by Giuseppe Verdi, such as "Rigoletto", "La Traviata", "Il Trovatore") and at the age of 14 he was able to share the domestic economy thanks to his position of church organist and and choir master in the Dome of Lucca.
According to the tradition, he decided to be engaged in music theatre in 1876, after have attended a stage play of Verdi's Aida in Pisa (city that he would have reached by walking with two friends). The first known arrangements date back to this time and among them, a "cantata" ("I figli d'Italia bella", 1877), a "mottetto" ("Mottettto per San Paolino", 1877) and a "messa" (1880).
He finally left his hometown and, from 1880 to 1883, enrolled at Milan Conservatory (thanks to a scholarship requested from his mother and given by queen Margherita) studying among the others, with Amilcare Ponchielli and Antonio Bazzini. Those were very poor times for him so that he was sharing a room with his friend Mascagni.
In Milan, Puccini came into contact with many important artistic figures of that time and became associated with the 'Scapigliatura' movement (group of intellectual aesthetics known as 'the Disheveled ones from Milan').
In 1883 he entered a contest for one-act operas organized by the publisher Sonzogno, to which he took part with his work "Le Villi" inserted in a libretto by Ferdinando Fontana; he did not win the contest but, in 1884 "Le Villi" was played at Teatro del Verme in Milan thanks to Giulio Ricordi, competitor of Sonzogno. Le Villi was a success, so that Ricordi ordered a new opera for the Teatro della Scala to Puccini and Fontana, but unfortunately "Edgar" (this was the title of the opera created in 1889), to which they worked for four years, gained just a little success and in the following decades was changed many times, however it never entered the repertoire.
In the meantime, in 1884 he had started a family and cohabited with Elvira Bonturi, wife of the grocer Narciso Germani in Lucca. His relationship with this lady, despite many vicissitudes, lasted forever. Between 1886 and 1887 the family lived in Monza, where their son Antonio (called Tonio) was born and where Puccini worked to the writing of Edgar.
In 1891, while Giacomo was working to his Manon Lescaut, they moved to Torre del Lago (for this reason today called Torre del Lago Puccini).
Puccini loved that small village, he considered it to be the ideal place to go hunting and to revel with the other artists of that time. The "Maestro" ("master", as we use to call him sometimes) turned that place into a sort of nest. There, he found a property near the water's edge that had once been an ancient tower from which this area derived its name, and commissioned its restructuring in order to realize the villa that he lived in starting from 1900.
In Torre del Lago, Puccini created his most acclaimed operas. "Manon Lescaut" (1893) was his third opera and the first great success, that launched his remarkable relationship with the librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giocosa. They collaborated with him also on his next three operas – his three most famous and performed operas – "La Bohème" (1896), "Tosca" (1900) and "Madama Butterfly" (1904).
After this date, compositions were less frequent, since Puccini lived a series of troubles concerning his life and relationships. Following his passion for driving fast cars, he was nearly killed in an accident in 1903 and he was convalescent during several months. Then, in 1906 Giocosa died and in 1909, a scandal happened after Puccini's wife who falsely accused their maid Doria Manfredi, of having an affairs with her husband. The maid committed suicide, Elvira was successfully sued by the Manfredis and Giacomo had to pay damages. Finally, in 1912, end of a productive period of his career, due to the death of Giulio Ricordi, editor and publisher of Puccini's works, and considered to be as a second father by the composer.
However, Puccini created "La fanciulla del West" in 1910 and completed "La Rondine" in 1917, works arising from his love for exotic and need to compare his creations with different music styles. But, the crisis was clear, mainly due to a long series of projects started and never completed.
He also tried to start a cooperation with Gabriele D'Annunzio, but mental distance between them was a hard obstacle, so that they never had a real chance to work together.
By 1923 he was suffering from a debilitating throat ailment as he tried to work on his last great opera. Although seriously ill, he worked hard on his Turandot that he would unfortunately not be able to complete. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1924 and went to Brussels for treatment several months later. He underwent surgery, but died on November 29th, 1924.
The Villa that Puccini commissioned in Torre del Lago and where he lived with his family until 1921 (when pollution produced by peat–mining works on the lake forced him to move to Viareggio), today is known as "Villa Museo Puccini", since a mausoleum was created in there and the composer is buried there in the chapel, along with his wife and son who died later.
The "Villa Museo Puccini" is currenty owned by Puccini's granddaughter, Simonetta Puccini, and is open to the public.
WORKS OF GIACOMO PUCCINI – Operas
Here you have a fast overview on the main finished operas written by the Maestro (he also started to write many others, often left unfinished):
- Le Villi (1884) and Edgar (1889) – librettist Ferdinando Fontana
- La Bohème (1896) – considered to be one of the most romantic operas ever composed and today's most popular opera
- Tosca (1900) – considered of major importance in the history of opera, because of its many significant features
- Madama Butterfly (1904)
- La fanciulla del west (1910) – whose librettists were Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini and whose first performance was at the Metropolitan theatre in New York
- La Rondine (1917) – librettist Giuseppe Adami
- Il Trittico: "il tabarro" – librettist Giuseppe Adami – "Suor Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi" – librettist Giovacchino Forzano – (1918)
- Turandot – librettists Renato Simoni and Giuseppe Adami – left undone at the death of the author, it was completed by Franco Alfano. Its first representation was at the Teatro della Scala in Milan, in April 1926.
WORKS OF GIACOMO PUCCINI – other finished works
- "A Te", romance, composed in 70's
- "Preludio a orchestra" in Mi minore (1876)
- "Mottetto per San Paolino" and "I figli della cantata" (1877)
- "Credo" (1878)
- "Prime Fantasie", waltz for band (1879) which has been lost
- "Vexilla regis" (1874–1880)
- "Messa" (1880)
- "Adagio" in La maggiore (1881–1882)
- "Fuga" in Re minore, "Fuga" in Do minore, "Fuga" in Sol maggiore, "Fuga" in Do magiore, "Fuga" in Mi minore, "Quarteto per archi" in Re maggiore (all composed between 1881 and 1883)
- "Preludio sinfonico" in La maggiore, Scherzo (1882)
- "Ah! se potesse" (may be 1882) – lost
- "Scherzo in La minore" (1882)
- "Fuga Reale", "Fuga in Sol minore", "Mentìa l'avviso", "Capriccio sinfonico" (1883)
- "Melanconia", "Salve Regina", "Storiella d'amore", "Ad una morta", "Scherzo" (may be 1883)
- "Adagetto", "Trio" in Fa maggiore (between 1881 and 1883)
- "Tre minuetti" (1884)
- "Sole e amore" (1888)
- "Crisantemi" (1890)
- "Piccolo Valzer" (1894)
- "Avanti Urania!" (1896)
- "Inno a Diana" (1897)
- "E l'uccellino" (1899) – lullaby
- "Scossa elettrica" (may be 1899)
- "Terra e mare" (1902)
- "Canto d'anime" (1904)
- "Requiem", "Ecce sacerdos magnus", "Dios y Patria" (1905)
- "Casa mia" (1908)
- "Piccolo tango" and "Foglio d'album" (1907 or 1910)
- "Sogno d'or" (1912)
- "Morire?" (may be 1917)
- "Inno a Roma" (1919)
CURIOSITIES ABOUT GIACOMO PUCCINI
PUCCINI AND ENGINES
He started his automobile experience with the purchase of a De Dion–Bouton 5 CV in 1901, soon replaced with a Clément-Bayard two years later. Driving along the Aurelia street with his jewels, he run from Torre del Lago to Viareggio or Forte dei Marmi even too fast.
In 1905 he took a Sizaire–Naudin, then a Isotta Franchini AN20/30HP and some FIAT in 1909 and 1919. These were all useful cars for taking a trip with family, but they were totally improper when going hunt, it was for this reason that he commissioned to Vincenzo Lancia the creation of a car able to move also off–road.
So, the first Italian SUV came to life at a price – 35.000 lire – which was crazy for that time, but Puccini was so satisfied about it, that he then bought a Trikappa and a Lambda, too.
With his Trikappa he organized in August 1922, a long round–trip by car throughout Europe with his friends; the chosen itinerary was: Cutigliano, Verona, Trento, Bolzano, Innsbruck, Monaco di Baviera, Ingolstadt, Norimberga, Francoforte, Bonn, Colonia, Amsterdam, L'Aja and Costanza.
With his Lamba, he did his last trip until Pisa airport, to take the fly which would have brought him in Brussels for surgery.
PUCCINI AND WOMEN
The second burning Puccini's passion, after cars, were women. It is common to think about him as a latin lover, according to his biographical events and to the terms he used to define himself.
His wife, Elvira Bonturi, was his first huge love. They got married on February the 3rd, 1904, after the death of her first husband, Narciso Geminiani, merchant in Lucca. During this vexed marriage with Elvira, Giacomo was engaged in several, more or less important relationships with different women. Such behaviour caused a worsening in Elvira's attitude, who felt even more jealous towards him.
The soprano Hariclea Darclée, Sybil Beddington and the baroness Josephine von Stengel are just three of the ladies names with whom Puccini loved to spend his time and they often inspired him while creating new operas and arias.
But, beyond his unconventional and discussed life and experience, Puccini was with no doubts, one of the major actors of 20th century, who actively contributed to set the Italian opera panorama while spreading Italian music throughout the globe.
He was a fine artist able to make the most from union between German and Italian opera techniques.
It is mainly thanks to the "Maestro" if today, so many people in the world, love and appreciate the Italian talent for opera and music style.
PUCCINI 150° ANNIVERSARY
In 2008 Italy and the entire world celebrated Giacomo Puccini's birthday!
On the occasion of the 150° anniversary of his birthday, innumerable events were organized in Italy and abroad. The main centers for celebrations were the master's beloved towns of Torre del Lago and Lucca, and the entire Versilia coast, but almost in every Italian city, concerts and exhibitions were organized in honour of this acclaimed composer, and many open air theatres and stages came to life. Among them, the most important is the New Great Open Air Theatre, a big arena of 3370 seats, a modern Amphitheatre, a sort of cultural stage result of an incredible mix of tradition, natural landscape and technology innovation. The theatre in fact, has been built in a big green area renamed "Parco Culturale della Musica" (Cultural Music Park) situated on the Massaciuccoli lake shore and in front of Puccini's Villa. It has been realized in such evocative natural landscape with a specific purpose: to evoke the same atmospheres that had inspired the immortal Giacomo Puccini's music.