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The Italian Opera Composer, Giacomo Puccini's Works and Life

Giacomo Puccini: Overview

  • Born: 1858 - Lucca, Italy
  • Died: 1924 - Brussels, Belgium
  • Historical Period: Late Romantic era
  • Musical Media: Opera, Orchestra, Chamber music, Songs, Choral, Organ

Composer, Giacomo Puccini

“Inspiration is an awakening, a quickening of all man's faculties, and it is manifested in all high artistic achievements.”

― Giacomo Puccini 

Giacomo Puccini: The Genius of Operatic Mastery

Being one of the leading exponents of the verismo style, Giacomo Puccini elevated the operatic trend to the zenith of magnificence. His full name was Giacomo Antonia Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini. Born on December 22, 1858, he was expected to carry on the musical legacy of his predecessors, pioneered by his great-great-grandfather of the same name. When his father Michele died in 1864, Giacomo was just six years old. At that moment, it was not possible for him to take over the role of maestro di cappella of the Cattedrale di San Martino in Lucca. During his early days, he was chosen as a member of the boys' choir and participated in the musical programs of the Cattedrale di San Martino and subsequently became a substitute organist.

Under the guidance of his uncle Fortunato Magi, young Giacomo started taking organ lessons. Although his uncle was not much optimistic about Giacomo’s potentials, his mother, Albina didn’t lose hope in her son. She asked her son to take music lessons from Carlo Angeloni, who used to be a pupil of Michele Puccini. He began to flourish under Carlo Angeloni’s guidance. This also inspired him to continue his studies at the Conservatory until the age of 17.

At the age of 18, Giacomo attended a performance of Verdi's Aida in Pisa. This performance had such a strong influence on him that he decided to study composition with a view to writing opera. In 1880, Giacomo moved to Milan to study at the Milan Conservatory under Antonio Bazzini and Amilcare Ponchielli. During that time, he composed his first opera, the one-act Le Villi, with which he entered in the Sonzogno Competition. Despite the initial failure to impress the judges, this was eventually premiered successfully with the help of Giulio Ricordi in Milan, on 31st May 1884. It was acclaimed by the distinguished people of the music world, inspiring Giacomo to walk on the newfound path of success. Around this time, he met Elvira Gemignani, the wife of a merchant in Lucca. They began an illicit affair, which resulted in Elvira giving birth to a son. To avoid the ensuing scandal, they decided to leave Lucca and moved to Monza near Milan. They remained together for a while and it was only after the death of the merchant in 1904, the two got married.

At the 1889 premiere, Puccini's next opera, Edgar was poorly received. Realizing the effects of its weak libretto, he focused on finding a strong plot to develop his next work. He decided to work on the adaptation of an 18th-century French novel that revolved around a tragic love affair. He collaborated with the librettists Luigi Illica and Guiseppe Giacosa to introduce the four-act opera Manon Lescaut, which was a sensational success at its 1893 Turin premiere. The subsequent performances in Italy and abroad also earned him international fame resulting in his growing reputation.

Puccini's next three operas - La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), and Madama Butterfly (1904), confirmed his pre-eminence in the Italian opera. Although these operas didn’t get immediate success like Manon Lescaut, over time these achieved further acclaim.

Giacomo loved driving fast cars but unfortunately, he met an accident that weighed heavily on him. During that time, a servant named Doria was employed to take care of him. Towards the end of 1908, Elvira accused Doria of indulging in an intimate affair with the composer. This led to several complexities eventually resulting in the suicide of the young servant. After a medical examination proved that Doria had been innocent, her family brought charges against Elvira. Such disasters brought a dry spell on the creativity of Giacomo who was unable to compose any pieces for a while. 

Later he developed another opera La fanciulla del West, that premiered in New York in 1910. It was an adaptation of the play The Girl of the Golden West, by David Belasco.

In 1913, Puccini accepted a large sum from the managers of Carltheater, which resulted in the production of La rondine. Regrettably, it received relatively poor reviews while being premiered at Monte Carlo in 1917. Such disappointment was followed by Il trittico, which was comprised of Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi. When the trilogy of one-act operas got premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1918, most of them didn’t get as much appreciation as his earlier masterpieces.

Giacomo’s final years were spent working on his last opera Turandot. A chain-smoker, he became a victim of a chronic sore throat and this made him go through an experimental radiation treatment in Brussels. Sadly enough, he died of heart attack on 29th November 1924, after suffering from the complications of throat cancer. This gifted composer is no more with us, but music lovers still show unending enthusiasm for his evergreen creations by celebrating “Festival Puccini” every year.


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