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Thursday, 18 May 2017

Giacomo Puccini

After Giuseppe Verdi, Giacomo Puccini is considered the greatest Italian opera composer. He is noted for such enduringly popular works as Madama Butterfly and La bohème

Giacomo Puccini


Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born on December 22, 1858, in Lucca, Tuscany, one of nine children.

Puccini's birthplace, seen in 1984. By David Wright - Wikipedia

The heads of his family for four generations had been professional musicians and Giacomo was chosen to carry on the Puccini musical tradition.  However, when his father died in 1864, Giacomo was only six years old, and thus not capable of taking on the role.

As a child, Puccini participated in the musical life of the Cattedrale di San Martino, as a member of the boys' choir and later as a substitute organist.

Young Puccini studied at the Pacini Institute of Music in Lucca. At first he was an indifferent student. Then, encouraged by a sympathetic teacher, he began to blossom as a church organist.

Puccini smoked from an early age and when he needed money to buy cigarettes he stole and sold the organ pipes from a village church in which he accompanied the services. The mischievous teenager then changed the harmonies so no one noticed the missing notes.

Puccini liked to improvise on the organ, playing popular tunes from Verdi’s operas. At about 17, inspired by a performance of the great composer's Aida, Puccini determined to specialize in composing for the operatic stage.

Puccini persuaded his family to let him study at the Milan Conservatory. Aided by a bursary and a loan from a great uncle, he attended the establishment from 1880 to 1883.


Puccini's first opera, Le Villi, was produced in 1884; his second, Edgar, in 1889.

When Puccini was composing the music for La bohème (1896), he learned that a rival composer, Leoncavallo, was working on a similar project. Puccini declared: "Let him compose. I will compose. The audience will decide." Puccini them wrote with an urgent speed, completing his opera a year before Leoncavallo's now all but forgotten work.

Tosca is an Italian opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini based on Victorien Sardou's play La Tosca. By 1900, the premiere of a Puccini opera was a national event. Many Roman dignitaries were due to attend the premiere, including The Prime Minister of Italy, Luigi Pelloux and Queen Margherita.

Police received warnings of an anarchist bombing of the theater, and instructed the conductor Leopoldo Mugnone that in an emergency he was to strike up the royal march. The unrest caused the premiere to be postponed by one day, to January 14, 1900 when it was performed without disruption.

Front cover of the original 1899 libretto

Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly premiered at La Scala in Milan on February 17, 1904. It  generated negative reviews that forced the Italian composer to rewrite the opera.

In 1907 Puccini visited New York City to attend the first Metropolitan Opera production of Madama Butterfly. There he conceived the idea of writing an opera with an American setting. The result was The Girl of the Golden West (1910).


Puccini was wholly uninterested in religion and politics. Instead, he enjoyed racing sports cars on his property and gambling at cards.

Puccini's wife, Elvira was well aware of her husband's countless infidelities. She planted camphor in his trouser pockets and laced his coffee with bromide to lessen his sexual appetite when attractive women came to dinner.

In 1909 Elvira Puccini accused their maid Doria Manfredi of having an affair with her husband. Doria committed suicide by taking mercury sublimate (then used as a rat poison) and died in terrible agony. It turned out Puccini was having an affair, not with Doria but with her cousin Giulia, which lasted until his death. The maid was merely the go-between. An autopsy found Doria died a virgin and Elvira was sued for slander.

Puccini photographed in 1908


Puccini died following treatment for throat cancer on November 29, 1924, in Brussels, Belgium.

When news of Puccini’s death reached Rome, a performance of La bohème was stopped and Chopin’s funeral march was played.

The whole of Italy went into mourning at Puccini's death and Mussolini spoke at his funeral.

When he died, Puccini was the most commercially successful opera composer of all time, worth the equivalent of of $175 million (£135 million) today.

In all Puccini composed 12 operas. The final one, Turandot, was unfinished and its last two scenes were completed posthumously by Franco Alfano after Puccini's death. Turandot was first performed at La Scala in Milan on April 26, 1926.

Turandot features Puccini's best known work "Nessun Dorma," which was sung by Luciano Pavarotti for the BBC’s television coverage of the Football World Cup that was held in Italy in 1990. It reached #2 in the UK singles chart, the highest position ever for a classical song.

Comptons Encyclopaedia, Classic FM magazine

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