Giacomo Puccini

Giacomo-Puccini

Born: December 22nd, 1858 in Lucca, Italy
Died: November 29th, 1924 (at age 66) in Brussels, Belgium
Nationality: Italian
Fields: Operas
Famous For: His opera creations are some of the most often performed in the world

Giacomo Puccini was descended from a long line of Italian musicians, and became one of the greatest of them himself. His father was a theorist and the director of the conservatory at Lucca. Unfortunately, he died when Puccini was only five years old. Puccini’s first music lessons were taught by his uncle. During most of his childhood, Puccini seemed to be only modestly talented. However, his mother, who had some foresight, continually pushed him. By the time he was sixteen, Puccini was composing organ music for the church.

Beginnings

In 1880 he received a scholarship that allowed him to attend the Milan Conservatory. His most important teacher was Amilcare Ponchielli, an opera composer who wrote “La Gioconda.” When Puccini graduated from the Conservatory, he entered his work “The Vampires” into an opera competition. The opera was based on a Slavic legend. He didn’t win, but with Ponchielli’s help the opera was produced in Milan and debuted on May 31, 1884. Its success prompted Giulio Ricordi, the publisher, to commission a second opera by Puccini. Puccini took a long time writing “Edgar,” which was the opera’s name, since during this time Puccini ran away with the wife of his old schoolmate. Edgar, at any rate, was not much of a success. Undaunted, Ricordi still continued to support Puccini and both Puccini and Ricordi worked on the next opera, “Manon Lescaut.” This opera premiered on February 1st, 1893 at the Teatro Regio in Turin and was a great success.

Manon Lescaut made Puccini famous in Italy but his next work, “La Bohème” made him world-famous. However, his next product, Madama Butterfly, which premiered in Milan on February 17, 1904, was not a success. The audience reacted with boos and catcalls, but the opera was a success outside of Italy.

In 1906, during the French production of Madama Butterfly, Puccini received an invitation from New York’s Metropolitan Opera to attend performances of his operas. He went the following year. When Puccini arrived in New York, he found that he was a celebrity. He was feted all over the city and took in some theater. One of the plays he saw was The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco. This play became the basis for his next opera, La Fanciulla del West. The premier took place at the Metropolitan Opera and was one of the glittering events of the year. Arturo Toscanini conducted and Enrico Caruso sang the male lead. Though the work was enthusiastically embraced, it fell out of favor rather quickly and today is rarely performed.

Later Years and Death

Puccini remained in Italy during World War I and worked quietly on more operas. In 1921 he moved to Viareggio on the Adriatic Sea and began working on his last opera, “Turandot.” It was still incomplete when he died. In 1923 he began to experience symptoms of what was throat cancer. The next year Puccini died of a heart attack. The work of finishing the final scenes of Turandot fell to Franco Alfano, a younger composer. Produced under Toscanini, “Turandot” premiered at La Scala in Milan on April 25, 1926.