Giacomo Puccini

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini (December 22, 1858November 29, 1924) was an Italian composer whose operas, including La Bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly, are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire.[1][2] Some of his arias, such as "O Mio Babbino Caro" from Gianni Schicchi, "Che gelida manina" from La Bohème, and "Nessun Dorma" from Turandot, have become part of modern culture.

Early life[]

Puccini was born in Lucca in Tuscany, Italy into a family with five generations of musical history behind them. His father died when he was five years old, and he was sent to study with his uncle Fortunato Magi, who considered him to be a poor and undisciplined student. Later, Puccini took the position of church organist and choir master in Lucca, but it was not until he saw a performance of Verdi's Aida that he became inspired to be an opera composer. He and his brother, Michele, walked 18.5 mi (30 km) to see the performance in Pisa.

In 1880, with the help of a relative and a grant, Puccini enrolled in the Milan Conservatory to study composition with Amilcare Ponchielli and Antonio Bazzini. In the same year, at the age of 21, he composed the Messa, which marks the culmination of his family's long association with church music in his native Lucca. Although Puccini himself correctly titled the work a Messa, referring to a setting of the full Catholic Mass, today the work is popularly known as his Messa di Gloria, a name that technically refers to a setting of only the first two prayers of the Mass, the Kyrie and the Gloria, while omitting the Credo, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei.

The work anticipates Puccini's career as an operatic composer by offering glimpses of the dramatic power that he would soon unleash on the stage; the powerful “arias” for tenor and bass soloists are certainly more operatic than is usual in church music and, in its orchestration and dramatic power, the Messa compares interestingly with Verdi's Requiem.

While studying at the Conservatory, Puccini obtained a libretto from Ferdinando Fontana and entered a competition for a one-act opera in 1882. Although he did not win, Le Villi was later staged in 1884 at the Teatro Dal Verme and it caught the attention of Giulio Ricordi, head of G. Ricordi & Co. music publishers, who commissioned a second opera, Edgar, in 1889.

Puccini at Torre del Lago[]


Original poster for Puccini's Tosca

From 1891 onwards, Puccini spent most of his time at Torre del Lago, a small community about fifteen miles from Lucca situated between the Tyrrhenian Sea and Lake Massaciuccoli, just south of Viareggio. While renting a house there, he spent time hunting but regularly visited Lucca. By 1900 he had acquired land and built a villa on the lake, now known as the "Villa Museo Puccini". He lived there until 1921 when pollution produced by peat works on the lake forced him to move to Viareggio, a few kilometres north. After his death, a mausoleum was created in the Villa Puccini and the composer is buried there in the chapel, along with his wife and son who died later.

The "Villa Museo Puccini" is presently owned by his granddaughter, Simonetta Puccini, and is open to the public.

Operas written at Torre del Lago[]

Manon Lescaut (1893), his third opera, was his first great success. It launched his remarkable relationship with the librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, who collaborated with him on his next three operas, which became his three most famous and most performed operas. These were:

  • La Bohème (1896) is considered one of his best works as well as one of the most romantic operas ever composed. It is arguably today's most popular opera.
  • Tosca (1900) was arguably Puccini's first foray into verismo, the realistic depiction of many facets of real life including violence. The opera is generally considered of major importance in the history of opera because of its many significant features.
  • Madama Butterfly (1904) was initially greeted with great hostility (mostly organised by his rivals) but, after some reworking, became another of his most successful operas.

After 1904, compositions were less frequent. Following his passion for driving fast cars, Puccini was nearly killed in a major accident in 1903. In 1906 Giacosa died and, in 1909, there was scandal after Puccini's wife, Elvira, falsely accused their maid Doria Manfredi of having an affair with Puccini. The maid then committed suicide. Elvira was successfully sued by the Manfredis, and Giacomo had to pay damages. Finally, in 1912, the death of Giulio Ricordi, Puccini’s editor and publisher, ended a productive period of his career.

However, Puccini completed La Fanciulla del West in 1910 and finished the score of La Rondine in 1917.

In 1918, Il Trittico premiered in New York. This work is composed of three one-act operas: a horrific episode (Il Tabarro), in the style of the Parisian Grand Guignol, a sentimental tragedy (Suor Angelica), and a comedy (Gianni Schicchi). Of the three, Gianni Schicchi has remained the most popular, containing the popular O Mio Babbino Caro.

The final years[]


Giacomo Puccini with conductor Arturo Toscanini

A habitual cigar chain smoker, Puccini began to complain of chronic sore throats towards the end of 1923. A diagnosis of throat cancer led his doctors to recommend a new and experimental radiation therapy treatment, which was being offered in Brussels. Puccini and his wife never knew how serious the cancer was, as the news was only revealed to his son.

Puccini died there on November 29, 1924, from complications from the treatment; uncontrolled bleeding led to a heart attack the day after surgery. News of his death reached Rome during a performance of La bohème. The opera was immediately stopped, and the orchestra played Chopin's Funeral March for the stunned audience. He was buried in Milan, but in 1926 his son arranged for the transfer of his father's remains to a specially-created chapel inside the Puccini villa at Torre del Lago.

Turandot, his final opera, was left unfinished; and the last two scenes were completed by Franco Alfano based on the composer's sketches. Some dispute whether Alfano followed the sketches or not, since the sketches were said to be indecipherable, but he is believed to have done so, since, together with the autographs, he was given (still existing) transcriptions from Guido Zuccoli who was accustomed to interpreting Puccini's handiwork.

When Arturo Toscanini conducted the premiere performance in April 1926, (in front of a sold-out crowd, with every prominent Italian except for Benito Mussolini in attendance), he had chosen not to perform Alfano's portion of the score. The performance reached the point where Puccini had completed the score, at which time Toscanini stopped the orchestra. The conductor turned to the audience and said: "Here the opera finishes, because at this point the Maestro died". (Some record that he said, more poetically, “Here the Maestro laid down his pen.”).

In 2001 an official new ending was composed by Luciano Berio from original sketches, but this finale is performed infrequently.


Unlike Wagner and Verdi, Puccini did not appear to be active in the politics of his day. However, Mussolini, Fascist dictator of Italy at the time, claimed that Puccini applied for admission to the National Fascist Party. This appears to be highly unlikely. There appear to be no records or proof of any application given to the party by Puccini. In addition, it can be noted that had Puccini done so, his close friend Toscanini (an extreme anti-fascist) would probably have severed all friendly connection with him and ceased conducting his operas.


The subject of Puccini's style is one that has been long avoided by musicologists; this avoidance can perhaps be attributed to the perception that his work, with its emphasis on melody and evident popular appeal, lacked "seriousness" (a similar prejudice beset Rachmaninoff during his lifetime). Despite the place Puccini clearly occupies in the popular tradition of Verdi, his style of orchestration also shows the strong influence of Wagner, matching specific orchestral configurations and timbres to different dramatic moments. His operas contain an unparalleled manipulation of orchestral colors, with the orchestra often creating the scene’s atmosphere.

The structures of Puccini's works are also noteworthy. While it is to an extent possible to divide his operas into arias or numbers (like Verdi's), his scores generally present a very strong sense of continuous flow and connectivity, perhaps another sign of Wagner’s influence. Like Wagner, Puccini used leitmotifs to connote characters (or combinations of characters). This is apparent in Tosca, where the three chords which signal the beginning of the opera are used throughout to announce Scarpia. Several motifs are also linked to Mimi and the Bohemians in La Bohème and to Cio-Cio-San's eventual suicide in Butterfly. Unlike Wagner, though, Puccini's motifs are static: where Wagner's motifs develop into more complicated figures as the characters develop, Puccini's remain more or less identical throughout the opera (in this respect anticipating the themes of modern musical theatre).

Another distinctive quality in Puccini's works is the use of the voice in the style of speech: characters sing short phrases one after another as if they were talking to each other. Puccini is celebrated, on the other hand, for his melodic gift, and many of his melodies are both memorable and enduringly popular. These melodies are often made of sequences from the scale, a very distinctive example being Quando me'n vo' (Musetta's Waltz) from La Bohème and E Lucevan le Stelle from Act III of Tosca. Today, it is rare not to find at least one Puccini aria included in an operatic singer's CD album or recital.

Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Lloyd Schwartz summarized Puccini thus: "Is it possible for a work of art to seem both completely sincere in its intentions and at the same time counterfeit and manipulative? Puccini built a major career on these contradictions. But people care about him, even admire him, because he did it both so shamelessly and so skillfully. How can you complain about a composer whose music is so relentlessly memorable, even — maybe especially — at its most saccharine?"[3]


Although Puccini is mainly known for his operas, he also wrote some orchestral pieces, sacred music, chamber music and songs for voice and piano.

Puccini's operas[]

  • Le Villi, libretto by Ferdinando Fontana (in one act – premiered at the Teatro Dal Verme, 31 May 1884)
    • second version (in two acts – premiered at the Teatro Regio, 26 December 1884)
    • third version (in two acts – premiered at the Teatro alla Scala, 24 January 1885)
    • fourth version (in two acts – premiered at the Teatro dal Verme, 7 November 1889)
  • Edgar, libretto by Ferdinando Fontana (in four acts – premiered at the Teatro alla Scala, 21 April 1889)
    • second version (in four acts – premiered at the Teatro del Giglio, 5 September 1891)
    • third version (in three acts – premiered at the Teatro Comunale, 28 January 1892)
    • fourth version (in three acts – premiered at the Teatro Colón di Buenos Aires, 8 July 1905)
  • Manon Lescaut, libretto by Luigi Illica, Marco Praga and Domenico Oliva (premiered at the Teatro Regio, 1 February 1893)
    • second version (premiered at the Teatro Coccia, 21 December 1893)
  • La bohème, libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (premiered at the Teatro Regio, 1 February 1896)
  • Tosca, libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (premiered at the Teatro Costanzi, 14 January 1900)
  • Madama Butterfly, libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (in two acts – premiered at the Teatro alla Scala, 17 February 1904)
    • second version (in two acts – premiered at the Teatro Grande di Brescia, 28 May 1904)
    • third version (premiered at Covent Garden, London 10 July 1905)
    • fourth version (premiered at the Opéra Comique in Paris, 28 December 1906)
    • fifth version (premiered at the Teatro Carcano, 9 December 1920)
  • La Fanciulla del West, libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini (premiered at the Metropolitan, 10 December 1910)
    • second version (premiered at the Teatro alla Scala, 29 Decembre 1912)
  • La rondine, libretto by Giuseppe Adami (premiered at the Opéra of Monte Carlo, 27 March 1917)
    • second version (premiered at the Opéra of Monte Carlo, 10 April 1920)
    • third version (possible premier at the Teatro Verdi, 11 April 1924)
  • Il trittico (premiered at the Metropolitan, 14 December 1918)
Il tabarro, libretto by Giuseppe Adami
Suor Angelica, libretto by Giovacchino Forzano
Gianni Schicchi, libretto by Giovacchino Forzano
  • Turandot, libretto by Renato Simoni and Giuseppe Adami (incomplete at the time of Puccini's death, completed by Franco Alfano: premiered at the Teatro alla Scala, 25 April 1926)

Puccini's other works and versions[]

(with dates of premieres and locations)

  • A te (c.1875)
  • Preludio a orchestra (1876)
  • Plaudite populi (Lucca, 1877)
  • Credo (Lucca, 1878)
  • Vexilla Regis (1878)
  • Messa a 4 voci con orchestra (Lucca, 1880) Published in 1951 as Messa di Gloria
  • Adagio in A major (1881)
  • Largo Adagetto in F major (c.1881-83)
  • Salve del ciel Regina (c.1882)
  • Mentìa l’avviso (c.1882)
  • Preludio Sinfonico in A major (Milan, 1882)
  • Fugues (c.1883)
  • Scherzo in D (1883)
  • Storiella d’amore (1883)
  • Capriccio Sinfonico (Milan, 1883)
  • Sole ed amore (1888)
  • Crisantemi (String Quartet, 1890, "Alla memoria di Amadeo di Savoia Duca d'Aosta")
  • Minuetto n.1 (String Quartet, published about 1892, "A.S.A.R. Vittoria Augusta di Borbone, Principessa di Capua")
  • Minuetto n.2 (String Quartet, published about 1892, "All'esimio violinista prof. Augusto Michelangeli")
  • Minuetto n.3 (String Quartet, published about 1892, "All'amico maestro Carlo Carignani")
  • Piccolo valzer (1894)
  • Avanti Urania! (1896)
  • Scossa elettrica (1896)
  • Inno a Diana (1897)
  • E l'uccellino (1899)
  • Terra e mare (1902)
  • Canto d’anime (1904)
  • Requiem (27-Jan-1905, Milan)
  • Casa mia, casa mia (1908)
  • Sogno d'or (1913)
  • Pezzo per pianoforte (1916)
  • Morire? (c.1917)
  • Inno a Roma (1-Jun-1919, Rome)


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See also[]

Festival Puccini; the annual Festival of Puccini's operas in Torre del Lago.


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