Giacomo Puccini

1858–1924

Romantic

The Italian composer Puccini wrote operas. His La Bohème may be the most performed opera of all. Puccini’s success started almost from day one. He had a gift for writing tunes so ravishing they can make you cry – in a good way! Sometimes he can be sentimental – which means he exaggerates feelings of sadness or tenderness in his characters and his music. This, plus his popularity, meant he was often criticised by composers who were less popular… and poorer!

Today he is seen as a master-craftsman who seemed to have a hot-line to the human heart. His handling of the orchestra is glorious. His moving aria, ‘Nessun Dorma’, sung during the 1990 World Cup by the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti, took his music beyond the world of opera lovers to a world-wide audience. Puccini idolized the composer Verdi, who was older than he was, and at first tried to copy him. But they were very different. Whereas Verdi, like Shakespeare, could depict any kind of character, Puccini found it easier to depict characters with whom he could identify. Therefore his operas all tend to have people with similar personalities! What he shared with Verdi was genius.

Puccini was born in Lucca in Italy. He was one of nine children. The Puccini family, rather like the Bachs in Germany, dominated the local music scene. It was natural that the young Puccini would dedicate himself to music. His operas were called ‘verismo’ operas because they reflected ‘reality’ – including violence.

Puccini became wealthy, though he spent a fortune gambling and buying fast cars. He chain-smoked Italian cigars and died of throat cancer. To this day, there are some who criticise him for having lacked taste in what he composed – that it is sugary and easy. In reality, he is more a victim of later music that badly imitated his own; you find it sometimes in modern musicals. He was admired by Schoenberg, Ravel and Stravinsky – and that is a great testimonial. Several million opera lovers admire him too!

Giacomo Puccini, courtesy of Benjamin Chai

Play Music!

Play Music!

Puccini tracks are here to try…

Gianni Schicchi: O mio babbino caro (Oh my beloved father)

Puccini’s comic opera, Gianni Schicchi, is really funny. A short masterpiece, one of three one-act operas making up a set called Il trittico (The Tryptic), it contains this haunting and famous gem. The young Lauretta pleads with her father to help her marry her beloved Rinuccio.

Performers: Maria Luigia Borsi, soprano; London Symphony Orchestra; Yves Abel

Taken from Naxos 8.573412

Turandot: Act III, Scene 1. Nessun dorma (Let no one sleep)

This world-famous aria happens near the end of Turandot. It is sung by the young prince Calaf, who has won the right to marry the cold-hearted Turandot. She doesn’t want to be married, so Calaf offers a way out: if she can discover his name by the next morning, she doesn’t have to marry him. But his true name is ‘Love’, and the two are happily united in the end.

Performers: Thomas Harper, tenor; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Michael Halász

Taken from Naxos 8.550497

Madama Butterfly: Act II. Un bel dì, vedremo (One fine day)

Here, the sad heroine, Cio-Cio-san, looks forward to the return of Pinkerton, the American whose son she has borne. She dreams of their future life together. Poignant, ravishing, dramatic… this is classic Puccini. Needless to say, Pinkerton has married someone else.

Performers: Maria Luigia Borsi, soprano; London Symphony Orchestra; Yves Abel

Taken from Naxos 8.573412

Do You Know?

Do You Know?

See if you can answer the questions below!

 Puccini died of what?

a. The plague
b. Alzheimer’s
c. Throat cancer

 How many brothers and sisters did Puccini have?

a. 10
b. 9
c. 8

 Puccini was the greatest writer of Italian opera since which composer?

a. Bellini
b. Rossini
c. Verdi

 Puccini wrote which of the following operas?

a. La Bohème
b. Rigoletto
c. Norma

 Puccini died before completing his final opera. What was it called?

a. Turandot
b. La Bohème
c. Evita


Key Facts...

Key Facts…
  1. Puccini described Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring as ‘the creation of a madman’.
  2. Puccini proved so popular so quickly that his jealous enemies organised boo-ing and jeering at the premiere of his Madama Butterfly.
  3. Puccini died before he could finish his final opera, Turandot; it was completed by another composer, Franco Alfano.
  4. Puccini suffered a terrible car accident in 1903 and was saved by a doctor who happened to live nearby.
  5. Puccini had many affairs. His wife once accused the maid of having an affair with Puccini: she hadn’t but she was so upset she killed herself, and Puccini’s wife was sentenced to jail for slander. It was all as dramatic as one of Puccini’s operas!

Play More Music!

Play More Music!

Here is more music to listen to. Click the + to see tracks and information about each work!

Operas


Tosca (Highlights)

The opera Tosca was famously described by an American professor as ‘a shabby little shocker’. The painter, Cavaradossi, loves Tosca; a fugitive nobleman is hiding; an evil police chief, Scarpia, fancies Tosca. Scarpia has Cavaradossi tortured and tells Tosca she can save him by giving herself to him. In the end, the nobleman kills himself, Scarpia dies, Cavaradossi is shot, and Tosca throws herself off the battlements… all to wonderful music.

Performers: Nelly Miricioiu, Tosca (soprano); Giorgio Lamberti, Cavaradossi (tenor); Silvano Carroli, Scarpia (baritone); Miroslav Dvorsky, Spoletta (tenor); Jan Durco, Sciarrone (bass); Stanislav Benačka, Gaoler (bass); Jozef Spaček, Sacristan (baritone); Slovak Philharmonic Chorus; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Rahbari

Taken from Naxos 8.553153


La Bohème (Highlights)

One of the world’s most popular operas, La Bohème involves a group of young people in bleak 1830s Paris. Painter Marcello, loves flirty Musetta. Poet Rodolfo falls for waif-like Mimì. Mimì gets ill with TB. Marcello chooses wealth over love – as does, it seems, Mimì. Schaunard, the Musician, brings in food. They eat. Musetta arrives with Mimì… she’s dying. It is anguish for Rodolfo – but a great opera for us!

Performers: Jonathan Welch, Rodolfo (tenor); Luba Orgonášová, Mimì (soprano); Fabio Previati, Marcello (baritone); Carmen Gonzales, Musetta (soprano); Ivan Urbas, Colline (bass); Boaz Senator, Schaunard (baritone); Jiri Sulženko, Alcindoro (bass); Slovak Philharmonic Choir; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Will Humburg

Taken from Naxos 8.553151


Madama Butterfly (Highlights)

Madama Butterfly is a story of love, heartbreak and tragedy, set in Japan. The American, Pinkerton, seduces lovely Cio-Cio-san (Madama Butterfly), leaves her with their son, and returns with an American bride. Butterfly, mortified, does the only honourable, Japanese thing: she kills herself. It is a musical masterpiece – another opera by Puccini that is staged countless times in opera houses.

Performers: Miriam Gauci, Madama Butterfly (soprano); Nelly Boschkowa, Suzuki (mezzo-soprano); Yordy Ramiro, B.F. Pinkerton (tenor); Georg Tichy, Sharpless (baritone); Jozef Abel, Goro (tenor); Anna Tomkovicovà, Mother of Cio-Cio-san (mezzo-soprano); Mária Stahelová, Aunt of Cio-Cio-san (soprano); Elena Hanzelová, Cousin of Cio-Cio-san (soprano); Slovak Philharmonic Chorus; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Rahbari

Taken from Naxos 8.553152


Manon Lescaut (Highlights)

Chevalier des Grieux forfeits his inheritance and runs away with the heroine Manon Lescaut. The couple enjoy Paris together but des Grieux struggles to pay for all the things Manon wants – so she keeps leaving him for richer men until he gets enough money again by gambling. Eventually they end up in Louisiana, and of course – in the tradition of grand opera – the heroine dies. Puccini knew how to please an audience!

Performers: Miriam Gauci, Manon Lescaut (soprano); Kaludi Kaludov, Chevalier des Grieux (tenor); Vicente Sardinero, Lescaut, sergeant of the King’s Guards (baritone); Henk Lauwers, Sergeant / Naval Captain (bass); BRT Philharmonic Chorus; Belgian Radio and Television Philharmonic Orchestra; Alexander Rahbari

Taken from Naxos 8.554705