Puccini, Giacomo

Biography

December 22, 1858 - November 29, 1924  

Giacomo lost his father early and from his childhood was forced to earn for living as a church chorister. At the age of fourteen, he became a church organist. His improvisations, which often possessed the Tuscan folk tunes, and sometimes even opera tunes, were admired by the parishioners, but caused dissatisfaction of the local clergy because of the excessive "theatricality." The performance in 1880 of a liturgy that he created for the graduation brought Giacomo his first success. In autumn of the same year, he went to Milan and, having passed the entrance examinations easily, was admitted at the Conservatory.

In the hard student times Puccini often had to freeze in the unheated room, to starve, every visit to the theater turned to be a special event because of the tickets high cost, but he did not lose heart. He worked from early morning until late at night. During his studies, Puccini wrote created manty musical pieces; the best of them was the Symphonic Capriccio, successfully performed during the final exam at the Conservatory on July 14, 1883. It was highly appreciated in the press. Hence, the composer felt that he tended to the theater music, the music that was connected with the words, gestures, with life on the stage. Definitely, it was neither instrumental, nor symphonic music.

The first two operas - The Willis (1883) and Edgar (1885-88) - were the initial approaches to the independent path in art. Their traditional romantic subjects merely suited Puccini’s creative individuality. Nevertheless, the premiere of The Willis made the author known in Milan musical circles.

Realizing that the basis of the opera libretto should be a life drama, capable of exciting the public, Puccini searched the plot for a new opera. His choice, Manon Lescaut, differs from the first operas by the greater dramatic integrity and musical language variety. The melodious, flexible, rhythmically rich melody is the major expressive mean. Lyrical scenes associated with the characters of the main personages, with demonstration of their feelings and moods are in the center of the opera. After the triumphant Turin premiere, held on February 1, 1893, Manon Lescaut quickly gained the sympathy of listeners far beyond Italy.

Young Puccini was shaped at the time when a new direction emerged in the Italian musical theater - Verismo, and like Verists, Puccini turned to the embodiment of everyday life with acute conflicts. However, his works, full of subtle poetry and deep psychology, are much above any typical Verismo opera with the ultimate concentration of action and emphasized musical expression.

The composition, which opened a new, mature period in Puccini work, was La Bohème. La Bohème was performed for the first time in Turin on February 1, 1896 and caused heated controversy. The author was criticized for referring to the "non-operatic" story, called his work the opera of ragamuffins.

Even before he started composing Manon Lescaut Puccini dreamed of the Tosca plot by V. Sardou. After the premiere of La Boheme, he started developing the script. Love drama is in the center of the plot. In this opera, the composer turned to the topic of combating arbitrariness for the first time: the main characters perish in a clash with the world of tyranny.

The premiere of Tosca was held in Rome on January 14, 1900. The audience was subdued. In a year, Tosca bypassed the world's largest theaters.

Madame Butterfly completed the central, most intense period of Puccini's activity - a period of unceasing creative search and solutions. It anticipated the monodrama opera type, characteristic of the 20th century opera, where all events were focused around the main character.

The second decade of the 20th century was difficult for Puccini. The oppressive atmosphere of the First World War markedly weakened his creative activity. Lyrical comedy La Rondine (1914-16) did not become a major artistic achievement of the composer. Having searched through different plots (among them the plots from the Russian literature - L. Tolstoy, M. Gorky), Puccini came to the idea of creating a triptych - a cycle consisting of three contrasting operas. The first part - Il Tabarro based on the whirlwind development of love drama and jealousy - both in terms of drama, and in terms of musical expression, is close to Verismo opera.

The lyric center –the opera Suor Angelica narrating about the grievous life of the young nun – was realized in soft, muffled tones. Moreover, the sparkling finale is cheerful, mischievous, in the spirit of old comic operas - Gianni Schicchi on the plot inspired by the lines of the Divine Comedy by Dante.

Getting the enthusiastic reception at the premiere in the Metropolitan Opera Theater, this masterpiece still retains its significance as the best part of the cycle.

Already being seriously ill (throat cancer), Puccini was working on his latest composition - the monumental exotic opera-legend Turandot.

The composer did not have time to finish the opera, on the fourth day after the agonizing surgery Puccini died. The first performance of Turandot completed by the composer F. Alfano, who followed the author's sketches, took place in La Scala Theater on April 25, 1926. A. Toscanini conducted. When Puccini's last chord sounded, Toscanini lowered his conductor's baton and, turning to the public, said, "Here death tore the pen out of Maestro hands”. All stood up. The audience dispersed in deep silence.

Puccini was the last representative of the Italian opera classics. Sensitive to the trends of the era, he was constantly looking for ways to update opera artistic expressive means. His work had a noticeable impact on the development of the European opera of the 20th century. True to the traditions of realistic art, a humanist artist, Puccini, created immortal works that forever entered the treasury of the world musical culture.

T. Keldysh
http://www.belcanto.ru/puccini.html