Puccini, Giacomo


Puccini, Giacomo (December 22, 1858– November 29, 1924)

Giacomo lost his father early and from his childhood was forced to make a living as a chorister in the church. At fourteen he became a church organist. His improvisations, which often had Tuscan folk tunes, and sometimes even opera tunes, were admired by the the parishioners, but caused dissatisfaction of the local clergy because of excessive "theatricality." The performance in 1880 of the mass, composed for the graduation, brought Giacomo his first success. In the autumn same year, he went to Milan and, having passed the entrance examinations without difficulty, was admitted to the Conservatory.

In the difficult student years Puccini often had to freeze in the unheated room, to be underfed, every visit to the theater became an event because of the tickets high cost, but he did not lose heart. He worked from morning until late at night. During his studies, Puccini wrote many different works; the best of them is the Symphonic Capriccio, successfully performed at the final exam at the Conservatory on July 14, 1883, and received approving reviews in the press. But the composer felt that his genre was not instrumental, not symphonic music, but music for the theater, connected with the word, with a gesture, with a live action on the stage.

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

Realizing that the basis of the opera libretto should be a strong life drama, capable of exciting the public, Puccini goes in search of a plot for a new opera. His choice, "Manon Lescaut", differs from the first operas with greater dramatic integrity, a variety of musical language. The main means of expressiveness is the melody - melodious, flexible, rich rhythmically. In the center of the opera - lyrical scenes associated with the characteristics of the main characters, with the transfer of their feelings and moods. After the triumphant Turin premiere, held on February 1, 1893, "Manon Lescaut" quickly gained the sympathy of listeners far beyond Italy.

Young Puccini was formed at a time when a new direction was being asserted in the Italian musical theater - verism, and like the verists, Puccini turns to the embodiment of everyday life with its acute conflicts, but his works, full of subtle poetry and deep psychology, are much above any typical verist opera with its ultimate concentration of action and emphasized musical expression.

The composition, which opened a new, mature period in the work of Puccini, was "La Bohème". The first performance of "La Boheme" in Turin on February 1, 1896 caused heated controversy. The author was criticized for referring to the "no-opera" story, called his work the  "opera of ragamuffins."

Even before he started "Manon Lescaut" Puccini thought about "Tosca" on the plot of V. Sardou. After the premiere of “La Boheme”, he began to develop the script. In the center of the plot, as always in Puccini, is a love drama. But here, for the first time, the composer touches on the topic of combating arbitrariness: 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 one year "Tosca" bypassed the world's largest theaters.

 "Madame Butterfly" completes the central, most intense period of Puccini's activity - a period of unceasing creative search and solutions. It anticipates the characteristic of the opera of the 20th century, the monodrama type, where all events are centered around the main character.

The second decade of the XX century was difficult for Puccini. The oppressive atmosphere of the First World War markedly weakened his creative activity. Lyrical comedy "Swallow" (1914-16) did not become a major artistic achievement of the composer. Having gone through a lot of different subjects (among them the works of Russian literature - L. Tolstoy, M. Gorky), Puccini comes to the idea of ​​creating a triptych - a cycle consisting of three contrasting operas. The first part - "Cloak", based on the rapid development of the drama of love and jealousy - both in terms of drama, and in terms of musical expression, is close to verist opera.

The lyrical middle - "Sister Angelica", narrating about the sad fate of the young nun - is sustained in soft, muffled tones. And finally, the sparkling finale is cheerful, mischievous, in the spirit of old comic operas - "Gianni Schicchi", whose plot is inspired by the lines of "Divine Comedy" by Dante.

Getting an enthusiastic reception at the premiere in New York's Metropolitan Opera, this Puccini masterpiece still retains its significance as the best part of the cycle.

Already being seriously ill (throat cancer), Puccini is 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 operation  Puccini was gone. The first performance of "Turandot", completed by the author's sketches by the composer F. Alfano, took place in La Scala 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 the hands of the maestro." 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 the artistic expressive means of the opera. His work had a noticeable impact on the development of the European opera of the twentieth 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.

Т. Keldysh