Born in Lucca (Italy) on December 22nd, 1858, Giacomo Puccini is the sixth child and the only boy among five girls (ò misfortune!), until the birth of the youngest son. He was descended from a lineage of musicians. Albina, the mother, was convinced of the musical gifts of her son. At about fifteen years, Puccini entered the musical institute of Lucca and began to write small songs for organ. At that time, he had for professor Carlo Angeloni who made him discover the music of Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi.
In 1876, he attended the representation of Verdi’s Aïda in Pisa. Enthused by this part, Puccini decided to become a composer. In 1880, he entered the Academy of Milan. Thanks to his mother, he got a scholarship from Queen Marguerite. His uncle helped him pay his studies too.
In July 1883, he left the Academy after having composed Capriccio sinfonia. Ponchielli encouraged him to forge a career as a composer and suggested him to join a competition organized by a rich industrialist, Eduardo Sonzogno. The competition consisted in composing a one-act opera. The prizewinner was assured to see his work performed. His work, the Villi, was presented at the last minute and practically illegible: the jury neglected it. Nevertheless, Boito, Verdi’s librettist, noticed the work and helped Puccini. Villi was performed on May 31, 1884 and obtained a triumph. Giacomo sent this telegram to her mother: ”All my hopes exceeded. Eighteen curtain calls. First finale whistled. Am delighted.”
Peak and trio
He signed a contract with the publisher Ricordi. Puccini reshaped Villi in two acts and this new version was aslo favorably welcomed. In July 1884, her mother died and made the composer profoundly affected.
When Puccini married Elvira Geminiani in 1904, they had been lovers for 10 years and they even already had a child (Antonio). Elvira was already married with a friend of the composer. All the city knew they had an affair but him. Finally, Puccini “kidnapped” her. In 1903, Elvira’s husband died which enabled Puccini to marry her. This affair caused a big stir in Lucca and Puccini felt out with his protective uncle.
His following opera, Edgar, is the least inspired of his operas because the libretto did not appeal to him. After five years of work, the piece is considered an unsuccessful work in April 1889. He was then inspired by the novel of Prevost abbot to compose Manon Lescaut. It became his masterpiece and one of the most intense moments of his artistic life.
With the librettists Illica and Giacosa, he had worked on La Bohème for three years. It was finished in December 1895 and performed in February 1896 with success. The three men got on well and the trio lasted until 1906.Together, they also wrote two other important Opera: Tosca and Madama Butterfly.
At around 40, Puccini was become famous and had enough money to pursue his passion for hunting and nice cars.
To compose Tosca, Puccini and his colleagues managed to convince Alberto Franchetti, who had bought the rights to the author of the original drama (Victorien Sardou) that this opera would be a failure and would undergo censorship. As a consequence, Franchetti gave up his rights and the unscrupulous trio started working immediately.
Presented in January 1900, the work was successful with the public but criticism was reserved.
After having tried several times to create an opera on Marie-Antoinette, Puccini started working frantically on a drama of David Belasco: Madama Butterfly which mixes drama and exoticism. The piece was first performed in 1904 in La Scala in Milan. People laughed loudly and made animals noises when they heard the birds sing on the stage.
Puccini had other problems: during the period he composed Madama Butterfly, he had a car accident which made him lame for the rest of his life. In 1906, one of his best librettists, Giacosa, died. Then he had an original project: a classical western, La fanciulla del West. He also created La rondine, which was a failure. Il trittico also had a mixed success.
End of life
In 1823, the composer who was a compulsive smoker had health problems (throat tumour). Nevertheless he started Turandot, a tragic count about a Chinese legend on love and death. It was left unfinished but was performed. As Puccini wanted, at the end of the first performance, in 1926, Toscanini (Puccini’s conductor) said to the public: “This is the end of the maestro’s work; he was at this point when he died”. The public remained quiet a little while and then gave an ovation.
Puccini died on November 29, 1924.