One of the leading figures of Italian opera, Giacomo Puccini
was born in Lucca in Tuscany on December 22nd, 1858 into a family
with a long history in music. After his father died when Giacomo was only five
years of age, he was sent off to study with his uncle Fortunato Magi, an
organist and choir master. During this time, he sang in the choir and
eventually performed as a freelance organist in religious service. A clause in
his uncle's contract stipulated that Giacomo was next in line to take over the
position of organist and choir master in Lucca. However, he never took the
position. A performance of Verdi's Aida,
which Giacomo and his brother walked eighteen miles to see, had a lasting
impact on Giacomo and set his resolve to become an opera composer.
In 1880, Puccini enrolled in the Milan Conservatory studying
composition with Ronchetti-Monteviti, Ponchielli and Bazzini. During his first
year there, he composed the Messa,
usually known however as the Messa di
Gloria. With a definite influence from Verdi, the Messa showed Puccini's inclination towards opera with powerful
arias for tenor and bass soloists that attempted to break the solemn bounds of
His first operatic attempt, Le Villi, came in 1882 and was set to a libretto by Ferdinando
Fontana. He entered the opera in a competition and, though it did not win, a
performance of the opera in 1884 nevertheless drew the attention of Giulio
Ricordi, head of G. Ricordi & Co. music publishers. Ricordi commissioned a
second opera, Edgar, from Puccini in
1889. This opera, however, was a complete failure. Fontana was once again
enlisted as the librettists, though he story was thought poor and weak. In
frustration over the opera's flop, Puccini determined to write his own libretto
for his next opera, Manon Lescaut.
Ricordi, nevertheless, managed to persuade Puccini to take on Leoncavallo as a
librettist. This, however, did not work either. Puccini consistently changed
his mind on the order and structure of the opera. Eventually, Luigi Illica and
Giuseppe Giacosa, were assigned the task of completing the opera and did so.
The premiere of Manon Lescaut
established Puccini's reputation as a prominent opera composer and marked the
beginning of his remarkable collaboration with Illica and Giacosa. Over the
next decade, the trio produced Puccini's arguably three greatest opera: La bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly. Today, all three are
among the most often performed operas in the repertoire.
Butterfly, Puccini's creative fervor waned. In small part, this diminished
activity can be attributed to the death of Giacosa in 1906 and then Ricordi in
1912. Other operas, however, did follow. La
fanciulla del West was completed in 1910 and La rondine in 1916. His last complete attempt was a trilogy of
one-act operas titled Il trittico.
Only the last of the three, a comedy, enjoyed any success.
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