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Giacomo Puccini

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini (22 December 1858 – 29 November 1924) was an Italian composer whose operas, including La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Turandot, are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire.[1][2] Some of his arias, such as "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi, "Che gelida manina" from La bohème, and "Nessun dorma" from Turandot, have become part of popular culture.


Early life

Puccini's birthplace, seen in 1984

Puccini was born in Lucca in Tuscany, into a family with five generations of musical history behind them, including composer Domenico Puccini. His father died when Giacomo was five years old, and he was sent to study with his uncle Fortunato Magi, who considered him to be a poor and undisciplined student. Later, Puccini took the position of church organist and choir master in Lucca, but it was not until he saw a performance of Verdi's Aida that he became inspired to be an opera composer. He and his brother, Michele, walked 18.5 mi (30 km) to see the performance in Pisa.

In 1880, with the help of a relative and a grant, Puccini enrolled in the Milan Conservatory to study composition with Amilcare Ponchielli and Antonio Bazzini. In the same year, at the age of 21, he composed the Messa, which marks the culmination of his family's long association with church music in his native Lucca. Although Puccini himself correctly titled the work a Messa, referring to a setting of the Ordinary of the Catholic Mass, today the work is popularly known as his Messa di Gloria, a name that technically refers to a setting of only the first two prayers of the Ordinary, the Kyrie and the Gloria, while omitting the Credo, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei.

The work anticipates Puccini's career as an operatic composer by offering glimpses of the dramatic power that he would soon bring forth onto the stage; the powerful "arias" for tenor and bass soloists are certainly more operatic than is usual in church music and, in its orchestration and dramatic power, the Messa compares interestingly with Verdi's Requiem.

While studying at the Conservatory, Puccini obtained a libretto from Ferdinando Fontana and entered a competition for a one-act opera in 1882. Although he did not win, Le Villi was later staged in 1884 at the Teatro Dal Verme and it caught the attention of Giulio Ricordi, head of G. Ricordi & Co. music publishers, who commissioned a second opera, Edgar, in 1889.

Puccini at Torre del Lago

Original poster for Puccini's Tosca

From 1891 onwards, Puccini spent most of his time at Torre del Lago, a small community about fifteen miles from Lucca situated between the Tyrrhenian Sea and Lake Massaciuccoli, just south of Viareggio. While renting a house there, he spent time hunting but regularly visited Lucca. By 1900 he had acquired land and built a villa on the lake, now known as the "Villa Museo Puccini". He lived there until 1921 when pollution produced by peat works on the lake forced him to move to Viareggio, a few kilometres north. After his death, a mausoleum was created in the Villa Puccini and the composer is buried there in the chapel, along with his wife and son who died later.

The "Villa Museo Puccini" is presently owned by his granddaughter, Simonetta Puccini, and is open to the public.


Operas written at Torre del Lago

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Manon Lescaut (1893), his third opera, was his first great success. It launched his remarkable relationship with the librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, who collaborated with him on his next three operas, which became his three most famous and most performed operas. These were:

  • La bohème (1896) is considered one of his best works as well as one of the most romantic operas ever composed. It is together with Tosca one of today's most popular operas.
  • Tosca (1900) was arguably Puccini's first foray into verismo, the realistic depiction of many facets of real life including violence. The opera is generally considered of major importance in the history of opera because of its many significant features.
  • Madama Butterfly (1904) was initially greeted with great hostility (mostly organized by his rivals) but, after some reworking, became another of his most successful operas.

After 1904, compositions were less frequent. Following his passion for driving fast cars, Puccini was nearly killed in a major accident in 1903. In 1906 Giacosa died and, in 1909, there was scandal after Puccini's wife, Elvira, falsely accused their maid Doria Manfredi of having an affair with Puccini. The maid then committed suicide. Elvira was successfully sued by the Manfredis, and Giacomo had to pay damages. Finally, in 1912, the death of Giulio Ricordi, Puccini's editor and publisher, ended a productive period of his career.

However, Puccini completed La fanciulla del West in 1910 and finished the score of La rondine in 1917.

In 1918, Il trittico premiered in New York. This work is composed of three one-act operas: a horrific episode (Il tabarro), in the style of the Parisian Grand Guignol, a sentimental tragedy (Suor Angelica), and a comedy (Gianni Schicchi). Of the three, Gianni Schicchi has remained the most popular, containing the popular aria "O mio babbino caro".

Final years

Giacomo Puccini with conductor Arturo Toscanini
Puccini's last house in Brussels

A habitual Toscano cigar and cigarette chain smoker, Puccini began to complain of chronic sore throats towards the end of 1923. A diagnosis of throat cancer led his doctors to recommend a new and experimental radiation therapy treatment, which was being offered in Brussels. Puccini and his wife never knew how serious the cancer was, as the news was only revealed to his son.

Puccini died there on 29 November 1924, from complications from the treatment; uncontrolled bleeding led to a heart attack the day after surgery. News of his death reached Rome during a performance of La bohème. The opera was immediately stopped, and the orchestra played Chopin's Funeral March for the stunned audience. He was buried in Milan, but in 1926 his son arranged for the transfer of his father's remains to a specially-created chapel inside the Puccini villa at Torre del Lago.

Turandot, his final opera, was left unfinished, and the last two scenes were completed by Franco Alfano based on the composer's sketches. Some dispute whether Alfano followed the sketches or not, since the sketches were said to be indecipherable, but he is believed to have done so, since, together with the autographs, he was given (still existing) transcriptions from Guido Zuccoli who was accustomed to interpreting Puccini's handiwork.

When Arturo Toscanini conducted the premiere performance in April 1926 (in front of a sold-out crowd, with every prominent Italian except for Benito Mussolini in attendance), he chose not to perform Alfano's portion of the score. The performance reached the point where Puccini had completed the score, at which time Toscanini stopped the orchestra. The conductor turned to the audience and said: "Here the opera finishes, because at this point the Maestro died." (Some record that he said, more poetically, "Here the Maestro laid down his pen.")

Toscanini edited Alfano's suggested completion ('Alfano I'), to produce a version now known as 'Alfano II', and this is the version usually used in performance. However, some musicians (eg Ashbrook & Powers, 1991) consider Alfano I to be a more dramatically complete version.

In 2002, an official new ending was composed by Luciano Berio from original sketches, but this finale has, to date, been performed only infrequently.


Unlike Wagner and Verdi, Puccini did not appear to be active in the politics of his day. However, Mussolini, Fascist dictator of Italy at the time, claimed that Puccini applied for admission to the National Fascist Party. While it has been proven that Puccini was indeed among the early supporters of the Fascist party at the time of the election campaign of 1919 (in which the Fascist candidates were utterly defeated, earning a meagre 4,000 votes), there appear to be no records or proof of any application given to the party by Puccini. In addition, it can be noted that had Puccini done so, his close friend Toscanini (an extreme anti-Fascist) would probably have severed all friendly connection with him and ceased conducting his operas.

This notwithstanding, Fascist propaganda appropriated Puccini's figure, and one of the most widely played marches during Fascist street parades and public ceremonies was the "Inno a Roma" (Hymn to Rome), composed in 1919 by Puccini to lyrics by Fausto Salvatori, based on these verses from Horace's Carmen saeculare:

Alme Sol, curru nitido diem qui / Promis et celas alius que et idem / Nasceris, possis nihil urbe Roma / Visere maius. (O Sun, that unchanged, yet ever new, / Lead'st out the day and bring'st it home, / May nothing be present to thy view / Greater than Rome!)



The subject of Puccini's style is one that was once treated dismissively by musicologists; this can be attributed to a perception that his work, with its emphasis on melody and evident popular appeal, lacked "depth." Despite the place Puccini clearly occupies in the popular tradition of Verdi, his style of orchestration also shows the strong influence of Wagner, matching specific orchestral configurations and timbres to different dramatic moments. His operas contain an unparalleled manipulation of orchestral colors, with the orchestra often creating the scene's atmosphere.

The structures of Puccini's works are also noteworthy. While it is to an extent possible to divide his operas into arias or numbers (like Verdi's), his scores generally present a very strong sense of continuous flow and connectivity, perhaps another sign of Wagner's influence. Like Wagner, Puccini used leitmotifs to connote characters and sentiments (or combinations thereof). This is most apparent in Tosca, where the three chords which signal the beginning of the opera are used throughout to announce Scarpia; the descending brass motive (Vivacissimo con violenza) is connected to the repressive regime which ruled Rome at the setting of the opera and most clearly to Angelotti, one of the regime's victims; the harp arpeggio figure which appears at Tosca's entrance and the aria Vissi d'arte symbolizing Tosca's religious fervor; the clarinet ascending-descending scale indicating Mario's suffering and his doomed love for Tosca. Several motifs are also linked to Mimi and the bohemians in La bohème and to Cio-Cio-San's eventual suicide in Butterfly. Unlike Wagner, though, Puccini's motifs are static: where Wagner's motifs develop into more complicated figures as the characters develop, Puccini's remain more or less identical throughout the opera (in this respect anticipating the themes of modern musical theatre).

Another distinctive quality in Puccini's works is the use of the voice in the style of speech i.e. canto parlando; characters sing short phrases one after another as if they were in conversation. Puccini is also celebrated for his melodic gift and many of his melodies are both memorable and enduringly popular. At their simplest these melodies are made of sequences from the scale, a very distinctive example being Quando me'n vo' (Musetta's Waltz) from La bohème and E lucevan le stelle from Act III of Tosca. Today, it is rare not to find at least one Puccini aria included in an operatic singer's CD album or recital.

Unusual for operas written by Italian composers up until that time, many of Puccini’s operas are set outside Italy—in exotic places such as Japan (Madama Butterfly), gold-mining country in California (La fanciulla del West), Paris and the Riviera (La rondine), and China (Turandot).

Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic Lloyd Schwartz summarized Puccini thus: "Is it possible for a work of art to seem both completely sincere in its intentions and at the same time counterfeit and manipulative? Puccini built a major career on these contradictions. But people care about him, even admire him, because he did it both so shamelessly and so skillfully. How can you complain about a composer whose music is so relentlessly memorable, even — maybe especially — at its most saccharine?"[3]


Although Puccini is mainly known for his operas, he also wrote some other orchestral pieces, sacred music, chamber music and songs for voice and piano.


  • Le Villi, libretto by Ferdinando Fontana (in one act – premiered at the Teatro Dal Verme, 31 May 1884)
    • second version (in two acts – premiered at the Teatro Regio, 26 December 1884)
    • third version (in two acts – premiered at La Scala (the Teatro alla Scala), 24 January 1885)
    • fourth version (in two acts – premiered at the Teatro dal Verme, 7 November 1889)
  • Edgar, libretto by Ferdinando Fontana (in four acts – premiered at La Scala, 21 April 1889)
    • second version (in four acts – premiered at the Teatro del Giglio, 5 September 1891)
    • third version (in three acts – premiered at the Teatro Comunale, 28 January 1892)
    • fourth version (in three acts – premiered at the Teatro Colón di Buenos Aires, 8 July 1905)
  • Manon Lescaut, libretto by Luigi Illica, Marco Praga and Domenico Oliva (premiered at the Teatro Regio, 1 February 1893)
    • second version (premiered at the Teatro Coccia, 21 December 1893)
  • La bohème, libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (premiered at the Teatro Regio, 1 February 1896)
  • Tosca, libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (premiered at the Teatro Costanzi, 14 January 1900)
  • Madama Butterfly, libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa (in two acts – premiered at La Scala, 17 February 1904)
    • second version (in two acts – premiered at the Teatro Grande di Brescia, 28 May 1904)
    • third version (premiered at Covent Garden, London 10 July 1905)
    • fourth version (premiered at the Opéra-Comique in Paris, 28 December 1906)
    • fifth version (premiered at the Teatro Carcano, 9 December 1920)
  • La fanciulla del West, libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini (premiered at the Metropolitan Opera, 10 December 1910)
    • second version (premiered at La Scala, 29 December 1912)
  • La rondine, libretto by Giuseppe Adami (premiered at the Opéra of Monte Carlo, 27 March 1917)
    • second version (premiered at the Opéra of Monte Carlo, 10 April 1920)
    • third version (possible premier at the Teatro Verdi, 11 April 1924); orchestration of the third act completed in 1994 by Lorenzo Ferrero (premiered at Teatro Regio di Torino, 22 March 1994)
  • Il trittico (premiered at the Metropolitan Opera, 14 December 1918)
Il tabarro, libretto by Giuseppe Adami
Suor Angelica, libretto by Giovacchino Forzano
Gianni Schicchi, libretto by Giovacchino Forzano

Other works and versions

(with dates of premieres and locations)

  • A te (c.1875)
  • Preludio a orchestra (1876)
  • Plaudite populi (Lucca, 1877)
  • Credo (Lucca, 1878)
  • Vexilla Regis (1878)
  • Messa a 4 voci con orchestra (Lucca, 1880) Published in 1951 as Messa di Gloria
  • Adagio in A major (1881)
  • Largo Adagetto in F major (c.1881-83)
  • Salve del ciel Regina (c.1882)
  • Mentìa l’avviso (c.1882)
  • Preludio Sinfonico in A major (Milan, 1882)
  • Fugues (c.1883)
  • Scherzo in D (1883)
  • Storiella d’amore (1883)
  • Capriccio Sinfonico (Milan, 1883)
  • Sole ed amore (1888)
  • Crisantemi (String Quartet, 1890, "Alla memoria di Amadeo di Savoia Duca d'Aosta")
  • Minuetto n.1 (String Quartet, published about 1892, "A.S.A.R. Vittoria Augusta di Borbone, Principessa di Capua")
  • Minuetto n.2 (String Quartet, published about 1892, "All'esimio violinista prof. Augusto Michelangeli")
  • Minuetto n.3 (String Quartet, published about 1892, "All'amico maestro Carlo Carignani")
  • Piccolo valzer (1894)
  • Avanti Urania! (1896)
  • Scossa elettrica (1896)
  • Inno a Diana (1897)
  • E l'uccellino (1899)
  • Terra e mare (1902)
  • Canto d’anime (1904)
  • Requiem (27 January 1905, Milan)
  • Casa mia, casa mia (1908)
  • Sogno d'or (1913)
  • Pezzo per pianoforte (1916)
  • Morire? (c.1917) - This song was transposed by a half step (into G-flat major) and set to different text in the 1st revision of his work La Rondine called "Parigi è la città dei desideri" which is sung by Ruggero in the 1st act. Besides the key and text changes, it is the exact music to the aria.
  • Inno a Roma (1 June 1919, Rome)

Centres for Puccini Studies

Founded in 1996 in Lucca, the Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini embraces a wide range of approaches to the study of Puccini's work.

In the USA, the American Center for Puccini Studies specializes in the presentation of unusual performing editions of composer's works and introduces many neglected or unknown Puccini pieces to the music loving public. It was founded in 2004 by a leading Puccini artist and scholar, Dr. Harry Dunstan.

Detailed information about both organizations exists on their websites.


See also


  1. ^ "Quick Opera Facts 2007". OPERA America. 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-23. 
  2. ^ Alain P. Dornic (1995). "An Operatic Survey". Opera Glass. Retrieved 2007-04-23. 
  3. ^ "Lorca without Lorca". The Phoenix. October 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-18. 


  • Lynn, Karyl Charna (2005). Italian Opera Houses and Festivals. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810853590. 
  • Puccini, Simonetta (ed.) (2006). Giacomo Puccini in Torre del Lago. Viareggio, Tuscany: Friends of Giacomo Puccini's Houses Association. 
  • Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane (2002). Puccini: a biography. Boston: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 1555535305. 
  • Jim Svejda. The Record Shelf Guide to the Classical Repertoire (1990) ISBN 1559580518
  • "Puccini Vocal and Instrumental Music". Centro Studi di Giacomo Puccini. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  • "Puccini Operas". Centro Studi di Giacomo Puccini. Retrieved 2008-02-06. 
  • Ashbrook W & Powers H (1991) Puccini's Turandot:The End of the Great Tradition, Princeton Univ. Press
  • Carner, Mosco (1959) Puccini:A Critical Biography, Alfred Knopf
  • "Puccini e le "more" di Silone: viaggio poetico musicale fra "soavi fanciulle" e coraggiose eroine" di Giuseppe Leone e Roberto Zambonini, Malgrate (Lc), 27 agosto 2009.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

GIACOMO PUCCINI (1858-), Italian operatic composer, was born at Lucca, of a family already distinguished in music; his great-great-grandfather Giacomo, great-grandfather Antonio, grandfather Domenico, and father Michele, being all well known in the art. He was educated at the Milan Conservatoire, and in 1884 his opera Le Villi was performed at the Teatro del Verme. In 1889 his Edgar was performed at La Scala, and in 1893 his Manon Lescaut in Turin. But it was the production of La Boheme in Turin in 1896 that made him famous, and this opera had a great success everywhere. Tosca followed in 1900, and in 1904 Madama Butterfly confirmed the highest opinions of his talent.

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Simple English

[[File:|thumb|Giacomo Puccini]] Giacomo Puccini (born in Lucca, 23 December 1858; died Brussels, 29 November 1924) was the most famous Italian opera composer after Verdi. He wrote 16 operas, most of which are performed very often today. Many of his operatic songs are known by many people, especially the aria Nessun dorma from Turandot which was sung by Luciano Pavarotti for the BBC’s television coverage of the Football World Cup which was held in Italy in 1990.


Puccini was born into a musical family. He was expected to follow the family tradition and become a church organist. He started playing the organ in churches near Lucca. He liked to improvise on the organ, playing popular tunes from Verdi’s operas. He soon realized that he wanted to be an opera composer. Eventually he persuaded his family to let him study at the Milan Conservatory. His earliest compositions showed that he had a great talent for writing beautiful melodies and that he was good at writing for the orchestra. His first opera to be published, Edgar, had a story similar to that of Bizet’s Carmen, but it was not a suitable story for Puccini.

Manon Lescaut was the first opera for which Puccini chose the story himself. It is the same story as Massenet’s opera Manon. This made Puccini internationally famous. His next opera, La bohème, produced in 1896, is often thought to be his best opera. He worked with two poets on this opera and, although they quarrelled a lot, the result was a work in which the music flowed beautifully like a conversation.

His next opera was Tosca. When it was first performed in Rome in 1900 there were rumours that a bomb would be thrown, but nothing happened. Tosca was a great success. However, Madame Butterfly was hissed and booed at its first performance in Milan’s famous opera house La Scala in 1904.

It was at this time that Puccini married. He already had a son by Elvira, his wife, who had been married to someone else. When her husband died, she was able to marry Puccini. The marriage was not without difficulties. Elvira accused Puccini of having an affair with their servant girl. This servant girl committed suicide and there was a court case which resulted (after an autopsy) in Elvira being found innocent. Puccini was very upset by all this and did not compose much for several years.

When he finally started writing again his new opera La fanciulla del West was set in the American West at the time of the Goldrush. The music has very Impressionistic harmonies like that of Debussy. The way he writes for the orchestra shows the influence of Richard Strauss. The opera was first performed in New York. The world-famous tenor Enrico Caruso sang the main hero part and Arturo Toscanini was the conductor. With such a star cast it had to be a great success.

Puccini followed this by writing an operetta and two one-act operas. The best of these is Gianni Schicchi His last opera is Turandot, which has a fairy-tale like story. While he was working very hard at it he developed throat cancer. He died in the autumn of 1924. The whole of Italy went into mourning and Mussolini spoke at the funeral. Puccini had not quite managed to finish Turandot. A man called Franco Alfano finished it using the sketches that Puccini had left.


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