When we talk about opera, our thoughts immediately wander to Italy, to its theatres and to its famous composers. There is something to suit everybody’s fancy: whether you prefer Verdi’s energy, Donizetti’s elegance or Rossini’s joyful vitality. But then try to ask which one reconciles all of them: the answer will be clear, Giacomo Puccini.
Puccini was born in 1858, in Lucca (Tuscany). He started dedicating himself to music after having seen Aida by Verdi, at least according to the legend. He had the opportunity to study at the Conservatory of Milan thanks to a special grant obtained from queen Margaret. His debut dates back to 1884, when his one act opera Le Villi was presented at Dal Verme theatre in Milan.
He loved to write music in his house in Torre del Lago, a small village near Viareggio: a sort of personal Eden where he created all his masterpieces except Turandot, the last and unfinished one. Puccini was writing the final part when he was struck down by a heart attack in Brussels, 1924. Showing extreme respect for the beloved Maestro, director Arturo Toscanini interrupted the première at the point where Puccini stopped writing, even though after his death a final had been provided by someone else.
The public has always been his reference point: Puccini headed to his audience’s heart, not to his critics’ mind. Maybe for this reason he has been so successful, because in that period, as well as today, it is quite impossible to stay indifferent to his arias.
The real protagonist of his operas is love, always declined in a tragic and painful way: let’s have a look at a few examples. In La Bohème, which is the story of a group of young artists in Paris, 1830, the troubled love affair between Rodolfo and Mimì is broken by the death of the girl due to wasting disease. In Tosca, set in Rome 1800, Mario Cavaradossi, the protagonist’s lover, is killed by his rival’s hatchet men and then Tosca commits suicide.
It is said that Puccini was a great womanizer and that he never worried about cheating on his wife Elvira. Music and passion were a unique entity in him and maybe for this reason he knew how to conquer his lovers, as well as his public. Even one hundred years later, we still perceive that each one of his operas is a living part of his spirit, his priority of the moment, a question of life or death: as he wrote on Tosca’s drafts, “against everything and everybody, always composing melody”.