The Italian composer, Giacomo Puccini, was born on December 22, 1858 in Lucca, Tuscany. In 1876, he was inspired to write opera after hearing Verdi’s, Aida. Four years later, he enrolled at the Milan Conservatory where he studied under Antonio Buzzini and Amilcare Ponchielli. His first opera, Le villi (1883), lost in the school’s competition but gained him great respect. While his second opera, Edgar, was a failure, he gained international success in 1893 with Manon Lescaut.
Manon was the beginning of an extraordinary career. Although once dismissed by musicologists due to a supposed lack of “depth”, he is regarded today as one of the greatest composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A remarkable use of orchestral colors, melodic artistry, and harmonic sensibility mark his work. His work is also distinct due to the natural style in which the characters sing short phrases to each other as though they are truly conversing. For this reason, critics state his best scenes are those in which two characters are alone. Perhaps the best example of this is La Bohème. Premiered at the Teatro Regio Theater on February 1, 1896, it is considered one of the most romantic operas ever written, mostly due to the earnest arias between Rudolfo and Mimi.
Rudolfo and Mimi sing of their newly discovered love:
After achieving great success with Tosca in 1900, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly met with initial failure in 1904. Criticized for its excessive length, Puccini cut out a song from act one, and divided the second act. He premiered the revised version at Brescia on May 28, 1904. From then on, the story of a Japanese woman betrayed by a callous American naval officer has been considered one of the most beautiful operas ever written and one of the most performed around the world.
Maria Callas singing, Un Bel Di:
Puccini died on November 29, 1924 before he could complete his last opera, Turandot. He had based it on a Persian story from The Book of One Thousand and One Days. Using the 36 pages of sketches that Puccini left behind, the work was finished by Franco Alfano. Although the opera is considered to be flawed, it brought the world the aria, Nessun Dorma: