Puccini: A Birthday Celebration

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:


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15 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A few years back I bought a CD set of live performances of Pavarotti. It includes two of Nessun Dorma, his signature piece.

    It always amazes me how young so many of these famous composers were when they wrote some of their best stuff.

    Happy Birthday, Giacomo!

  2. I love M Butterfly as well as Miss Saigon. Some people are just born “with it”! 🙂

  3. Hey DD,

    I get goosebumps when I listen to Pavarotti sing, “Nessun Dorma”.

  4. Heya Colby,

    I’m not that familiar with the music from “Miss Saigon”. I should go listen to some. 🙂

  5. You know, I’ve been meaning to learn more about opera, and this post reminded me of that. Thanks, Tasha. 🙂

  6. Hey Amy,

    Oh, good! 🙂

    I know you’re a big Buffy fan. That show actually was what started my opera love. Namely, the scene in Passion where Giles finds Jenny. I had to know what music was playing in the background. (O soave fanciulla) That was my beginning…

  7. Mmmmmmm….. 🙂

    And I love when different pieces of art/culture mesh and introduce us to others. It was U2 that introduced me to Margaret Atwood’s poetry…and Bukowsky’s writing, which I liked less…

  8. Hey Sput,

    I love that, too. One of the fun things about the show, “Lost” is that it often shows the characters reading novels (some of which are symbolic of the episode, and others that may give clues to what is really going on). When the show started, many fans started online bookclubs to read and discuss the books mentioned on the show. And then the writers of the show played tribute to that by showing some of the characters on the show belonging to a bookclub in the third season. I thought that was so cool.

    What song of U2’s introduced you to Atwood’s poetry?

  9. NICE. 🙂 Oh, also Lost’s Harley listened to a great song in Lost which I fell in love with–an oldie. I bought it on iTunes but have since lost it since my laptop fried in Peace Corps 🙂 And I don’t recall the name, so I’ll have to watch the first season again… (Do you get Lost there?)

    “Don’t let the bastards grind you down” was a lyric of theirs in their Achtung Baby song “Acrobat.” The lyrics in the album cover gave credit to Atwood–I believe the quote is from Handmaid’s Tale. It was only a few steps from there to all her novels, and then her poetry. 🙂

    ps, and I love Lost! 🙂

  10. Uh, so my second paragraph pertains to the U2-Atwood link 🙂

  11. Morning Sput!

    Yeah…that you’re a Lostie! Cool! It will be fun to chat with you when season six begins. (of which I am dying to see!). And yes, Lost is shown here. I’ve seen all five seasons thus far. And own the first three seasons on DVD, so yeah…you can say I love it, too. 😉

    I’m trying to recall what older songs Hurley listened to on his radio in season one. There was an ep where he listened to Willie Nelson’s, “Is this the Place you Want to Be”. Is that the one you meant?

    Btw, just the memory of the book, “Handmaids Tale” gives me the shivers!

  12. Ha! Excellent 🙂

    Nope, wasn’t that song, although that’s great too. A lighter song… I can’t recall… On the beach looking out… 🙂 I guess this means I gotta watch it again 🙂 🙂

    Hm–fave characters/spin?

    Yeah, Atwood has some awesome stuff. I love The Edible Woman most–I haven’t read it in so long, I should re-read it…

  13. Sputsie,

    (giggling): They were all always looking out at the beach!

    Okay, I’m curious now which song you meant. Patsy Cline= Kate. Glenn Miller indicates a Jack or Christian flashback….

    So, Hurley…season one….hmm…

    I found this page that lists all songs played on the show: http://www.losttvfans.com/page/Songs+Featured+On+LOST

    I’ll send you an email later regarding fave characters and all that. I have a LOT to say about this show that probably doesn’t fit on a blog entitled, “Writing the Victorian Gothic”. 😉

  14. Your Blog is always filled with fascinating snippets. The Scribe was fortunate enough when he worked in television to work on a doco about Puccini. It was a great experience for him. Lovely overseas trip from it! Hope your Christmas was magical and best wishes for the New Year. xx

  15. Thank you, Josephine! 🙂

    And that must have been such a thrilling experience for The Scribe. Was the documentary an Australian production?

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