December 22, 1858 - Lucca, Italy
November 29, 1924 - Brussels, Belgium
Puccini Quick Facts:
- Puccini's operas Tosca, La Boheme, Turandot, and Madame Butterfly are some of the most often performed operas in the world and are regularly included in opera companies' repertoire.
- Puccini was born into a musical dynasty that covered nearly two centuries.
- Puccini wrote his first opera in 1884, called "Le villi;" an eastern European legend of vampiric witches.
- Puccini died before completing his most famous opera, Turandot. Franco Alfani completed the opera by composing the final duet.
- Puccini's most famous aria, bar none, is "Nessun Dorma" from the opera, Turandot, largely in part to Pavarotti's performances.
Family Background and Childhood:
As I mentioned earlier, Puccini was born into a musical dynasty. His father, Domenico Puccini, was an Italian composer who wrote several piano sonatas and concertos. Domenico died when Puccini was just five years old. Puccini's family, now without income, was aided by the city of Lucca, and his father's position as the cathedral organist was held open for Puccini once he became of age. Puccini studied music with several of his fathers pupils, however, he never took the church job that was held for him. Instead, after seeing an eye-opening performance of Verdi's Aida, Puccini dedicated his life and career to opera.
Young Adult Life:
Puccini enrolled at Milan Conservatory in 1880. He studied with Antonio Bazzini, a well-known violinist and composer, and Amilcare Ponchielli, who composed the opera La gioconda. That same year, Puccini wrote his first liturgical piece, Messa, a mass ordinary that foreshadowed his upcoming operatic compositions. In 1882, Puccini entered a contest and began composing his first opera, Le Villi. After the piece was finished and performed in 1884, he did not win the contest. His second opera, Edgar, fell flat and was not well-received. For his later operas, Puccini was extremely picky about his librettists.
Mid Adult Life and Rise to Fame:
When Puccini wrote his second opera, he was commissioned by Giulio Ricordi (a highly successful publisher). Though the opera was a disaster due to the poor libretto, Ricordi stayed by Puccini's side. After finally finding suitable librettists (Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa), Puccini composed Manon Lescaut in 1893. Met with huge success, his third opera opened the door to great wealth and fame. The next three operas he composed have easily become the world's most beloved and performed: La Boheme (1896), Tosca (1900), and Madame Butterfly (1904). These operas earned Puccini a substantial amount of wealth and fame.
Puccini's Scandalous Marriage:
After his mother died, Puccini skipped town with his lover, Elvira Gemignani, who was married to another man, and moved to Milan in 1891. Though their relationship was frowned upon, the two were quite passionate about their love and even had a baby boy, named Antonio. In 1904, they finally married after Elvira's husband passed away. After Puccini's success and rise to fame, the public (much like today) became interested in his private life. It was clear that Elvira was a jealous woman. Convinced the house maid had an affair with Puccini, Elvira relentlessly questioned her to the point she finally committed suicide.
Late Adult Life and Death:
Able to spend his money, Puccini had a penchant for fine cigars and fast cars. He nearly killed himself after a severe accident. He also built a villa "Villa Museo Puccini" which is now owned by his granddaughter. Puccini did not write music quite as frequently. He wrote only four operas between 1904 to 1924, likely due to several major events. The family of the poor maid who Elvira bullied to death, successfully sued Elvira, which caused Puccini to pay for damages. His friend and publisher, Recordi, died in 1912. In 1924, Puccini nearly finished with Turandot died after surgery to remove his throat cancer.