music.minnesota.publicradio.orgTosca Goes Online

Giacomo Puccini
(December 22, 1858 - November 29,1924)

Tosca Goes Online Home

GIACOMO PUCCINI was born into a family of court composers and organists in the historic city of Lucca, Italy. Although he was surrounded by music as a child, it was not until he was 18 years old that Verdi's opera Aida inspired him to devote his life to carrying on the tradition of the musical stage. In 1880, Puccini entered the Milan Conservatory of Music where, through the friendship of his composition teacher, Amilcare Ponchielli, he was introduced into the professional artists' circle, of which he would be a part for the rest of his life.

Puccini was not a prolific composer. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he produced his operas at long intervals, partly because of his fastidiousness in choosing subjects, several of which he took up only to abandon after several months, and partly because of his constant demands for modifications of the texts. Much of his time, too, was spent in hunting in the marshes around his home and in trips abroad to supervise revivals of his works.

During the 1890s, Puccini began working with Luigi Illica, who worked out the scheme and drafted the dialogue, and the poet and playwright Giuseppe Giacosa, who put the lines into verse. Their first collaboration was La Bohéme (1896), followed by Tosca (1900) and Madame Butterfly (1904). Like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Rodgers and Hammerstein, Puccini has been much maligned for his flirtation with popular music, but he had an uncanny feel for a good story and a talent for enthralling yet economical music. His experiments with tonality and form, while constant, were always subtle, and, unlike his contemporary Stravinsky, he did not seem to need to be controversial. Puccini's later operas were quite varied in their styles and subjects. La Fanciullas del West, set in the American West, is notable for its advanced impressionistic orchestration and composition. La Rondine was designed to be a musical comedy in the Viennese style, but seemed more related to La Traviata than Die Fledermaus. Il Trittico was an evening of one-act operas that are quite a mixed bag. Il Tabbarro was Puccini's bow toward the verismo style. Suor Angelica is a moving opera set in a nunnery. Gianni Schicchi is comic masterpiece that features Puccini at his most exuberant. There is a thought that Puccini was mocking his own success with this piece.

Turandot was Puccini's last (and some feel his greatest) opera. He died before completing it, and although a close collaborator finished the job, Arturo Toscanini set down his baton and refused to continue past Puccini's last note when he conducted its world premiere in 1926 at La Scala.

In his long life Puccini wrote only 12 operas, three of them one-acts designed to be performed together. Of these, the most famous are La Bohéme (1896), Tosca (1900) and Madame Butterfly (1904). Puccini's personal life was plagued with self doubt and laborious perfectionism, yet he profoundly influenced the world of opera with a deep understanding of music, drama and humanity.
Le Villi
Manon Lescaut
La Bohéme
Madame Butterfly
La Fanciulla del West
La Rondine
Il Trittico (The Triptych)
-Il Tabarro (The Cloak)
-Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica)
-Gianni Schicchi

Top | Tosca Goes Online Home

Used with permission by Skyway Publications, Inc., 15 South Fifth Street, Suite 800, Minneapolis, MN 55402, 612-375-9222; Fax 612-375-9208.

© Copyright 1999, Minnesota Public Radio.