Birthday: December 22, 1858
Died At Age: 65
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Also Known As: Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini
Born Country: Italy
Born in: Lucca
Famous as: Composer
Spouse/Ex-: Elvira Gemignani
father: Michele Puccini
mother: Albina Magi
siblings: Michele Puccini
Died on: November 29, 1924
place of death: Brussels
City: Lucca, Italy
education: seminary of San Michele, seminary of the cathedral
awards: Brit Award for Best Classical Recording
Who was Giacomo Puccini?
Giacomo Puccini was one of the greatest Italian opera composers of all time, who is best known for works like ‘La bohème’, ‘Madama Butterfly’, ‘Tosca’ and ‘Turandot’. Born in the 19th century into a prominent musical dynasty in the central Italian town of Lucca, Puccini was a very restless child. He was believed to be unfit for carrying forward the legacy that began with his great-great grandfather, also named Giacomo Puccini. However, his strong-willed mother had full faith in him; and under her guidance, he soon began to flourish. At the age of 22, he moved to Milan to study music at the ‘Milan Conservatory’, graduating from there three years later. Immediately after finishing his studies, Puccini successfully launched his career with his first opera, ‘Le Villi’. Although his second opera was a flop, he produced a series of successful operas following that. His pieces ‘La bohème’, ‘Tosca’ and ‘Madama Butterfly’ continue to remain part of the modern opera repertoire.
Childhood & Early Life
Giacomo Puccini was born on 22 December 1858 in Lucca, Italy, into a family of musicians, whose members held the position of maestro di cappella at the local Cattedrale di San Martino for five consecutive generations. His full name was Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini.
Puccini’s father Michele Puccini was fourth in the line of five maestro di cappellas. He is known to have enjoyed fame throughout northern Italy. His mother Albina Magi Puccini was a strong-willed lady, who valued education highly.
Puccini was the seventh child of his parents. He had eight siblings, including seven sisters named Otilia, Tomaide, Temi (Zemi), Iginia, Nitteti, Ramelde and Macrina. He also had a brother named Domenico Michele. His sister Temi passed away in infancy.
From the very beginning, it was expected that Puccini would succeed his father as the maestro di cappella. His father died on 23 January 1864 when Puccini was only five years old. Thereafter, it was decreed that he would hold the position when he came of age.
After his father’s death, his mother struggled to run the household; and yet, she was determined to give all her children good education. She particularly paid attention to Puccini’s music lessons, making sure that he studied classics before he devoted himself to music. She believed that a musician without classical education had no value.
In 1867, Puccini began his education at the Seminario di San Michele and later moved to Seminario di San Martino. The restless child was frequently expelled from school, only to be readmitted on his mother’s insistence. Meanwhile from 1868, he began singing in the boys’ choir at the local cathedral.
He was enrolled in the Instituto Musicale in 1872, but he once again proved to be restless and unworthy. At his mother’s insistence, he remained at the Instituto and started studying under Carlo Angeloni, professor of composition and counterpoint, in 1874.
Under the tutelage of Carlo Angeloni, Puccini began to compose music, and one of his songs for voice and piano, written in 1875, has survived till date. He also wrote a few pieces for organs, which could mean that he had started playing the organ in nearby village churches at this point.
On his teacher Angeloni’s advise, he went to Pisa with his friends to watch Giuseppe Verdi’s opera ‘Aida’ on 11 March 1876. The performance had a profound effect on him, inspiring him to write ‘Preludio senfonico for orchestra’.
In 1878, he was appointed as a piano player at the Royal Casino Ridotti at Bagni di Lucca. Once there, he also secured his first out-of-town commission when he was asked to write something for the Passion Week celebration at a local parish church. He wrote ‘Vexilla regis’ for the occasion, which earned him great acclaim.
In the late 1870s, Puccini wrote several compositions, which were highly appreciated. Soon, his mother realized that he now needed to study at a bigger institution for his advanced musical training. Subsequently, after receiving a grant from Queen Margherita and some financial assistance from his uncle Nicholas Cerù, he left for Milan.
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In October 1880, 22 years old Giacomo Pucchini reached Milan and appeared for an entrance examination at the Milan Conservatory in the same month. According to a letter written to his mother, he found the examination very easy and performed very well in it.
By early November 1880, he was told that he had been admitted to the Conservatory despite his age. Lodging with friends and relatives from Lucca, he began his classes; and by December 10, he had at least two lessons with Antonio Bazzini. However, his favorite teacher was Amilcare Ponchielli.
Since Pucchini was living away from home, he missed his family very much. He also found the food deplorable and his poetic and dramatic literature classes boring. His attention often flagged and he did not work steadily. He also began to frequently miss classes. Yet, Ponchielli continued to mentor him, as he considered him to be his best student.
Under Ponchielli’s guidance, Pucchini began to flourish, writing now-lost ‘Melanconia’ in 1881 and ‘Preludio Sinfonico’ in 1882. Thereafter, he continued to produce a series of compositions until he successfully graduated from the conservatory on July 16, 1883. He wrote ‘Capriccio sinfonica’ for his thesis composition.
On 14 July 1883, his work ‘Capriccio sinfonica’ was performed during a students’ concert at the conservatory. Conducted by Franco Faccio, the composition was favorably reviewed in Perseveranza, one of prime publications of Milan, building his reputation as a promising composer in the Milanese music circle.
After graduation, Giacomo Puccini had two options. He could either go back to Lucca and accept employment at the church or remain in Milan. Although he was in a dire financial condition, he decided to stay back in Milan, where he had begun to meet many well-known personalities.
His career began in 1883 when his work ‘Capriccio sinfonica’ was premiered at the famed La Scala with an orchestra. By then, he had also started working on his first opera ‘Le Villi’, which was meant for an opera competition, sponsored by music publisher Sonzogno. Its libretto was written by Italian journalist and dramatist Ferdinando Fontana.
Although ‘Le Villi’ failed to win the competition, it was successfully premiered on 31 May 1884 at the Teatro del Verme Theater. The work was later expanded on Giulio Ricordi’s advice and published by his company. Ricordi, who began to give Puccini a monthly stipend, eventually became his lifelong friend.
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Soon after Puccini completed his work on ‘Le Villi’, Ricordi commissioned him to write another opera. Very shortly, Fontana began to write the libretto of what later became known as ‘Edgar’; and while he was busy with that, Puccini had ‘Le Villi’ performed at La Scala on 24 January 1885.
‘Edgar’, which premiered on 21 April 1889 at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, was tepidly received. While Puccini later revised the work, it failed to change the audience’s reactions. The other board members of G. Ricordi & Co insisted on decreasing his stipend, but Ricordi continued to have faith in him.
After the failure of ‘Edgar, Ricordi sent Giacomo Puccini to Bayreuth to attend Wagner’s ‘Die Meistersinger’. The young musician returned with an inspiration for his next opera ‘Manon Lescaut’. Premiered on 1 February 1893, it became his greatest success. Buoyed by the achievement, he began to produce a series of operas.
His next opera 'La bohème', based on ‘Scènes de la vie de bohème’ by Henri Murger, premiered at the Teatro Regio, Turin, on 1 February 1896. Although the audience was a bit slow to appreciate his latest work, it became popular all over the country very quickly.
Puccini’s forth opera ‘Tosca’ was based on Victorien Sardou’s play ‘La Tosca’. He had been thinking of basing an opera on it ever since he saw the play in 1889. He finally received the rights in 1895. Premiered on 14 January 1900 at Teatro Costanzi, Rome, ‘Tosca’ was an immediate success.
His fifth opera, ‘Madam Butterfly’, based on John Luther Long's short story of the same name, was set in Japan. He had been working on it since the completion of ‘Tosca’, but it could not be premiered before 1904 because of his near fatal road accident on 25 February 1903.
‘Madam Butterfly’ was first premiered on 17 February 1904 at Teatro alla Scala in Milan. After its poor reception, Puccini revised the opera, and the second premier, held on 28 May 1904 in Brescia, proved to be a huge success. The work is part of the modern operatic repertoire until now.
After 1904, Giacomo Puccini considerably slowed down as a composer. He completed ‘La fanciulla del West’ (The Girl of the West) in 1910, which was based on David Belasco’s ‘The Girl of the Golden West’. Premiered at the Metropolitan Opera, New York on 10 December 1910, it was praised for its beautiful orchestration, becoming a huge success.
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He was commissioned to write a Viennese operetta by Carltheater, a well-known Viennese theatre, in autumn of 1913. Subsequently, he started working on ‘La rondine’, his seventh opera, and took more than two years to complete it.
‘La rondine’ was completed in the summer of 1916 amid the First World War. With Italy joining the Alliance against Austria-Hungary, the premiere could not be held in Vienna like it was earlier planned. It was shifted to Monte Carlo, where it was performed on 27 March 1917.
‘Il trittico: Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi’, a collection of three one-act operas, was his last opera to be premiered while he was alive. Some operas, which he had written in the beginning of the century, could not be performed before 14 December 1918 for various reasons.
Puccini’s last opera was ‘Turandot’. However, he died before he could finish it. Later in 1926, Italian composer and pianist Franco Alfano completed the work, basing it on sketches left by the legendary composer.
'La bohème', premiered in Turin in February 1886, is Giacomo Puccini’s first major work. Although the opera opened to a tepid response, it quickly gained momentum and was performed in Argentina and the USA as well. Since then, it has become part of the standard Italian opera repertory.
His second important work ‘Tosca’ was dismissed by many critics and musicologist when it first premiered in Rome in 1900. Today, however, it is considered one of his best works and remains one of the most frequently performed operas.
One of Puccini’s most notable works is ‘Madam Butterfly’. While its first version, premiered in Milan, was poorly received, it became very popular once he revised it by splitting Act II in two parts and converting the whole work into a three-act opera. Today, the opera is frequently performed around the world.
Family & Personal Life
Giacomo Puccini began a relationship with a married woman named Elvira Gemignani née Bonturi in the autumn of 1884. In 1886, she left her husband Narciso Gemignani, a chronic womanizer, and gave birth to Puccini’s son Antonia. Thereafter, she along with her daughter Fosca and newborn son Antonia, came to live with Puccini.
In February 1903, Elvira’s husband Narciso was murdered, and Puccini was free to marry her. The wedding took place sometime in early 1904. However, their marriage was also plagued by infidelity, as Puccini was having frequents affairs with well-known singers like Maria Jeritza, Emmy Destinn, Cesira Ferrani and Hariclea Darclée.
Around 1909, Elvira publicly accused him of having an affair with their maid-servant Doria, which led the humiliated girl to commit suicide. It caused a huge scandal, and Puccini’s wife even faced a jail-term for falsely accusing Doria. However, documents suggest that he might actually have been involved with the servant girl’s cousin.
Towards the end of 1923, Puccini began to complain of sore throat, which turned out to be a throat cancer. He was recommended radiation therapy treatment, which was still in its infancy. On 29 November 1924, he died of a heart attack, triggered from complications caused by the treatment.
Initially, Puccini was buried in Toscanini's family tomb in Milan. In 1926, his son moved his mortal remains to the chapel inside the Villa Puccini, now known as Villa Museo Puccini, at Torre del Lago. The villa is now open to public.
Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini in Lucca continues to carry his legacy forward by providing various resources to music enthusiasts who want to study the composer’s works.
At the time of his death, Puccini’s net worth was believed to be around $200 million.
Giacomo Puccini’s full name - Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini - was taken from the names of his four recent ancestors. All four of them, Giacomo, Antonio, Domenico and Michele Puccini, held the position of maestro di cappella at the Cattedrale di San Martino in Lucca.