Happy Birthday

giacomo Puccini, Puccini, Puccini operas

Happy Birthday, Giacomo Puccini, Opera Composer of 'Madame Butterfly'

December 22, 2009
by Isabel Cowles
The composer of such famous operas as “Manon Lescaut,” “La Bohème,” “Madame Butterfly” and “Turandot,” Giacomo Puccini’s talent and legacy continues to inspire and impress classical music fans around the world decades after the composer’s death. The richness and complexity of Puccini’s music underscored the drama of his life.

Giacomo Puccini's Early Days

Giacomo Puccini was born on December 22, 1858 in Tuscany to a family with five generations of musical history. When Puccini was just six years old, he lost his father, but it was assumed that the position as organist and Choir Master at San Martino Church would be his destiny.

One afternoon Puccini and his brother walked some 13 miles to see the new Verdi opera, “Aida,” performed in Pisa. The experience instantly inspired Puccini, who from then on determined to become an opera composer and abandon his post at the church.

With financial help from his family and an official scholarship, Puccini attended the music conservatory in Milan, where opera composers such as Antonio Bazzini and Amilcare Ponchielli were his instructors.

Puccini's Notable Accomplishments

While Puccini was a student, Ponchielli encouraged him to enter a competition for one-act operas. Puccini’s first work, “La Villi,” did not win the competition; nevertheless, it was produced the following year at La Scala opera house in Milan.

Puccini’s career was characterized by a series of ups and downs: despite the eventual success of his first piece, his second opera, “Edgar” (1889), was not a hit. But his third production, “Manon Lescaut” (1893), was a success and earned him international recognition.

Puccini’s next work, “La Bohème” (1896), was not initially popular. Critics found the piece too realistic and at the same time excessively sentimental, Columbia University explains. His next works, “Tosca” (1900) and “Madama Butterfly” (1904), earned him the highest acclaim of his career, but his success was marred by personal drama: Puccini’s wife accused him of having an affair with one of their young servants, who then committed suicide after the charges were made. Although an autopsy proved that both Puccini and his wife were innocent of foul play, the composer was deeply disturbed by the experience. 

Puccini wrote two additional operas before his death: the 1907 “The Girl of the Golden West,” set in California during the gold rush, and “Turnadot,” which was unfinished at his death on Nov. 29, 1924. The work was complseted posthumously and premiered in 1926. It remains one of his most popular operas.

Many of Puccini’s works are available for download through the classical music Web site Naxos.com, which also provides brief synopses of the composer’s major works.

The Rest of the Story

In honor of what would have been Puccini’s 150th birthday, Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times examines the composer’s technique, exploring the themes as well as the process that often marked Puccini’s music. Tommasini also examines Puccini’s dramatic personal life, which included several passionate love affairs. According to Tommasini, Puccini proudly referred to himself as a “mighty hunter of wild fowl, opera librettos and attractive [women].” Tommasini also notes that the composer’s works were the products of a somewhat tortured existence: “A lifelong procrastinator, [Puccini] could compose only during frenzied all-nighters, tanked up on coffee and cigarettes.”

Puccini’s passion for women has caused some controversy. A decade ago, Simonetta Puccini (formerly Giurumello) legally proved that she is the granddaughter of the famous composer, as the daughter of his son Antonio. Simonetta owns and runs Torre del Lago, Puccini’s Tuscan lakeside villa, and presides over a small museum, which displays Puccini’s piano, manuscripts, hunting gun and photos, The Guardian reports. Recently, a woman from Pisa named Nadia Manfredi has come forward, claiming that she is also related to the composer.

Most Recent Features