Tag: opera

Giacomo Puccini

Earlier this fall I saw two works by Giacomo Puccini at the Met Opera.  First, what I thought of as an old standard, La Boheme, in a surprisingly fresh and charming production.  Then, La Fanciulla del West, which I remembered as dull but which turned out to be really interesting musically.  Reflecting on these operas, I realized I didn’t know very much about Puccini’s life, so I did some reading.

Puccini was born in 1858 in Lucca.  For generations his family had been organists and composers linked to Lucca’s main cathedral.  Giacomo was expected to follow in this tradition and though initially an indifferent student, by the age of 14 he was an organist at the cathedral.  The story goes that after seeing a production of Aida in Pisa in 1876, he developed a passion for composing, threw himself into his studies and was admitted to the Conservatory in Milan in 1880.  (In those years he lived with Pietro Mascagni in a form of gayly artistic poverty which one can imagine as the source for the backdrop of La Boheme.)  His first opera was La Villi, which had a mixed reception with the public but brought him to the attention of the music publisher Giulio Ricordi who commissioned new operas from Puccini and supported him financially.  Puccini’s first major success was Manon Lescaut, followed by the “big three” operas:  La Boheme, Tosca and Madama Butterfly.  Later would come La Fanciulla, Il Trittico and eventually Turandot.  He died in 1924 in Brussels after treatment for throat cancer.  Puccini had become famous and financially secure.  He had travelled the world to see productions of his operas but his favorite place would remain his house at Torre del Lago, near Viareggio, where his remains are today.

The most interesting biographical info regards his personal life which was somewhat operatic in its drama.  In 1904 he married Elvira Gemignani with whom he had been in a relationship since 1884 – when their affair started she was married to someone else.  Of course, Giacomo was involved with other women and Elvira was unhappy and jealous.  In 1909 she publicly accused a servant, Doria,  of having an affair with her husband.  Doria, distraught, committed suicide and then it was proven that she was a virgin…  Her family brought charges of slander against Elvira, who was sent away to Milan by Giacomo.  Elvira was tried but in the interim Giacomo took her back and paid off Doria’s family and the charges were dropped.  Sound like the plot of an opera?

Rossini’s La donna del lago

The composer Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) was born into a musical family:  his father was a musician and his mother an opera singer.  He enrolled in music school in 1806 and was already composing operas as a very young man.  He is probably best-known for his comic operas such as Il barbiere di Siviglia – despite its opening night in 1816 being a famous fiasco.  Most of his later compositions, however, were in the opera seria tradition.  He wrote many of these for Naples’ Teatro San Carlo and La donna del lago (1819) was among them.  The story is based on a poem written by Sir Walter Scott in 1810.  The setting is Scotland during a rebellion by highland clans against King James V who is wandering the countryside disguised as Hubert. He meets Ellen, the daughter of one of his enemies.  She’s in love with one man, her father has promised her to another, the disguised king seems to be making advances on her, there’s a battle and, strangely enough, it all ends happily.  It’s a romantic story and the music is lush and melodious.  The Metropolitan Opera is now staging its first production of this opera starring (the fabulous) Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez. You can see it on various dates through the next few weeks at the opera house itself or at a movie theater:  the March 14th matinee will be simulcast.