Opera Omaha’s The Girl of the Golden West is Feb. 12 & 14, 2016 at the Orpheum Theater. Learn more about the man behind the music, Giacomo Puccini
Giacomo Antonia Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in on the 22nd of December 1858 in the town of Lucca, Tuscany. One of nine children, Giacomo Puccini was part of a musical dynasty established by his great-great grandfather, who was also named Giacomo. For two centuries the family had been tightly enveloped in the musical life of the Cathedral of San Martino in Lucca, acting as both musicians and musical directors. The young Puccini began his musical education at an early age, as a result of his family’s business. First tutored by his uncles, Giacomo would also study under the composers Antonio Bazzini and Amilcare Ponchielli at the Milan Conservatory. Shortly after the death of his mother in 1884, Puccini moved to Monza, a town near Milan, bringing with him his sweetheart, Elvira Gemignani, who happened to be married to another man. In 1886 Puccini and Elvira had a son, Antonio, and the family increased again in size as Elvira’s daughter, Fosca, came to live with the pair. In 1891 the family moved to Torre del Lago, a fishing village in Tuscany, where Giacomo and Elvira were legally married in 1904, following the death of her previous husband. Although the union would continue to be riddled with affairs, Puccini found a personal refuge in the Italian countryside, where he could freely drive automobiles and pursue his love of hunting. In 1924 another passion of Puccini’s would become the cause of his death—a longtime consumption of Toscano cigars and cigarettes resulted in the development of a serious throat cancer. Following a difficult surgery, Giacomo Puccini passed away on November 29 in Brussels, clutching the incomplete score of his famed Turandot.
The latter half of the 19th century saw the rise of new political powers and technological innovations. While Giacomo Puccini was only a boy in Lucca, the world was fraught with war and other movements of violence. 1860 saw the onset of the American Civil War, which would be carried out over a bloody five years on the western side of the Atlantic. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln would occur in 1865, and London would be terrorized by a string of murders attributed to Jack the Ripper in 1888. Although the growing international influence of the British, Russian, and German Empires, as well as the United States, clearly marks the intensifying struggles for power, which would give way to World Wars I and II, the late 19th century also saw notable human achievements. The Suez Canal between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea was opened in 1869. The first commercial automobile was sold by Karl Benz in 1886 and construction on the Statue of Liberty was begun that same year. Dialogue raised by the American Civil War and European colonialism led to the abolition of legal slavery. Artists and composers such as Van Gogh, Wagner and Tchaikovsky were creating masterworks, and significant works of literature were produced by Oscar Wilde, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and H.G. Wells among others. With the rise of the 20th century came the invention of the airplane by the Wright brothers in 1903 and the first television broadcast in 1909. Yet this period of giddy innovation and invention was brought to a halt with the onset of World War I in 1914. Despite the tumultuous social atmosphere in Europe at this time, made even more volatile by the growth of nationalist policies, Puccini remained stoutly indifferent towards politics of any sort.
A predominant composer of late-Romantic Opera, Puccini is best known for his famous works La Bohème and Madama Butterfly, as well as Tosca and Turandot, although these account for only four of his twelve operatic creations. Puccini also wrote sacred and secular music for orchestra and chamber ensembles, as well as songs for voice and piano. Among these, the mass Messa di Gloria and string quartet Crisantemi are perhaps the most notable. Of course, connections between all of Puccini’s works are simple to find, as the composer often made use of a single melody in multiple works; transcribing and transposing the figure to suite his needs. While it is tempting to think of this compositional methodology as a sort of self-plagiarism, it was in fact a practice utilized by many composers at the time.