It's long, but worth it!! There is LOTS of information here that I've seen in bits and pieces elsewhere.
Here we go...
BIOGRAPHY OF GIACOMO PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Giacomo Puccini was born on December 22th, 1858 in Lucca, Toscana. He was Michele Puccini (1813-1864) and Albina Magi's (1831-1884) sixth child and was baptized with the name of Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo María Puccini. Giacomo belonged to the fifth generation of the remarkable Puccini dynasty which gave the Republic and the Church many composers and organists.
When Giacomo was six years old, his father died and left a widow and seven orphans in poverty. The local authorities of Lucca gave the organist’s job to his uncle Fortunato Magi on the condition that he cede it to Giacomo Puccini when he was prepared. Puccini began his music lessons with his uncle Fortunato, the director of the Instituto musicale Pacini, and then with his Uncle’s teacher, Carlo Angeloni. Since he was a child, Puccini sang in the choir of the Cathedral of San Matino and the church of San Michele, and then at 14 he was able to fill in as organist in the neighborhood.
In 1876, when he was 18 years old, he made an 18-kilometre journey on foot from Lucca to Pisa to see a performance of "Aida". On this occasion he discovered of the world of opera and his future was decided. That same year he composed "Prelude in e minor for orchestra" and in 1877 "Plaudite Populi" for baritone, chorus and orchestra, followed by "Credo" in 1878.
With a scholarship from Queen Margherita and the financial aid of a family, Puccini entered the Milan Conservatory in 1880. Although he was over the age limit for entrance — he was 22 years old — he received good enough marks in the entrance examination to be accepted into the senior composition class. The first year he studied with the famous composer and violinist Antonio Bazzini, one of the few Italian musicians with a European background. Puccini composed a string quartet for him in the style of Mendelssohn. The next year he began study with Ponchielli. Ponchielli, composer of the opera "La Gioconda", awakened Puccini's interest in the theatre and encouraged him to compose operas. He did all he could to develop and promote Puccini's career as an opera composer.
In addition to the lessons with his principal teacher Ponchielli, Puccini had the chance in Milan to rub elbows with illustrious interpreters of the time. The encounters and conversations with them were most interesting. His young intelligence was enriched considerably by the performances that he witnessed. In fact, his true passion for opera had already begun when he went to Pisa to see the performance of Verdi's Aida.
The fruits of his study at the Conservatory were Preludio Sinfonico and Capriccio Sinfonico, with which he graduated in 1883 with the degree "Maestro di Musica". Both works show rich orchestral imagination and his characteristic harmony and melody.
Franchetti, Mascagni and Puccini
Through Ponchielli, Puccini met his first librettist, Ferdinando Fontana. Their first collaboration was "Le Villi". Puccini wrote this opera while still a student to participate in a competition announced by Sonzogno in 1882. Although he failed to win, this opera attract the attention of Giulio Ricordi who not only published the score, but also arranged the première at Teatro del Verme in Milán. The première was so successful that the Teatro della Scala accepted it for the following season. With this production Ricordi established a lasting relationship with Puccini and commissioned him to compose his second opera, "Edgar".
At the age of 25, Puccini met Elvira, the wife of a rich merchant of Lucca, who decided to exchange her safe bourgeois existence for the freedom of an artist’s life. She left Lucca with her daughter to live together with Puccini at Monza. Puccini's only son, Antonio, was born on December 23rd 1886. Elvira, who was endowed with both beauty and a strong will, endured all kinds of criticism from a strict Catholic society and took upon herself the impoverished life she chose. Nevertheless, the relationship could not be legalized until 1904, after the death of her husband.
After almost 4 years of work, Puccini's second opera, "Edgar", was premiered in 1889. However it was not a success due to a weak libretto. Puccini had to revise the score several times. This failure was a hard blow for Puccini because he was 31 years old and another failure would mean the end of his career. His publisher, Giulio Ricordi, told him "Remember, Puccini, you are at the most difficult moment of your artist life.... I will not allow you to stagnate .... We must stop torturing ourselves, start working and attempt to find a good subject and a good librettist."
The composer wrote on April 3rd 1890 to his younger brother Michele, who was in Argentina: "If you could find a way for me to earn money, I would join you. Are there any possibilities? I'll give up all I have here. Write me frequently and tell me everything you are doing. .... I worked until 3 o'clock at the early morning yesterday and then ate a meal consisting of a few onions. The theaters here are stingy and the audiences are getting more and more difficult to please. May God help me. I'm prepared to go if you write me. However, I need money for the trip, I warn you." His brother's letter avoided the trip. Michele wrote: "Don't come here. You can not imagine what has happened to me. I have been working like a slave without being able to save any money because of the high cost of living..."
What Puccini did to change his life was to redouble his efforts, this time with "Manon Lescaut". In order to not repeat the mistake he made with "Edgar", Puccini worked with eight librettists (including Ricordi and himself). It was the first time that he picked his own subject, although Ricordi wanted him to change his mind because of fear of comparison with Massenet. , Puccini wanted to translate what Massenet expressed in a French way into Italian terms - with desperate passion. Its première was an immense success which spread outside of Italy. At this glorious moment, the composer told a friend, "I think I understand well the operatic language and the operatic stage. I'm sure I'll succeed in this art." "Manon Lescaut" made Puccini a well-known composer throughout the world. It was performed within a few years in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, St. Petersburg, Madrid and Hamburg, and then in London, Lisbon, Budapest, Prague, Philadelphia, etc. Puccini's financial circumstances were changed completely and allowed him to build his own villa in Torre del Lago.
After the immense successful première of "Manon Lescaut", Puccini wanted to take his brother back to Italy. However this intention was not to be fulfilled. Michele's death was a mystery; the details remain unknown and Puccini, at least in the public eye, never talked about it. On one occasion, Puccini confessed "I always feel melancholy and with a heavy heart. I have no reason for it, but this is how I feel." There are many reasons to suppose that this melancholy had its origin in the loss of his father. The death of his brother in a dramatic condition also left a scar in his heart.
Puccini produced his operas at great intervals because of his fastidiousness in choosing subjects. He was extremely fussy with the text, seldom satisfied, and paid close attention to small nuances so that the delivery of the words and the logical order of the sentences conformed with his wishes. Puccini also involved himself in many matters relating to the production of his operas, from selecting singers and conductors to supervising rehearsals. He did all he could to be present at all the rehearsals and performances. After "Manon Lescaut", the problem of librettists was solved by Ricordi. He secured for Puccini the team of Luigi Illica, who worked out the plot and drafted the dialogue, and Giuseppe Giacosa, who put the lines into verse. The first fruit of their collaboration was "La Bohème", based on Henry Murger's novel "Scènes de la vie de Bohème."
Puccini and Toscanini
At first, his colleague, Leoncavallo, offered him the libretto, but Puccini, probably thinking that it couldn't be good enough, declined it, and suggested that he set it to music himself. That was exactly what Leoncavallo did, and this led Puccini to decide to compose the opera after all. Although Puccini had a comfortable life at Torre del Lago, and enjoyed the companionship of his friends in the village - they founded the "Club la Bohème" - the composer worked as quickly as his librettists did. The opera was premiered before Leoncavallo's. Although Puccini preferred a more famous conductor, he accepted Ricordi's recommendation of a young musical director of the Teatro Regio, Arturo Toscanini. The premiere was a success, but not so great as "Manon Lescaut". The critics gave this opera a cool reception. Nevertheless, the public took to La Bohème more and more enthusiastically with each performance and finally the maestro triumphed with the production in Palermo. This opera was acclaimed in the biggest theatres of the world within two years, even if it took a few seasons longer to become established in Vienna. Gustav Mahler, who had just joined the Vienna Court Opera as conductor, was sent to Venice in May 1897 to hear the world premiere of Leoncavallo’s and a performance of Puccini’s Bohème. He reported back to the director of the opera that Puccini’s version was by far the better of the two works ("One measure of Puccini is worth more than all of Leoncavallo"), however director Jahn was on good terms with Leoncavallo and had already decided to produce Leoncavallo’s version. After Mahler took over as director of the Court Opera, he produced Puccini’s Bohème in 1903.
In 1889 Fontano, the librettist of "Le Villi" and Edgar", suggested "La Tosca" to Puccini as the subject of a new opera, but it took time for the publisher Ricordi to arrange for the rights to the play. While negotiations proceeded, Puccini worked on "Manon Lescaut" and "La Bohème". Since the author of "La Tosca", Victorien Sardou, didn't like Puccini's music — in fact, he only listened to fragments of "Le Villi" and "Edgar" — Ricordi acquired the play for Alberto Franchetti, Puccini's rival, and Luigi Illica. At first, Puccini was not so interested in "Tosca" because he still had qualms about the subject matter, but the interview of Franchetti and Illica with Sardou in Paris, and the assistance of Verdi there, awakened Puccini's interest, and he decided that he wanted to compose Tosca after all. This may have been what Ricordi had intended, believing that Puccini would have more success. At last, Ricordi diplomatically dissuaded Franchetti from setting it to music, which left Puccini free to compose the opera with Illica as librettist.
Although Puccini had to interrupt his work for trips abroad to supervise rehearsals and be present at performances of "Manon Lescaut" and "La Bohème", he continued the composition, including going to Rome to listen to the church bells in the early morning, talking to priests about details of the liturgy of the "Te Deum", and consulting Luigi Zanazzo, poet and librarian, for the lines of the shepherd's song. The premiere was successful, and like "Manon Lescaut" and "La Bohème", this piece became one of the best-known operas in the repertory of the major opera houses of the world.
David Belasco's play "Madama Butterfly" left a deep impression on Puccini when he saw it in London, 1900, although the composer didn't understand English. The following year Puccini sent an Italian translation of the story to Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa with whom he convinced Ricordi to undertake this project. The work was complicated by Giacosa's health problems in May 1901 and the automobile accident in which Puccini was involved on February 25, 1903. The maestro was confined to a wheel chair for 8 months and then he was diagnosed with diabetes, from which he would never completely recover. However, Puccini returned to composing as soon as he could. In the course of composition, he became more and more interested in all about Japan, including discussed with the wife of the Japanese ambassador about the authentic motives of Japanese folk songs, and consulted Japanese actresses on tour in Milan about the details of Butterfly's behavior.
Nevertheless, the première did not enjoy the success that Puccini expected. It was a fiasco. Puccini said: "It was a real lynching. Those cannibals didn't listen to one note. What a horrible orgy of madmen, drunk with hate! But my Butterfly will not die. It is the most deeply felt and imaginative opera I have yet conceived."
Immediately Puccini and his librettists started working and revising the whole opera. The second act was divided into two parts and some details were eliminated from the first one. The revised version was a great success.
When Puccini arrived in Argentina in 1905, he was not the struggling young artist with the foolish idea of emigrating to escape poverty, but rather a famous and successful maestro who would soon be present at performances of his five operas - "Edgar", "Manon Lescaut", La Bohème", "Madama Butterfly" and "Tosca" - under the musical direction of Leopoldo Mugnone and Arturo Toscanini.
One of the reasons for the silence of six years between the premières of "Madama Butterfly" and "La Fanciulla del West" was the death of a servant girl named Doria Manfredi. The friendship which developed between the composer and this girl led to rumors in the village and incited his wife's jealousy. At last, the maestro went away to Rome, supposedly for musical reasons. A short time after his departure, on January 28th 1909, Doria committed suicide by taking poison. The post mortem examination certified her virginity. Thereupon Elvira, Mrs. Puccini, was condemned to prison for several months for libel and the couple was fined a large sum for damages and injury.
Puccini, Toscanini, David Belasco, and Guilio Gatti Casazzo
When Puccini went to America in 1907 to attend the rehearsals and premières of his four operas at the Metropolitan Opera, he was looking for a new subject for his next opera and took the opportunity to see several plays while staying in New York, including three by David Belasco. One was "Madama Butterfly" and the other was "La Fancuilla del West". The history of the West impressed him, and after his friend Sybil Seligman had translated the play into Italian, he decided to use it as the basis for his new opera. At that time, one of his old librettists, Giuseppe Giacosa, had died, and conflicts with the other, Luigi Illica, led him to engage a new collaborator, Carlo Zangarini. Nevertheless, Zangarini completed only two acts and Puccini had to seek help from Guelfo Civinini, who wrote the third act according to the composer's suggestions and revised all that Zangarini had written. The orchestration was finished in July, 1910, and Puccini and his son, Tonio, sailed to New York for the première, which was a great success. The music of "La Fanciulla del West" is the most progressive and most modern that Puccini had written. Within a short time, the opera was premiered in Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, etc. and was performed at the Met in the following three seasons.
1912 was a sad year for Puccini. The publisher, Giulio Ricordi, who had encouraged and promoted his opera career, died. Puccini’s favorite sister, Ramelda, also died the same year.
Since Offenbach, all composers have tried, at least once, to summon the joyful muse and have attempted an operetta. In truth, Puccini didn't want to compose just an operetta, but a tragic operetta. He said in a letter "I still want to make the audience cry." In the autumn of 1913 Puccini accepted a commission for an operetta from the directors of the Vienna Karltheater. The result was "La Rondine", and it was called "Commedia Lirica", a light-hearted work, with a conversational tone and lyric mood. Some consider it the weakest of his operas because of the lack of the pure Puccinian lyrical melody. The entrance of Italy to the Alliance in the World War I prevented the première of "La Rondine" in Vienna. At last, it was premiered in Monte Carlo in 1917.
The idea of joining various works in an only one constitute an expression of originality. The beginnings belong to a slow process to abandon little by little the conservative world from which Puccini had arisen. "Il Tabarro", "Suor Angelica" and "Gianni Schicchi" remain, with all their harsh realism, sentiment and calmness, a fascinating theatrical idea. For the composer, who started work on "Il Tabarro" in his 50s and completed the project happily with "Gianni Schicchi" in his 60s, this opera represented an important expression of his art.
The première took place in New York because the majority of the artists in Italy were in military service, and operatic life suffered because of this. How he wished that his opera could have been premiered "at home"! He could not travel to the United States, since travel in Europe was dangerous because of mines, and it was also difficult to get a visa. In spite of the absence of the composer, the premiere of "Il Trittico" was a triumphant success, especially "Gianni Schicchi".
During the two years after "Il Trittico", Puccini could not find a subject for a new opera. Various projects were considered. He began setting to music "Christopher Sly" by Giovacchino Forzano, but then gave it up. This desperate situation changed when a conversation turned to "Turandot" during a lunch with Giuseppe Adami, the librettist of "La Rondine" and "Il Tabarro", and Renato Simoni, who had adapted it for the stage. Puccini started working with his librettists, created characters with humanity and deep psychology, and also retained the "Commedia dell'Arte" in the three masks: Ping, Pang, Pong.
The composer began the first act on January 1st 1921, and completed the orchestration in November 1922. While he was working on the orchestration of the second act at the end of 1923, pains in his throat and persistent coughs began to give him trouble. However, the maestro decided to ignore it. In February 1924 he completed the second act. During the following months he worked fast on the orchestration of the third act up to the death of Liù. When the pains were more and more intense, Puccini decided consulting doctors. At first the diagnosis was rheumatic inflammation of the throat. In the autumn of 1924, Puccini began working with Toscanini, who was to be the conductor of the première.
Nevertheless, the two scenes beyond Liù's death were not written, because Puccini wanted to await the definite text of the duet of Turandot and Calaf to compose the transformation of Turandot's personality. On October 8th 1924, two days before he was diagnosed as having throat cancer, the disease that killed him a few weeks laterPuccini accepted, at last, Adami's fourth version of the text of the duet. The composer was sent to a clinic in Brussels on November 4th. There, he continued to work on "Turandot". He was operated on the 24th of the same month, but five days later, he died of heart failure.
When the maestro died on November 29th 1924, he left many pages of drafts for duet and the last scenes of Turandot. Toscanini wanted Riccardo Zandonai to complete this opera, but Puccini's son Tonio objected because he thought Zandonai was too famous. Finally they entrusted it to Franco Alfano who completed the opera six months later.
On the night of the première, after Liù's death when the chorus sang, "Liù, bontà perdona! Liù, docezza, dormi! Oblia! Liù! Poesia!", Toscanini laid down his baton, while the curtain was lowered slowly, and faced the audience with the words "Here ends the opera, because at this point the Maestro died".
The version that Alfano completed was given at the second performance. After Puccini's death, the question of whether "Turandot" should be performed as an incomplete opera or in Alfano's version was still undecided.
Two years after his death, Puccini’s remains were moved to the village of Torre del Lago, where the Puccini museum now stands.