Giacomo Puccini, christened with the forenames Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria in 1858, inherited with these names the long musical traditions of his family. Resident in Lucca, the earlier Giacomo Puccini, born there in 1712, served as organist at S. Martino and directed the Cappella Palatina until his death in 1781, when he was succeeded by his son Antonio, born in 1747, who had assisted his father also at S. Martino and, like his father, was a member of the distinguished Bologna Accademia Filarmonica. His son Domenico, born in 1772, directed the Cappella di Camera from 1806, after the disbanding of the earlier Cappella Palatina by Napoleon�s sister, Elise Baciocchi, who became Regent of Lucca in 1805. Domenico Puccini died suddenly in 1815 and was outlived by his father, who died in 1832. Domenico Puccini�s son Michele, born in 1813, was taught by his grandfather Antonio and served in Lucca as a teacher and later director at the Istituto Musicale Pacini and as organist at S. Martino. It was his son Giacomo who brought much wider fame to the family.
Earlier generations of the Puccini family had been largely concerned with church music, although they had also composed movements for dramatic Tasche, composite choral and instrumental works to mark the biennial elections in Lucca. Domenico, while continuing the tradition of church music and Tasche, also turned his fuller attention to opera, a form attempted only briefly by his son Michele. Family tradition suggested that Giacomo Puccini should remain in the restricted musical world of Lucca, but his ambitions were to turn in another direction, when he moved to Milan to pursue his operatic ambitions.
The position of organist at S. Martino was generally regarded as the hereditary right of the Puccini family and in 1864, after his father�s death, it was decreed by the city fathers that Puccini�s uncle Fortunato Magi, a pupil of Michele Puccini, should hold the position until Giacomo was old enough to assume it. His early studies were with Magi, before he found, at the Istituto Pacini, a more stimulating teacher in another of his father�s old pupils, Carlo Angeloni, who also inspired in his pupil an abiding interest in hunting and shooting. Puccini had been a chorister at S. Martino and S. Michele from the age of ten and began to undertake duties as an organist when he was fourteen. These last led him to write music for the organ, but it was a visit to Pisa in 1876 to attend a performance of Verdi�s Aida that finally changed the direction of his future career. In 1880 he completed his studies in Lucca, graduating with his Messa di Gloria. In the autumn of that year he began his three years of study at the Milan Conservatory.
In 1884 his opera Le Villi won some success, but it was with Manon Lescaut in 1893 that his reputation seemed finally established. This was followed by a succession of operas, La boh�me in 1896, Tosca in 1900, Madama Butterfly in 1904, to be followed by La fanciulla del West in 1910, La rondine in 1917 and Il trittico the following year. These retain their central part in Italian operatic repertoire. His last opera, Turandot, in which he sought a new challenge, was unfinished at the time of his death in 1924, but enough had been written for the work to be completed by Franco Alfano and staged in 1926.
Il trittico (The Triptych) consists, as its title suggests, of three short operas. The first of these, Il tabarro (The Cloak), was based on a play that Puccini had seen in Paris, Le houppelande, by Didier Gold, a work that he described as almost Grand Guignol, a story of love, jealousy and murder. The second of the group, Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) is set in a convent, providing a contrast with the low life of Il tabarro. Here Sister Angelica learns from the Princess, her aunt, of the death of the son she had borne, his birth and her disgrace the reason for her entry into a convent. She brews poison, to kill herself, but is saved in death by her own repentance. The third opera of the trilogy, Gianni Schicchi, again deals with death, but now in a comic context comparable to that of Ben Jonson�s Volpone. The three operas were first given at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in 1918, followed shortly afterwards by the Italian premi�re in Rome.
The story of Gianni Schicchi is referred to in a passage in Dante�s Inferno, Canto XXX. The reference in Dante is brief enough, but is expanded in an anonymous commentary from the fourteenth century, recounting a popular story current in Tuscany. This explains how Gianni Schicchi is brought in to replace the dead Buoso Donati by the latter�s relatives and make a will favourable to them. Schicchi cheats the family by dictating a will that leaves the greater part to himself, a testament they cannot dispute without revealing their own complicity in the original plot.
The libretto of Puccini�s opera is by Giovacchino Forzano, who had started his career as a singer, before turning to journalism. He was also the author of Suor Angelica and of a number of other operatic texts set by composers including Mascagni, Giordano, Wolf-Ferrari and Leoncavallo. He served as stage director at La Scala, where he mounted Boito�s Nerone in 1924 and the first performance of Turandot in 1926, continuing a career as a writer and in the theatre. He died in 1970.
ReviewsEvery detail counts, and that perfect balance comes trough more or less intact in Alexander Rahbari's conducting in this likeable performance. - Andrew Clements, Guardian, January 2004