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Giacomo Puccini

Biography

Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924) is one of the most popular opera composers of all time. His operas are famed worldwide for the drama and pathos of their plots, for their wonderful melodies and for the wealth of great roles they provide singers.

Puccini was born in Lucca to a family of church musicians. In 1880 he moved to Milan to study at the Milan Conservatory. The city proved a defining influence on his career, and he attended many opera performances at La Scala. Puccini wrote his first opera, the one-act Le villi, for the Sonzogno Competition. The judges rejected the work, but its successful first performance in 1884 led Italy’s top music publisher, Giulio Ricordi, to take Puccini on. During this period Puccini became deeply involved with the married Elvira Bonturi, with whom he had a son in 1886. The couple were only able to marry after the death of Elvira’s husband in 1904.

Puccini’s second opera, Edgar (1889) was a failure, but he scored a major triumph with Manon Lescaut (1893), his first mature work. While completing Manon Lescaut, Puccini began a fruitful collaboration with librettists Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica, with whom he wrote arguably his three greatest operas: La bohème (1896), Tosca (1900) and Madama Butterfly (1904). All three are now among the most performed operas in the repertory. Following the death of Giacosa in 1906 Puccini struggled to find new subjects and collaborators. However, he continued to create impressive works, including the dramatic ‘Wild West’ opera La fanciulla del West (1910), the tender ‘lyric comedy’ La rondine (1917) and his most ambitious project, the three one-act operas that make up Il trittico (1918). Il trittico marked Puccini’s only large-scale foray into comedy, with the hilarious Gianni Schicchi closing the triptych.

Puccini’s last years were spent working on his final opera Turandot, set in ancient China. The score, laced with traditional Chinese melodies, is one of Puccini’s most skilful and brilliant. Sadly, Puccini never completed the final act – he died of throat cancer while working on the final love duet in 1924. Turandot had its premiere two years later, in a version completed by Franco Alfano.

Videos

News and features

The satirical stories that inspired La bohème

The satirical stories that inspired La bohème

12 July 2014

Henry Murger's tales are a far cry from the soaring romanticism of Puccini's opera.

How to Stage an Opera: the ugliness of Manon Lescaut

How to Stage an Opera: the ugliness of Manon Lescaut

1 July 2014

Why Jonathan Kent and Paul Brown’s production focuses on the ugly side of Puccini’s opera.

Who was Abbé Prévost?

Who was Abbé Prévost?

16 June 2014

The man who created Manon Lescaut was, like his heroine, full of contradictions.

Louisiana's mysterious desert: a convenient inaccuracy in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut

Louisiana's mysterious desert: a convenient inaccuracy in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut

5 June 2014

What the climax of Puccini's opera tells us about historical European attitudes to America.

Manon Lescaut: A ‘Frankenstein's monster’ of an opera that proved to be Puccini's first major success

Manon Lescaut: A ‘Frankenstein's monster’ of an opera that proved to be Puccini's first major success

28 May 2014

The composer's third opera met with acclaim, despite a turbulent genesis.

Opera Essentials: Manon Lescaut

Opera Essentials: Manon Lescaut

22 May 2014

A quick guide to Puccini's first triumph.

Photos