Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924) is the most popular of all the operatic masters, and his works have had an enduring presence on stages from the late 19th century through the present. We know and love Puccini—but there is so much more to learn about him. Through films and recordings, Saul Lilienstein delves beyond the familiar to examine fascinating aspects of the life, career, and creative genius of this most famed and favorite of opera composers.
OCT 17 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Puccini was born into a family of church musicians, but after hearing Verdi’s Aida at 15 he longed for a life in the theatre. His one-act opera Le villi was successful; his full-length work, Edgar, followed and failed. Yet the seeds of triumphs to come were firmly planted.
OCT 24 Refining His Craft
With Manon Lescaut, Puccini took on the challenge of Massenet’s popular opera Manon and filled the same story with Italian passion and great melodies. La Boheme came next, introducing an intimate and sensuous style reflecting the emotional lives of ordinary people.
OCT 31 The Creative Process
The new century began for Puccini with the shocking dramatic realism of Tosca. Madame Butterfly failed before a revised version succeeded and captured worldwide audiences. Comparing the two offers a chance to examine the composer at his craft and a glimpse into his creative process.
NOV 7 An American Debut
La fanciulla del West is Puccini’s “American” opera: It is set in California and premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1910. Its score intermingles influences of Gold Rush-era folk songs with Italian lyricism and the harmonies the composer absorbed from Debussy’s impressionist innovations. La rondine was an attempt to incorporate the style of Viennese operetta within an Italian opera. It did not succeed, but its lush melodies are cherished today.
NOV 14 Puccini’s Emotional Range
Puccini snapped back in 1918 with Il trittico, an evening of three short operas. From Il tabarro’s violent melodrama to the Christian mysticism of Suor Angelica to the brilliant comedy of Gianni Schicchi, the trio showcases the composer’s astounding emotional range and his powers of invention.
NOV 21 His Final Work
Turandot takes place in ancient China, but Puccini’s score reflected his modern world. The orchestration and choral writing is strikingly inventive and the contemporary innovations he heard in the music of Debussy and Stravinsky are here—yet individual voices are encouraged to soar in thrilling arias such as “Nessun Dorma.” Turandot was left incomplete at Puccini’s death in 1924. Why couldn’t he finish it? Is there a satisfactory performing solution among the posthumous attempts? The concluding session addresses and perhaps answers these questions.
Photo caption: Giacomo Puccini, ca. 1908, by A. Dupont (Library of Congress)
If you enjoy programming led by Saul Lilienstein, learn about an 8-part series on Leonard Bernstein he is leading at Levine Music.