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The Knowledge > Composers > Puccini

Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924)

The most important Italian opera composer in the generation after Verdi, Puccini was born in Lucca of a musical family.

He studied piano with his uncle and was, later, educated at the Milan Conservatoire under Ponchielli and Buzzini.

He began his career as a composer of opera with "Le Villi", but his real success began with the production of "Manon Lescaut" in 1893.

In all Puccini wrote twelve operas, but died before he could complete the last, "Turandot".

His talent and originality were outstanding and he became famous for his melodic writing, dramatic harmonies and theatrical skill.

His compositions have remained in the regular repertory of the world’s opera houses.

The Works

The opera Manon Lescaut, using the full name of the heroine of the 18th century Abbè Prèvost's novel to distinguish the work from Massenet's treatment of the same subject, won great success.

Manon, seduced by the old Gèronte, returns to her former lover, Des Grieux, but is betrayed to the authorities and transported to America, where she dies in the arms of her lover.

La Bohème, first staged in 1896, centres on the love of Mimì and the poet Rodolfo in the Latin Quarter of Paris, a story of innocent love, betrayal and the final death of the heroine.

Tosca, staged first in Rome in 1900, deals with the love of the singer Tosca for the painter Cavaradossi, their implication in revolutionary activities and death through the machinations of the wicked police-chief Scarpia, himself murdered by Tosca.

Madama Butterfly is a story of love betrayed, the innocent Japanese heroine of the title deserted by her faithless American husband and finally compelled to suicide.

La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) is set in a slightly improbable Wild West, while the triptych, Il Trittico, three short operas, attempts a change of mood.

The last opera, Turandot, based on an Oriental fantasy by the 18th century dramatist Gozzi, makes inappropriate use of Chinese melodies, but is a moving study of the love of the suitor Prince Calaf for the icy-hearted and cruel Princess Turandot.

All ends happily, but not before moments of suspense, marked by the famous tenor aria Nessun dorma (Let no-one sleep).

Some of the musical material of a particularly poignant moment in Manon Lescaut appears in a set of pieces for string quartet by Puccini, Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums), part of a very small output of instrumental music, little of which was published by the composer.

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