Composer of some of the most influential and significant operas of all time, Giacomo Puccini, was born on December 22, 1858 in Tuscany to an established musical family. His ancestor of the same name was maestro di cappella for the Cattedrale di San Martino.

Once his grandfather passed on the title went to his son Antonio, and when he died the job went to Antonio’s son Domenico and finally Domenico’s son Michele, who was Puccini’s father. Their reign as maestro di cappella lasted for over a century. It was with our subject Giacomo Puccini where that control had to be taken away. When his father died Puccini was only six years old.

The maestro position went to someone else but Puccini would still be involved with the Cattedrale di San Martino as a boys choir member. This change in the norm would lend to the world having experienced one of the greatest composers to have ever lived.

We would like to pay homage to Giacomo Puccini and his many masterful works.

Le Villi

This Puccini work is an opera-ballet that is performed in two acts. The libretto was written by Ferdinando Fontana. The plot was inspired by Les Willis, a short story by Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. This short story was inspired by the story of vila, or Slavic tales of nymphs, which were also the inspiration for the beloved ballet Giselle.

Originally a one-act opera Le Villi was premiered on May 31, 1884 at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan. The importance of this piece is that it was the first work of Puccini’s to be staged. Puccini originally wrote it in one-act for a contest of one-act operas held by Sonzongno, publisher of the periodical Il teatro illustrato.

In ratings though Le Villi did not fare well and it is said the reason may be because the composer wrote it so quickly that the score is difficult to read. Yet Puccini found an ally in librettist Arrigo Boito who financially backed this first opera. After a positive reaction to Le Villi was published by Giulio Ricordi.

The opera starts with a family and their friends dancing to rejoice in the coming marriage of Roberto and Anna. In attempt to collect his inheritance Roberto leaves for Mainz before the marriage commences. Anna fears that he won’t return.

She tells him of her dreams in which he dies but he consoles her and begs her to relax. Roberto tells her “that she may doubt her God but not his love for her.” He then asks Anna’s father to give them blessings before he departs. Anna worries as she watches Roberto leave for Mainz.

Yet, Roberto is bewitched by a mythical woman called a siren while sailing and he forgets his betrothed. Anna tries to remain patient but dies waiting many seasons for Roberto to return. Of course, Anna’s father is furious with him and begs the Villi to avenge his daughter’s death.

Edgar

With a libretto also written by Ferdinando Fontana this Puccini work is an opera in three acts under the genre of drama lirico, or lyric drama. Loosely centered on La Coupe et les lévres, or The Cup and the Lips, a play written by Alfred de Musset, this work was first performed in Milan on April 21, 1889 at the Teatro alla Scala.

We find innocent and chaste of heart Fidelia as she celebrates Edgar’s return from living with Tigrana, a woman Fidelia’s father adopted after finding her “wandering Moors” when a child. When living with Tigrana Edgar was wicked.

Fidelia offers Edgar almond blossom but sees Tigrana approaching and retreats. Tigrana tried to seduce Edgar back to their unchaste life together but is spurned when Edgar tells her he loves Fidelia and her innocence. This is when we meet Frank, who loves Tigrana but no matter how he tries she cannot be wooed his way.

Tigrana comes upon some locals praying and makes fun of them. In doing so they become angry and she finds herself seeking refuge in Edgar’s home. He stands by her side, burns down his home, and leaves with her. Frank makes an effort to stop the couple but duels with Edgar in is stabbed. The crowd yell as the lovers escape.

Back at Tigrana’s home Edgar has walked out of an orgy she has orchestrated. HE finds that he is weary of his life with Tigrana and he wishes to be back with the virtuous Fidelia.

Suddenly soldiers are upon them led by Frank. Edgar begs him to forgive him for stabbing him and Frank accepts after realizing he can no longer love Tigrana. Frank aides Edgar in his escape from Tigrana who vows to get her revenge on the men.

After battle the villagers are burying Edgar who has fallen. Along with Frank the group sings Edgar’s praises until it is revealed that he lived an unsavory life with Tigrana. Fidelia stands up for him while Tigrana tells the crowd he stole gold. They want to vandalize his body but they find that it’s only armor. Edgar was the monk all along. Angered Tigrana kills Fidelia and Edgar is heartbroken.

Manon Lescaut

A four act opera this Puccini work was created by the master sometime between 1890 and 1893. Inspired by the Abbé Prévost novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut. It should be noted that another opera titled Manon by Jules Massenet in 1884 was also inspired by the Prévost novel.

Edmondo, surrounded by students, girls, and villagers, while his friend des Grieux is miserable and skeptical of amore. They tease him as he continues his negative outlook. Enter a carriage carrying an old general named Geronte de Ravoir, Lescaut and his sister Manon, the title character who is a beautiful and all are taken aback by her splendor.

Unfortunately, all the men smitten with Manon find out she is on her way to a convent, by the demand of her father. Her brother attempts to help her and assist her in escaping to Paris. De Grieux is in love with her and when learning of their plans to escape, meets with Manon and they run away.

In the second act Manon has returned to live with Geronte and her brother comes to visit them. She complains that he is mean and boring. So her lover Geronte hires entertainment to lift her spirits. Still Lescaut does not like seeing his sister unhappy and sets out to find de Grieux, who is the person Manon pines for.

When Lescaut finds de Grieux he reunites the lovers and they decide to renew their love. Geronte allows them to leave but without her jewels or robes. Manon tries to take her belongings anyway and finds that Geronte has called the authorities to arrest her. The beginning of Act III begins with Manon in prison.

Watch today Manon Lescaut by the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, in Germany!

La bohéme

This famous opera with libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa is was constructed from the Henri Murger work Scénes de la vie de bohéme. Puccini staged his work and premiered it at the Teatro Regio in Turin on February 1, 1896. This is one work of Puccini’s that has become a standard in the Italian opera repertoire.

Also the basis of other works and considered one of the most performed operas internationally La bohéme centers around youthful bohemians in Paris during the 1840’s. Contrary to the novel, this adaptation of the story focuses mainly on two specific characters named Rodolfo and Mimi.
It was over this story that Leoncavallo and Puccini started their feud. It is said that Leoncavallo presented Puccini with a full libretto but upon rejection Leoncavallo felt Puccini should step away from the project. He didn’t and they both premiered an opera by the same name.

Opening with Marcello painting while his roommate Rodolfo daydreams. Trying to keep warm on a cold day they use Rodolfo’s script to start a fire in the stove. Another roommate named Colline enters after a failed attempt to sell books. The fourth roommate, Schaunard, who brings them food. The latter is a musician and Colline is a philosopher.

At the end of the evening all the bohemians except Rodolfo go out for the night. The writer stays behind to finish up a piece he has been working on. When he is alone there is a rap at the door and he finds a young woman who also lives in the building. She asks Rodolfo to light her candle because she is out of matches and the wind had blown out the flame.

Suddenly the girl feels faint and Rodolfo helps her. She tells him her name is Mimi and Rodolfo finds himself entranced by her. Rodolfo hears his friends calling him and he looks to Mimi who is covered in moonlight. They are in love.

Next we find the bohemians on the street shopping at a market. There they purchase things and make their way to Café Momus. The group eats while they are approached by a woman who was once Marcello’s lover. Her name is Musetta. Musetta is taunting her new amore Alcindoro, a government minister.

As time goes on we learn that Mimi is ill and Rodolfo has abandoned her. She carries a torch for him even though Mimi found another beau who was wealthy. The group is devastated when Mimi dies from her illness and Rodolfo realizes he loved her all along.

For more opera classics, check out our performances available over here.

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