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Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini (Lucca, December 22, 1858-Brussels, November 29, 1924) was an Italian opera composer, considered among the greatest, late XIX century and early XX.
He was a visionary, creating the concepts of music that will govern cinema during the 20th century. For him, the use of modal passages or politonal resources and tonality or atonality were matters of effect that were defined by the dramatic needs of the work. For example, in Tosca, the way he replaces the text with musical passages anticipates the action that is about to take place, in the best way Alfred Hitchcock in his thrillers. Another example is in La Bohème, when we listen to the theme of Mimi before she appears on the scene, when Rodolfo tells his friends that he is going to stay in the attic.
He was one of the few opera composers capable of brilliantly using German and Italian operatic techniques. He is considered the successor of Giuseppe Verdi. Some of its melodies, such as “O mio babbino caro” by Gianni Schicchi, “Che gelida manina” by La bohème and “Nessun dorma” by Turandot, are now part of popular culture.
His first opera was Le Villi (1884) and his first triumph Manon Lescaut (1893). In addition to twelve operas, Puccini wrote other notable works, such as a solemn Mass, a hymn to Rome, a symphonic caprice, two symphonic preludes and three minuets for string quartet.
Born into a family of musicians (the Puccini were for generations masters of the Duomo’s chamber, Cathedral of Lucca), after having lost his father at the age of five, he was sent to study with his uncle Fortunato Magi, who considered him a student not particularly gifted and above all undisciplined.
Later he got the position of organist and choirmaster in Lucca. The legend says that the decision to dedicate himself to musical theater came after attending in 1876 a performance of Aida de Verdi in Pisa, where he had arrived on the back of a mule.
Correspond to this period the first written compositions, among which stand out a cantata (I figli d’Italia bella, 1877), a motet (Mottetto per San Paolino), 1877) and a Mass (1880).
In 1880, with the help of a relative and a scholarship, he managed to enroll at the Milan Conservatory to study composition with Antonio Bazzini and Amilcare Ponchielli. In that same year, at the age of 21, he composed the Mass, which marks the culmination of his family’s long relationship with religious music. Although Puccini correctly called it the Messa, a Mass is popularly known as the Mass of Glory.
This work anticipates Puccini’s career as an opera composer, by showing glimpses of the dramatic ability he would later release on the scene, as the powerful arias for tenor and bass soloists are more operatic than usual in religious music. In addition, the orchestration and the dramatic power compare it with Verdi’s Requiem Mass.
While studying at the Conservatory, Puccini obtained a libretto from Ferdinando Fontana and participated in a contest to perform a one-act opera in 1882. Although he did not win the contest, Le Villi performed in 1884 at the Teatro dal Verme in Milan and caught the attention of Giulio Ricordi, music editor, who commissioned a second opera to premiere at the Teatro de la Scala in Milan, but Edgar (1889), which cost him five years of work, was not very successful and in the Subsequent decades suffered successive radical modifications without actually entering the “repertoire”.
Meanwhile, in 1884, Puccini had formed a family, starting a cohabitation with Elvira Bonturi, Lucca pharmacist’s wife, Narciso Gemignani, who lasted, with vicissitudes, all her life. Elvira gave her in 1880 her first daughter, Fosca, and in 1886 her second son, Antonio, was born, called Tonio.
Puccini in Torre del Lago
From 1891 onwards, Puccini spends most of his time at Torre del Lago, a small town about 20 kilometers from Lucca located between the Tyrrhenian Sea and Lake Massaciuccoli, south of Viareggio. At first he lived in a rented house and spent a lot of time hunting, although he continued to visit Lucca regularly. However, in 1900 he bought a plot of land and built a house on the edge of the lake. Puccini lived in it until 1921, when the contamination of the lake by the work of extraction of peat forced him to move to Viareggio, a little further north.
Success: collaborations with Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
After Edgar’s semi-faux pas, the third opera -Manon Lescaut- was an extraordinary success, perhaps the greatest of Puccini’s career. In addition, it was the beginning of the collaboration with librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. Illica and Giacosa later wrote the librettos of the following three operas by Puccini, the most famous.
The first, La Bohème (based on the novel by Henri Murger Scènes de la vie de Bohème), is perhaps his most famous opera. Among the masterpieces of the late-Romantic opera scene, La Bohème is an example of dramaturgical synthesis, structured in four “paintings”.
The next opera, Tosca, represents Puccini’s foray into historical melodrama. The theme, taken from Victorien Sardou, may recall some stereotypes of the verista opera, but the musical solutions anticipate rather, particularly in the second act, the nascent musical expressionism.
The third opera is Madama Butterfly. It is based on a David Belasco drama and is Puccini’s first exotic opera. Its premiere at La Scala in Milan in 1904 was a solemn fiasco, probably partly orchestrated by its critics. However, after some modifications, this opera was a complete success that lasts until today.
The collaboration with Illica and Giacosa was certainly the most productive of Puccini’s artistic career. Luigi Illica, playwright and journalist, had the task of sketching the background and defining the plot little by little, discussing it with Puccini, to finish with a complete text. Giuseppe Giacosa, author of successful comedies and professor of literature, was responsible for the delicate work of putting the text into verse, maintaining both literary and musical aspects, a task he carried out with great patience and poetic sensitivity.
The last word was always Puccini, whom Giulio Ricordi nicknamed the Dogo, for the predominance he exercised in the group. Ricordi also contributed personally to the creation of scripts, suggesting solutions, occasionally writing verses and, above all, mediating between the librettists and the musician on the occasions of the frequent controversies due to Puccini’s habit of revolutionizing the dramatic thread during the genesis of the operas.
Beginning in 1904, the most difficult years of Puccini’s life began. In that year, the musician, passionate about cars, is seriously injured in a car accident and must follow a long and painful convalescence.
In 1906, the death of Giacosa puts an end to the collaboration of three that had produced the previous masterpieces. All the attempts of collaboration only with Illica shipwrecked, in particular in the project of a Maria Antonietta.
In 1909, a new tragedy and a scandal hit the musician deeply: his aya, Doria Manfredi, 23, the object of Elvira’s obsessive jealousy, commits suicide by poisoning himself. This drama later aggravated the relations between the composer and his wife.
In 1912, Giulio Ricordi, the editor to whom Puccini felt deeply attached and whom he considered a second father, also dies.
In the artistic aspect, the passion for exoticism (of which Madama Butterfly was born) pushed the artist more and more to face the language and styles of other musical traditions: they were born this way, in 1910, La fanciulla del West (La girl from the West), a western from before this term existed; and in 1917, La rondine (La golondrina), initially conceived as an operetta and finally transformed into a singular hybrid between this genre and that of lyrical opera. This crisis manifested itself in the large number of aborted projects, abandoned in a state of advanced work (see the list at the end). At the end of the 19th century, Puccini also tried, on several occasions, to collaborate with Gabriele D’Annunzio, but without finishing his works, perhaps because they did not get along.
Puccini’s eclecticism, together with his incessant search for original solutions, found full thrust in the so-called Il Trittico, three one-act operas, premiered in New York, at the same time in 1918. The three works present contrasted characteristics: Tragic and veristic Il Tabarro, elegiac and lyrical Suor Angelica and comedian Gianni Schicchi.
Of the three, the latter quickly becomes popular, while Il Tabarro, initially judged inferior, will eventually gain the full favor of criticism. Suor Angelica was, however, the author’s favorite.
Conceived to be performed in a single evening, nowadays each of the operas of the triptych are almost always staged together with other operas by other composers.
Turandot, the unfinished opera
Moment of the representation of Turandot in the Luna Park of Buenos Aires in 2006.
The last opera, Turandot, was left unfinished, since Puccini died on November 29, 1924, in Brussels, as a result of complications during the treatment of a throat cancer for which he had gone to treat himself there and of which only his son knew the real gravity. Puccini was a compulsive smoker.
The last two scenes of Turandot were finished by Franco Alfano under the supervision of Arturo Toscanini. The night of the premiere, Toscanini himself, who directed the orchestra, interrupted the performance where the maestro had left the composition. On the day of the premiere at La Scala, when Liu dies and the choir sings “Liù, bontà perdona! Liù, docezza, dormi! Oblia! Liù! Poesía!” Toscanini turned to the audience from the podium leaving the baton and with a quiet and excited voice, while slowly lowering the curtain, pronounced the following words: “Here the opera ends, because in this place the Master died”. The version that Alfano completed was presented on the second night. In 2001, a new ending was released, composed by Luciano Berio and based on the libretto and sketches by Puccini.
Based on a theatrical fable by Carlo Gozzi and performed for the first time in 1926, Turandot is the first Puccinian opera with a fantastic setting, whose action – as you can read in the score – develops «in the time of the fables» . In this opera, exoticism becomes the very form of drama: China is thus a sort of reign of dreams and eros, with appearances, ghosts, voices and sounds coming from the other dimension of the scene. < / p>
Puccini quickly became enthusiastic about the subject and with the character of Princess Turandot, haughty and bloodthirsty, but had doubts at the moment of putting the music to the end, an unusual happy ending, about which he worked a whole year without getting finish it.
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