Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Giacomo Puccini, christened with the forenames AntonioDomenico Michele Secondo Maria in 1858, inherited with these names the longmusical traditions of his family. Resident in Lucca, the earlier GiacomoPuccini, born there in 1712, served as organist at S. Martino and directed the Cappella Palatina until his death in 1781,when he was succeeded by his son Antonio, born in 1747, who had assisted hisfather also at S. Martino and, like his father, was a member of the distinguishedBologna Accademia Filarmonica. His son Domenico, born in 1772, directed theCappella di Camera from 1806, after the disbanding of the earlier CappellaPalatina by Napoleon's sister, Elise Baciocchi, who became Regent of Lucca in1805. Domenico Puccini died suddenly in 1815 and was outlived by his father,who died in 1832. Domenico Puccini's son Michele, born in 1813, was taught byhis grandfather Antonio and served in Lucca as a teacher and later director atthe Istituto Musicale Pacini and as organist at S. Martino. It was his sonGiacomo who brought much wider fame to the family.
Earlier generations of the Puccini family had been largelyconcerned with church music, although they had also composed movements fordramatic Tasche, composite choral and instrumental works to mark the biennialelections in Lucca. Domenico, while continuing the tradition of church musicand Tasche, also turned his fuller attention to opera, a form attempted onlybriefly by his son Michele. Family tradition suggested that Giacomo Puccinishould remain in the restricted musical world of Lucca, but his ambitions wereto turn in another direction, when he moved to Milan to pursue his operaticambitions.
The position of organist at S. Martino was generally regardedas the hereditary right of the Puccini family and in 1864, after his father'sdeath, it was decreed by the city fathers that Puccini's uncle Fortunato Magi,a pupil of Michele Puccini, should hold the position until Giacomo was oldenough to assume it. His early studies were with Magi, before he found, at theIstituto Pacini, a more stimulating teacher in another of his father's oldpupils, Carlo Angeloni, who also inspired in his pupil an abiding interest inhunting and shooting. Puccini had been a chorister at S. Martino and S. Michelefrom the age of ten and began to undertake duties as an organist when he wasfourteen. These last led him to write music for the organ, but it was a visitto Pisa in 1876 to attend a performance of Verdi's Aida that finally changedthe direction of his future career. In 1880 he completed his studies in Lucca,graduating with his Messa di Gloria. In the autumn of that year he began histhree years of study at the Milan Conservatory.
In 1884 his opera Le Villi won some success, but it was withManon Lescaut in 1893 that his reputation seemed finally established. This wasfollowed by a succession of operas, La boh?¿me in 1896, Tosca in 1900, MadamaButterfly in 1904, to be followed by La fanciulla del West in 1910, La rondinein 1917 and Il trittico thefollowing year. These retain their central part in Italian operatic repertoire.His last opera, Turandot, in which he sought a new challenge, was unfinished atthe time of his death in 1924, but enough had been written for the work to becompleted by Franco Alfano and staged in 1926.
Il trittico (The Triptych) consists, as its title suggests,of three short operas. The first of these, Il tabarro (The Cloak), was based on a play that Puccini had seen in Paris,Le houppelande, by Didier Gold, a work that he described as almost GrandGuignol, a story of love, jealousy and murder. The second of the group, SuorAngelica (Sister Angelica) is set in a convent, providing a contrast with thelow life of Il tabarro. Here Sister Angelica learns from the Princess, heraunt, of the death of the son she had borne, his birth and her disgrace thereason for her entry into a convent. She brews poison, to kill herself, but issaved in death by her own repentance. The third opera of the trilogy, GianniSchicchi, again deals with death, but now in a comic context comparable to thatof Ben Jonson's Volpone. The three operas were first given at the MetropolitanOpera House in New York in 1918, followed shortly afterwards by the Italianpremi?¿re in Rome.
The story of Gianni Schicchi is referred to in a passage inDante's Inferno, Canto XXX. The reference in Dante is brief enough, but isexpanded in an anonymous commentary from the fourteenth century, recounting apopular story current in Tuscany. This explains how Gianni Schicchi is broughtin to replace the dead Buoso Donati by the latter's relatives and make a willfavourable to them. Schicchi cheats the family by dictating a will that leavesthe greater part to himself, a testament they cannot dispute without revealingtheir own complicity in the original plot.
The libretto of Puccini's opera is by Giovacchino Forzano,who had started his career as a singer, before turning to journalism. He wasalso the author of Suor Angelica and of a number of other operatic texts set bycomposers including Mascagni, Giordano, Wolf-Ferrari and Leoncavallo. He servedas stage director at La Scala, where he mounted Boito's Nerone in 1924 and thefirst performance of Turandot in 1926, continuing a career as a writer and inthe theatre. He died in 1970.
 The scene is the bedroom of Buoso Donati. To the rightis a curtained four-poster bed, by the side of which four candles are burning.Buoso's relatives are kneeling at prayer, in simulated sorrow. To the left isthe boy Gherardino, playing. The room is lit by the candles and the sun. It isnine o'clock in the morning. The relatives mutter their prayers and each triesto outdo the other in expressions of feigned sorrow at the death of Buoso,whose body lies on the bed, concealed by the bed-curtains. Gherardino knocks achair over, and is put out by his father. Betto begins to suggest a rumourabout Buoso. Questioned by the others, he tells them that it is said that Buosohas left all his money to a monastery.
 Still kneeling, the relatives look at one another insurprise before turning to the oldest, Simone, former mayor of Fucecchio. Aftersome thought he suggests that they should see if they can find the will, whilethe young Rinuccio, nephew of Zita, expresses the secret hope he has withLauretta, if the will favours him. The relatives stand up and set about afrantic search for the will, while Betto eyes a silver plate and pockets a pairof silver scissors and a stylus, but cannot manage to take the plate. Theothers search wildly, opening drawers and cupboards and even looking under thebed. Betto profits from the confusion by hiding the plate under his coat.Rinuccio is the one who finds the will, and before he gives it to his aunt heseeks her consent, if the terms of the will are favourable, to his marriage toLauretta, the daughter of Gianni Schicchi. It is agreed that he should marry atthe beginning of May and he hands over the will. Zita looks for the scissors tocut the tape round the document, but not finding them she breaks the tape withher hands. Rinuccio tips Gherardino and sends him off to fetch Lauretta.
 Zita starts to read the will: 'To my cousins Zita andSimone ...', breaking off to exclaim 'Poor Buoso', echoed by Simone, who promisesthe dead man all the candles he wants. The other members of the family expresstheir hopes of inheriting the house, the mule, the mills. They gather roundeagerly, trying to read the will. Gradually their faces cloud over, as they realiseits contents. Zita drops the document and sinks back