Giacomo Puccini was the rightful heir to Giuseppe Verdi in terms of quality of writing and popularity. Puccini did not compose operas that told tales of sweeping, epic journeys or heroes returning from battle; he wrote about the little things, everyday working class people who fall in love and the relationship doesn’t go so well. These stories were set to music with powerful lyricism and a strong instinct for drama. (A perfect choice for the sound track of the motion picture “Moonstruck”, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary.)
What happened in Puccini’s private life was far more soap operatic than anything he composed for the stage. He had an affair and a child with a married woman, Elvira, whose husband, Lucca, was a womanizer. Lucca was murdered by the husband of some other woman he was messing around with. Puccini and Elvira were free to marry, and did so, before he continued having affairs with others. Elvira accused the maid of having an affair with Puccini, and the maid was so distraught she committed suicide. An autopsy revealed she was a virgin. Elvira was charged with slander and sentenced to five months in prison, but Puccini paid off the maid’s family to drop the charges, and Elvira didn’t have to go. This chain of events, while it hindered Puccini’s abilities to compose, definitely influenced the storyline of Turandot, an opera about Liu, a slave girl, who dies tragically by suicide.
Puccini was such a national figure that when news of his death reached Rome during a run of La boheme (the story about artists starving in a garret – the pre-cursor to the musical “Rent”), the opera was abruptly halted and the orchestra played Chopin’s Funeral March for the stunned audience. The feeling throughout Italy was not unlike the outpouring of grief and affection in Canada when The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie passed away in October.
In this scene from La boheme, Rodolfo and Mimi have just made up, and decide to stay together to keep each other warm during the winter. I don’t know what’s more romantic; that, or the smouldering glances between “Moonstruck’s” Loretta and Ronny. Either way, my heart is palpitating.
Giacomo Puccini was born December 22, 1858 in Luca, Italy, and died November 29, 1924 in Brussels, Belgium.