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Giacomo Puccini

Puccini, Giacomo (1858-1924), Italian composer, whose operas blend intense emotion and theatricality with tender lyricism, colourful orchestration, and a rich vocal line.

Puccini was born December 22, 1858, in Lucca, the descendant of a long line of local church musicians. In 1880 he wrote a mass, Messa di Gloria, that encouraged his great-uncle to help underwrite his musical education. After studying (1880-1883) music at the Milan Conservatory, Puccini wrote his first opera, Le Villi (1884); this brought him a commission to write a second, Edgar (1889), and a lifelong connection with Ricordi, a major music publisher. His third opera, Manon Lescaut (1893), was hailed as the work of a genius. La Bohème (1896), although containing some of the most popular arias in the repertoire today, displeased the audience at its Turin premiere, even with Arturo Toscanini conducting. Subsequent productions, however, won the composer worldwide acclaim.

Puccini's other operas include Tosca (1900); Madama Butterfly (1904), which drew hisses at La Scala in Milan on opening night but scored a success after Puccini revised it; The Girl of the Golden West (1910), an opera on an American theme; the high-spirited La Rondine (1917); and Il Trittico, a trilogy of one-act operas comprising Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, and the comic Gianni Schicchi (1918). Puccini was working on Turandot when he died on November 29, 1924, in Brussels. The opera, his most exotic, was completed by Franco Alfano and had its premiere in 1926.

La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Turandot have all entered the standard repertory, and all show his command of sumptuous orchestration, sustained vocal melodies, and a control of pacing that results in a shrewd and effective manipulation of the audience's emotional reaction. A recurrent theme in the plots of his operas is the destruction of an innocent young woman through the callousness of society; in Madama Butterfly, the eponymous central character shows an emotional growth and nobility that make the outcome genuinely tragic.

Although his work lacks the grandeur of Giuseppe Verdi's ("The only music I can compose is that of little things", Puccini once said), many consider him second only to Verdi among Italian composers who lived after Gioacchino Rossini.

  
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