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Giacomo Puccini Biography
Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca on 22 December, 1858, the fifth of a large family, oldest son, and the last descendant of a family of musicians. His father died when he was barely six years old, leaving his young wife, Albina, with six children under the age of thirteen (another died early in childhood) and heavily pregnant with her last child. The senior Puccini was organist, teacher and composer at the Cathedral of San Martino, in Lucca, a position held by his ancestors before him since 1739. He wrote two operas which have been lost, however many of his other works remain. When he died in 1864, the City Council of Lucca temporarily appointed Albina's brother, Fortunato Magi, himself a musician and student of Michele Puccini's, organist and choirmaster of its most important cathedral, with the stipulation that the place be held for the young Puccini, who should assume his father's position as soon as he was qualified.
After his father died, Giacomo attended the seminary of San Martino, and later, sang in the choir there and at San Michele. In 1872, when Magi took over the direction of the Pacini Institute of Music, Albina enrolled her son there and Giacomo's forbidding and severe uncle took control of his musical development. The young Puccini was a restless and inattentive student, and the two did not enjoy a harmonious relationship. Magi campaigned Albina to have his nephew removed from the Institute, claiming that Giacomo did not belong in a serious institution. Albino insisted he stay however, and eventually, Puccini was assigned to another professor, Carlo Angeloni, who taught harmony and composition. Angeloni had also been a student of Michele Puccini's and was a composer himself, who loved opera. He had quite an influence over his student, and exposed him to several scores written by Verdi-Rigoletto, La Traviata and Il Trovotore.
During those years at the Pacini Institute under Angeloni (1874-1880), Puccini began composing his own material, often inserting it as he played the organ (which he disliked) at local church services. In 1876, he went to Pisa to see one of his first opera performances, Aida, and this single event quite possibly marked the point at which Giacomo Puccini definitively decided to abandon the life prescribed him by his father, his ancestors and the City of Lucca: so strong by then was Puccini's interest in opera that he walked from Lucca to Pisa for this performance, after which he said "When I heard Aida at Pisa, I felt that a musical window had opened for me."
After obtaining his diploma from the Pacini School of Music in Lucca in 1880, Puccini went to study composition in Milan at the Conservatory, thanks to financial support from his family. In Milan, Puccini lived a very frugal life; after Michele Puccini's death the family's financial situation was precarious, and Albina struggled to keep them above the poverty line. However, her hopes were pinned on her son's success and she did everything she could to ensure he had the education that would provide him with a solid basis for his musical future. At the Conservatory, which was considered Italy's finest training ground for singers, composers and musicians, Puccini studied under Bazzini and Ponchielli, who was later to become one of his most important mentors. Ponchielli had previously written La Gioconda, which had opened in 1876. Again, Puccini proved to be a restless student, as he had been in Lucca, and was eventually fined by the Conservatory for his "unjustified absences." However, Puccini was writing music throughout his studies, and when he left the Conservatory in 1883, the piece he wrote for the end-of-year concert, Capriccio sinfonico, revealed the great gifts of the young composer and was conducted by the leading conductor of the day, garnering very promising results.
Puccini's stay in Milan was very important for many reasons, not least of which was the people with whom he came into contact: he became associated with the Scapigliatura movement (a group of intellectual aesthetics known as 'the Disheveled ones from Milan'); he also met Pietro Mascagni, with whom he shared a room for a few months, and Ferdinando Fontana who suggested the idea for and would become Puccini's first librettist. In April , 1883, the Milanese publisher Edoardo Sonzogno announced a competition to find the best new opera in one act by a young Italian composer. Puccini composed Le Willis and entered it in the competition, but he submitted his work at the last moment, without having made a fair copy of the manuscript; thus it was passed over. However, the opera was staged on May 31st, 1884, at Teatro Dal Verme in Milan, thanks to a group of friends and admiring influential investors, achieving great acclaim from the public and the critics. "The composer that Italy has been waiting for for a long time..." wrote Gramola in Corriere della Sera, and in the opinion of one wealthy patron of the arts, Marco Sala, "Puccini's opera is a small precious masterpiece from beginning to end." This small triumph enabled Puccini to sign his first contract with the great publishing house of Ricordi, who commissioned a new opera from him. And so his second opera, Edgar, with libretto also by Fontana, came about (La Scala, Milan, April, 1889) although it did not achieve the level of success for which the publisher was hoping. However, Ricordi continued to have faith in Puccini, and supported the financially struggling young composer for several years until at last, with his third opera, Manon Lescaut (Turin, Teatro Regio, February 1893), success, fame, validation and the longed-for affluence finally arrived. Puccini was 35 years old.
In 1891, while Puccini was still working on Manon Lescaut, he settled permanently in Torre del Lago. Puccini loved nature and the outdoors, and he had come to love the lake, Massaciuccoli, during visits he had made there since 1884. He found a property near the water's edge that had once been an ancient tower from which the area derived its name, and in 1900, restructured it to create the villa where he lived and worked for almost 30 years. Here on the banks of Lake Massaciuccoli, he eventually wrote most of his operas including La Bohème (Turin, Teatro Regio, February 1896), Tosca (Rome, Teatro Costanzi, January 1900), and Madama Butterfly (Brescia, Teatro Grande, May 1904).
Giacomo Puccini became famous all over the world for his work and made numerous trips to assist with rehearsals and to be present for performances of his operas in Europe and in America: La Fanciulla del West (New York, Metropolitan Opera, December, 1910), La Rondine (Montecarlo, March 1917), Il Trittico (New York, Metropolitan Opera, December 1918). He was very close to the conductor, Arturo Toscanini, with whom he collaborated closely on many productions of his work, both in Italy and the US. In 1919, he was forced to move to Viareggio by the opening of a noisy peat factory near his home at Torre del Lago. By 1923, he was suffering from a debilitating throat ailment as he tried to work on what would be his last great opera. He was quite doubtful about the subject of his final piece before finally choosing the play Turandotte by the Venetian playwright Carlo Gozzi. Although he was seriously ill, Puccini worked hard on his Turandot which unfortunately, he would not be able to complete. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1924, and several months later, went to Brussels for treatment. He underwent surgery on November 24th, and died several days later on November 29th, 1924.
Puccini so loved Torre del Lago that he made arrangements for his remains to be interred there after his death. After his premature passing in Brussels, he was buried at first in Milan, then after the chapel in his beloved home had been appropriately consecrated in 1926, he was transferred and is now buried there alongside several other members of his family.