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Puccini Opera Festival

The poet of Italian opera

Celebrating the wish of Giacomo Puccini, the renowned composer, 40,000 opera lovers gather to enjoy memorable music and drama at Torre del Lago, a quaint Tuscan town in Florence, Italy. Puccini as the author of La Bohème and Madama Butterfly was described by Roman Vlad as, “The last great poet of the Italian opera, the best composer of operas, Italy and the whole world had in our century”.

The Puccini Festival was started in 1930 after Puccini expressed his wishes in a letter to Giovacchino Forzano, one of his librettists, in November 1924, “I always come out here and take a boat to go and shoot snipes … but once I would like to come here and listen to one of my operas in the open air”. As a lover of Nature, Puccini hoped that his operas would be performed in the natural setting around the Massaciuccoli Lake.

The year 1858 saw the birth of a musical genius, Giacomo Puccini, who was born in Lucca, Italy, on December 22nd. Stemming from an illustrious line of gifted musicians, Giacomo was the fifth of seven children. At the age of six, he lost his father, Michele, who was the choirmaster and organist at San Martino Church besides being a music teacher at Collegio Ponziano. Though he later acquired the prestigious positions held by his late father, Giacomo grew up as a rebel as he spent his childhood between Lucca and Celle. At a tender age, Giacomo was sent to study music under the tutelage of his uncle, Fortunato Magi, who did not think much of his nephew’s talent. His mother, Albina constantly worried about his future though he joined the seminary at the age of nine. He later became a chorister and organist in the Cathedral of Lucca.

Inspired by a performance of Verdi’s ‘Aida”, Giacomo and his friend trudged 30 kilometers to be present at this venue of inspiration in Pisa. By the time he was twenty one, Giacomo Puccini had composed the ‘Messa’, the music that is part of a Catholic Mass that completed the talented association his family had with church music. By this time he had acquired a diploma at the Pacini Music School in Lucca. In the year 1880, Giacomo decided to study composition under Amilcare Ponchielli at the Conservatory of Music in Milan. Puccini continued his career at the Milan Conservatory under Amilcare Ponchielli and Antonio Bazzini. In 1882, he entered a competition that featured the composition of a one-act opera. ‘Le Villi’ was composed by Puccini that did not win him a prize, but which was staged in 1884 at the Teatro dal Verme. Impressed by this composition, Giulio Ricordi, head of G. Ricordi & Co., the music publishers, commissioned a second opera, ‘Edgar’ in 1889.

Striking a Musical Chord

In spite of a scholarship granted by Queen Margherita and financial help from his uncle, Nicolao Ceru, a legal attorney, Puccini went through times of poverty, but was happy in the company of his friends. To quote Puccini, “At five I have a thrifty meal with soup, then I light up a cigar and I go to the Galleria”. One of Puccini’s roommates was Pietro Mascagni, a noted Italian composer. An eventful and impressionable stay in Milan, brought young Puccini more contacts with the musical circle and the world of art as he was introduced to Arrigo Boito, an important member of the Scapigliatura. He finished his studies on a musical note with the Capriccio Sinfonico, an instrumental composition that revealed his musical talents. Considered a ‘failure’ at composing operas, Puccini worked hard and finally with success emerged with ‘Manon Lescaut’, his first great triumph that was first staged at Teatro Regio in Turin on February 1st, 1893. The journalist, Gramola called Puccini "The composer Italy had waited for". Finally wealth and success followed Puccini’s footsteps.

Giacomo Puccini fell in love with Elvira Bonturi. They moved to Monza where Antonio, their son, was born. Soon the family moved to Torre del Lago in 1891 where Puccini concentrated on his work. With the lovely ambience of a lakeside residence and the calm influence of the Massaciuccoli Lake, Puccini composed his operas in utter peace and tranquility. His operatic compositions comprised of, La Bohème (Teatro Regio, Turin, February 1st , 1896), Tosca (Teatro Costanzi, Rome, January 14th , 1900) Madama Butterfly (La Scala, Milan, February 17th, 1904). Pucini pursued his love of hunting on the shores of the lake and formed the ‘Club La Boheme’ with his famous friends and artists. Puccini loved hunting and was thoroughly taken up with the marvels of technology. He had a penchant for automobiles and yachts. He almost died in a car crash as a result of this. He had a wireless and a phonograph and was a close friend of Thomas Edison, with whom he corresponded regularly.

Puccini had always strived to better his work and was very involved with all aspects of the production of his operas. At rehearsals and performances, his presence drew an intense audience and brought him more fame. As a result of his keen interest and hard work, Puccini traveled widely throughout America and Europe with his creations, such as, La Fanciulla del West (Metropolitan Opera House, New York, December 10th, 1910), La Rondine (Opéra de Monte Carlo, March 27th, 1917), the Trittico, that is Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi (Metropolitan Opera House, New York, December 14th, 1918). By 1920, he started working on Turandot that was derived from a comedy by Carlo Gozzi. Almost through with Turandot except for the final part of the last act, Puccini’s health suddenly worsened due to a tumor in his throat. He had to undergo an operation. But he died in Brussels on November 24th, 1924. Giacomo Puccini was buried in Milan. His son, Antonio in 1926 transferred his mortal remains to the small chapel in the Puccinis' villa in Torre del Lago. Turandot was completed by Franco Alfano with the help of the final drafts Puccini had taken with him to Brussels. Directed by Arturo Toscanini, the first posthumous performance was held at La Scala in Milan on April 25th, 1925.

The Puccini Opera Festival

In memory of a great operatic composer and friend, Forzano, the playwright and librettist of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, also director of Turandot’s first night at La Scala Theatre, Milan, on April 25th 1926, were determined to make Puccini’s dream come true. After Puccini’s death, Forzano and Pietro Mascagni staged Puccini’s operas on the shores of the lake just in front of the great maestro’s house. Later in 1930, a make-shift stage was built with a traveling opera company, the “Carro di Tespi Lirico”, performed La Bohème directed by Forzano and conducted by Mascagni. The very same traveling company came in 1931 to perform again and one of the most famous opera festivals was realized at Torre del Lago. With the great opera composer expressing his wish to see his creations come alive, the Puccini Opera Festival brought the spirit of opera and his compositions to life on the shores of the Massaciuccoli Lake in Torre del Lago, just a few kilometers from Pietrasanta, the "Little Athens" where Michelangelo first started his marble cutting and sculpting. Torre del Lago evolves close to the lovely beaches of Viareggio on the Tuscan Riviera and to the ancient city of Lucca. The Festival echoes with the spectacular compositions of Puccini with the powerful opera, ‘La Fanciulla del West’ (1910), ‘La Rondine’ (1917), ‘Il Trittico’ (1918) premiered in New York, ‘Il Tabarro’, ‘Suor Angelica’, the comedy or farce, ‘Gianni Schicchi’ is the most popular and contains the aria ‘O mio babbino caro’, besides memorable and endearing works, ‘Turandot’, ‘Madame Butterfly’, ‘Tosca’, ‘La Boheme’ and ‘Manon Lescaut’. The Puccini Opera Festival beckons thousands of opera fans every year to its open-air theater which is very close to the Villa Mausoleum where Giacomo Puccini is now buried.

In echoing Puccini’s works, talented personalities like, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras and conductors of international fame like Francesco Molinari Pradelli, Franco Mannino, Nello Santi, Olivero De Fabrittis, Yuri Aronovitch, Gian Luigi Gelmetti, Nicola Rescigno, Daniel Oren and Alberto Veronesi have enriched the performances held at Torre del Lago just 18 kilometers from Lucca and Pisa. The Puccini Festival has also showcased dance performances with glittering ballet stars such as, Rudolf Nureyev, Carla Fracci and many others. Pietrasanta, the "Little Athens" where Michelangelo started his marble cutting had also brought many sculptors from all over the world to learn of these new techniques. This unique activity has given rise to a new project following the Puccini Festival called, ‘Sculpting the Opera’. The Puccini Festival has since celebrated its 52nd anniversary with much success and fanfare.

Puccini’s signature stance and attire is mirrored in the Puccini Prize which is a statuette in the image of Puccini. This prize is awarded every year on November 29th of the Puccinian Month that commemorates the anniversary of the great Maestro’s death. The Puccini Award was started in the year 1971. From 1983 the Puccini Prize has been awarded to other facets of talented expression connected with the Festival activity like, recording, publishing, cinematography and to unique young people of the lyrical theatre. The Puccini Festival Foundation has been established since the year 2000 with the sculptors of Little Athens, a group of international artists operating in Pietrasanta.

Involving his heart, soul, hard work and a passion for operas, Giacomo Puccini has gifted the world with the inspiration of his wonderful works. Sculpting the essence of emotion into the world of opera, Puccini has handed over the legacy of the Puccini Festival which has been enjoyed by composers and music lovers throughout the globe till its present 52nd anniversary this year. The strains of the Puccini Festival echoes through the Motorway Genova-Livorno A12 to the toll-exit Viareggio or Pisa Nord. Then you can reach Viareggio on the highway South towards Pisa and from Pisa Nord follow the highway North towards Viareggio. As you exit "Torre del Lago" follow directions to the “Festival Pucciniano”. The Theater entrance is located in Piazzale Belvedere in Torre del Lago Puccini, on the shores of the Massaciuccoli Lake.