Giacomo Puccini was born in 1858 in Lucca, Italy, to a family of organists (his father was a notorious theoretician and music teacher). A performance of Verdi's Aida, which he saw in Pisa in 1876, convinced him that his vocation was to become a composer.
He studied at the Milan Conservatory with, among others, Amilcare Ponchielli. On Ponchielli's advice, he took part in a composition competition launched by the Sonzogno publishing house in 1883 for a one-act opera. Although he did not win the prize his piece, Le Villi, was staged in 1884 in Milan with some success. The music publisher Ricordi then commissioned him a second opera, Edgar.
His third opera, Manon Lescaut, brought him lasting fame and marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with the librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. Together, they wrote Puccini's three greatest masterpieces: La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900) and Madama Butterfly (1904). In 1910, the premiere of La Fanciulla del West took place at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Puccini then composed a lighter piece, La Rondine, performed without much success at the Monte-Carlo Opera.
After that, Puccini slowed down his compositional work. A car accident left him lame for the rest of his life and it was not until 1918 that The Triptych (Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi) premiered at the Metropolitan Opera. He died in Brussels in 1924 of throat cancer.
His last opera, Turandot, remained unfinished. The last two scenes were completed by Franco Alfano. However, when Toscanini premiered Turandot at La Scala in Milan on 25 April 1926, he hold his baton to mark the point Puccini had reached before dying and turned to the audience: “Here the master laid down his pen. He stopped there when he died”. Puccini also wrote a number of religious works (Salve regina, Messa di Gloria).
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