Italian composer Giacomo Puccini was born on 22 December 1858 in Lucca, where he later became church organist and choirmaster. He studied initially with his uncle, and a performance of Verdi's Aida inspired him to write his own operas. From 1880 he studied composition with Amilcare Ponchielli and Antonio Bazzini at the Conservatory in Milan. Whilst there he wrote the one act opera La Villi for a competition. It didn't win, but it was later noticed by Giulio Ricordi, who commissioned him to write a second opera Edgar (1889).
From 1891 he lived mostly at Torre del Lago, near Lucca, and after a few years (and the notable success of his third opera, Manon Lescaut, of 1893) he acquired some land and built the villa now known as the Villa Museo Puccini. Manon Lescaut was his first collaboration with librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. They all went on to produce La bohème (1896), Tosca (1900) and Madama Butterfly (1904), Puccini's most popular operas.
After this, his rate of completing operas decreased, following a car accident, some domestic scandal and the death of his publisher Giulio Ricordi. La Fanciulla del West was completed in 1910, La Rondine in 1917 and Il Trittico (three one-act operas) was premièred in New York in 1918.
The end came quite quickly for Puccini in the guise of throat cancer, probably caused by his chain smoking of cigars. He went to Brussels for radiation therapy, where he died on 29 November 1924 from complications caused by the treatment. Turandot, his final opera, hadn't been finished, but it was completed from sketches by Franco Alfano. (Toscanini, who conducted the première, made a second version, based on Alfano's, and a new ending was made by Luciano Berio in 2002, after going back to the original sketches, but Toscanini's version is normally used in performance).
There are contradictions - concerning both the man and his music. Mussolini claimed that Puccini had applied to join the National Fascist Party, although the composer didn't appear to be active in politics. Was he secretive to avoid losing his friendship with the anti-fascist Toscanini?
Puccini's popular style, emphasising melody and influenced strongly by Verdi and to some extent Wagner, uses orchestral colour to create atmosphere, yet there is a common perception that this style lacks depth.
A selection of M&V articles about Giacomo Puccini
Ensemble. Daring and Bold - 'Madama Butterfly' and 'Il Trittico' at the Puccini Festival, discussed by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. Passionate Tones - La bohème in HD from The Met, appreciated by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Decadent and Sarcastic - A Zemlinsky-Puccini double bill in Turin, reviewed by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. An Interesting Idea - Opera North's 'From Paris with Love', reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. A Double Melodrama - Giuseppe Pennisi was at Puccini's 'Manon Lescaut', performed under difficult conditions in Rome
Ensemble. Beautifully Coordinated - Candace Evans' new production of Puccini's La bohème, reviewed by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Good Sense - Turandot in Rome as written by Puccini, reviewed by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. Rather Impressive - Mark Berry experiences English National Opera's 'Madama Butterfly'
Ensemble. A Turning Point - Giuseppe Pennisi was at the 2013 Torre del Lago Festival for a new international production of 'Tosca' and a performance of 'Rigoletto' with young singers
Ensemble. A Rich Musical Season - Summer opera in Rome, heard by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. A Memorable Rendition - Puccini's 'Tosca' at Los Angeles Opera, reviewed by Maria Nockin
CD Spotlight. Tip Top Music - Tine Thing Helseth and Kathryn Stott, heard by Howard Smith. 'Ever full of daring ...'
Ensemble. Monumental Effect - Three companies combine forces, experienced by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Luscious Vocal Colors - 'Tosca' at AZ Opera, reviewed by Maria Nockin
CD Spotlight. Powerful Drama - Puccini's 'Suor Angelica', heard by Robert Anderson. '... Nelsons and the WDR Symphony Orchestra of Cologne have done their best for Puccini ...'
Ensemble. A Sad Story - 'Madama Butterfly' at Los Angeles Opera, enjoyed by Maria Nockin
DVD Spotlight. Gallic to Teutonic - Opera Australia's 'La bohème', reviewed by Howard Smith. '... Park is suitably distraught ...'
Ensemble. An Elegant Staging - Chinese National Opera's 'Turandot' on tour, reviewed by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. A Relaxed Evening - Bill Newman attends a 'family sing-song' event in London
Ensemble. An Annual Delight - Maria Nockin visits Santa Fe for the summer opera season
Ensemble. Financial Stringency - Giuseppe Pennisi describes how the Puccini Opera Festival is at a turning point
Ensemble. Passion and Religion - Giuseppe Pennisi visits the 2012 Tyrol Festival for new productions of 'Lohengrin' and 'Tosca'
Ensemble. First Class - San Francisco Opera's film of Puccini's 'La bohème', seen by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Blended Voices - La bohème at Los Angeles Opera, reviewed by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. A Japanese Tragedy - A new 'Butterfly' production in Rome, reviewed by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. Opera's Bright Future - Tom Taffinder reports from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Ensemble. An Interesting Ambience - Puccini's 'Madama Butterfly' at Arizona Opera, reviewed by Maria Nockin
CD Spotlight. A Fine Collection - Operatic bass arias sung by William Powers, heard by Paul Sarcich. '... a formidable mixture of operatic styles ...'
Ensemble. Superb Realms - Puccini's 'Il Trittico', reviewed by Robert Hugill
Ensemble. Santa Fe, The City Different - Maria Nockin enjoys the summer opera fare in North America's oldest capital city
Ensemble. Asian Aid - Giuseppe Pennisi was at the 2011 Puccini Festival
DVD Spotlight. A Disparate Experiment - 'Aria - Special Edition', reviewed by Howard Smith. 'You never know what you're gonna get.'
Ensemble. A Conductor's Opera - A new production of Puccini's 'La bohème' at Rome's Teatro dell'Opera, reviewed by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. Dramatically Potent - Robert Hugill was at Chelsea Opera Group's performance of Puccini's 'Manon Lescaut'
Profile. Humanizing Emotions - American conductor James Conlon talks to Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Different Couples - English Touring Opera's 'La Clemenza di Tito', reviewed by Robert Hugill
Emphasis on Personalities - John Adams' 'Nixon in China', reviewed by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. A Smooth Delivery - Maria Nockin was at San Diego for Puccini's 'Turandot'
Ensemble. For King, Country and Sex - Marco Tutino's 'Senso', experienced by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. Opulent and Effective - Puccini's 'Turandot' in Arizona, enjoyed by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. A Wonderful Rendition - Puccini's 'La Fanciulla del West' at the movies impresses Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Stunning Artistry - New York Metropolitan Opera's Verdi's 'Don Carlo' transmission, seen and heard by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. A Marvelous Job - Puccini's 'La Fanciulla del West', heard by Giuseppe Pennisi
Performances to Remember - Maria Nockin looks forward to San Diego Opera's 2011 season
A Rich Resource - Teresa Verde explains how Theodore Deacon makes opera come alive
Ensemble. Firmly in Period - Grange Park Opera's 'Madama Butterfly', reviewed by Robert Hugill
Ensemble. Very Welcome - Robert Hugill experiences Stephen Oliver's 'Euridice'
CD Spotlight. Almost a Transformation - David Rubinstein plays Busoni, heard by K C Devereaux. '... Rubenstein's hand is steady on the tiller.'
Ensemble. Truly Fascinating - A Santa Fe Opera digest, including the recent Kaye Edition of 'The Tales of Hoffmann', by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Performance to Cherish - Lawrence Budmen submits a further report from the Tanglewood Festival 2010
Ensemble. Pure Joy - Giuseppe Pennisi finds 'Madama Butterfly' at the Puccini Festival a pleasure for the ears and the eyes
Ensemble. Eyes Tight Shut - 'La Fanciulla del West' at the Puccini Festival, reviewed by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. Opera in the Arena - Rebecca Schmid listens to Renée Fleming and the Berlin Philharmonic
Noteworthy Impressions - Greg Moomjy writes about the art of the outstanding production
Flowers of Light - Puccini's 'I crisantemi' as a pedagogical tool for piano performance majors, by Heidi Lowy
Ensemble. Intelligent and Satisfying - English National Opera's new production of 'Tosca', reviewed by Robert Hugill
Ensemble. An Excellent Staging - 'Madama Butterfly' at Rome's Teatro dell'Opera, appreciated by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. Under the Tuscan Sun - Giuseppe Pennisi attends the beginning of the Tiroler Festspiele 2010
Ensemble. A Top-notch Formation - Operas by Zemlinsky and Puccini, reviewed by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. A Successful Production - Sixty Leitmotives for 'Tosca', by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. Truly Memorable - A concert of arias at Arizona Opera impresses Maria Nockin
Ensemble. White Hot Intensity - Renée Fleming and the Russian National Orchestra at the Festival of the Arts Boca 2010, reviewed by Lawrence Budmen
Ensemble. A Bouquet of Bohèmes - Maria Nockin reviews one opera at two different venues
DVD Spotlight. Evident Delight - Puccini's 'La rondine', heard by Robert Anderson. '... exciting acrobatics ...'
Ensemble. Power and Depth - Puccini's 'Il Trittico', reviewed by Rebecca Schmid
Ensemble. Robust Voices - Susan Hampton visits Boston for Puccini's 'La bohème'
DVD Spotlight. Intensity and Concentration - Kurt Masur conducts Richard Strauss, reviewed by Kelly Ferjutz. '... beautifully and confidently performed ...'
Ensemble. A Different Rendition - Puccini's 'Tosca' on the big screen, reviewed by Maria Nockin
DVD Spotlight. Convincing Forcefulness - A documentary on Puccini's 'Madame Butterfly', seen by Gerald Fenech. '... riveting stuff ...'
Ensemble. Sterling Performances - Donizetti's 'Linda di Chamounix', heard by Robert Hugill
Ensemble. Truly Enjoyable - Maria Nockin was at Los Angeles Opera's 'La Traviata'
Ensemble. Student Life and Love - Puccini's 'La bohème' from Kentish Opera, enjoyed by Pippa Hare
Ensemble. Ringing Intensity - 'Madama Butterfly' from San Diego Opera, reviewed by Maria Nockin
CD Spotlight. Easy Listening - Christina Linhardt's 'Voodoo Princess', reviewed by K C Devereaux. 'The only voodoo conjured here is the dread spectre of "Smooth Jazz".'
Ensemble. Amazing Clarity - Greer Grimsley sings Scarpia in 'Tosca' from San Diego, experienced by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Magical eloquence - The first night of Palm Beach Opera's revival of Bellini's 'Norma' provides a night to remember for Lawrence Budmen
Pure Fashion? - Several Composers in Search of an Identity, by Béla Hartmann
Ensemble. A Bright Future - Malcolm Miller was at the final night of the 2008 BBC Proms in London
Ensemble. Vocal Radiance - Maria Nockin reports on the beginning of a new season at Los Angeles Opera
Ensemble. Glorious Melody - British Youth Opera's 'La Rondine', reviewed by Robert Hugill
Ensemble. Highly Creditable - Puccini's 'Tosca' at the Verona Arena, reviewed by Robert Hugill
Ensemble. No Excuses Necessary - Robert Hugill enjoys Puccini's 'La Fanciulla del West' at Grange Park Opera
Ensemble. A Charming Rendition - Puccini's 'La Rondine', reviewed by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Dramatically Exciting - Puccini's 'Tosca' at Los Angeles Opera, reviewed by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. An Auspicious Beginning - The first performance of a brand new opera company, marked by Maria Nockin
Artful Phrasing - 'La bohème' at Los Angeles Opera, reviewed by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. New Territory - An unusual version of Puccini's 'Turandot', reviewed by Robert Hugill
Ensemble. A Wonderful Experience - Two productions at Santa Fe Opera, reviewed by Maria Nockin
Limitless Combinatorics - Eric Pettine postulates 'No Shortage of Melodies Anytime Soon', and offers some real hope for cynical musicians who think they've heard it all
Ensemble. Companion Pieces - A Ravel / Puccini double bill, reviewed by Robert Hugill
Ensemble. A Godsend - Heritage Opera's 'La Bohème', reviewed by Roderic Dunnett
Ensemble. Dramatic Veracity - Puccini's 'Turandot' from St Louis, reviewed by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Extremely Traditional - 'Madama Butterfly' in Arizona, reviewed by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Expansive Romanticism - 'Madama Butterfly' from Long Island, reviewed by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Infectious Verve - Puccini's 'La bohème' in New Hampshire, reviewed by Maria Nockin
Ensemble. Important Revelations - A gala concert presented by Arizona Opera, reviewed by Maria Nockin
DVD Spotlight. Terrifying Intensity - Puccini's 'Turandot', reviewed by Robert Anderson. '... brimful of imagination ...'
DVD Spotlight. Rigidly Puritanical - 'Madama Butterfly', reviewed by Robert Anderson. '... a strong yet tender account of Puccini's cunning score.'
Ensemble. Imaginative Artistry - 'Madama Butterfly' in Los Angeles, reviewed by Maria Nockin
DVD Spotlight. Radiance of reconciliation - Puccini's 'La Bohème', appreciated by Robert Anderson. '... never a dull visual moment ...'
Ensemble. Suspending disbelief? - 'Turandot' at Welsh National Opera, reviewed by Rex Harley
Ensemble. Verismo al fresco - Malcolm Miller enjoys Opera Holland Park's double bill of 'Suor Angelica' and 'I Pagliacci'
Ensemble - Fresh and engaging. Roderic Dunnett reports on Chisinau National Opera's 'Turandot'
Unusual chemistry - Roderic Dunnett was at the Chisinau National Opera's 'La Bohème'