So, in the spirit of La Boheme this week, and Madama Butterfly in December, let’s talk about the celebrated composer Giacomo Puccini.
For all of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD Broadcasts, there is a singer in the beginning who tells you who’s singing, director, sets and costumes and the main idea of the opera. I personally think Renee Fleming is the best host, with Susan Graham a close second. But, that’s just my opinion.
During her interview for La Damnation de Faust, she’s talking with Thomas Hampson, who complements her on her well renown French repertoire interpretations. She responds with “We had to make up with what Puccini didn’t write for me”. This statement wasn’t followed with a playful laugh. She almost sounds bitter about it. Bitter about not being able to sing the composer of some of opera’s most beautiful and well known arias.
This made me think. There are few roles Puccini wrote for mezzo soprano. There’s Suziki in Butterfly, Wowkle in La Fanciulla Del West, La Frugola in Il Tabbarro, a few nuns in Suor Angelica, La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi, and a few others.
Now, I hope you noticed that NONE of these roles are anything close to leading roles. Wowkle has like only five lines! Why did Puccini write mainly for soprano and soprano heroines? Why are women the subject of so many of his operas? Tosca? Madama Butterfly? Turandot? These are all questions you may ask yourself as you embark on a Puccini piece.
I have a theory, though. I think Puccini felt insecure about his marriage. He eloped with his wife, Elvira, while she was still married, and throughout his entire life, he had multiple women on the side. I think he created his heroines to be the ideal woman, each embodied differently.
I now tell you of one of opera’s most heartbreaking stories. The story of the maid Doria Manfredi. A tale of woe it is.
Doria Manfredi was a young maid in the Puccini household. Elvira (Giacomo’s wife) had noticed that the two were frequently together and she assumed they were “together”. Soon, she was publicly accusing the two of having a romantic relationship. She began to degrade the 21 year old until she finally took poisonand killed herself.
The Manfredi family took the matter to court, and Signora Puccini was sentenced to five months and five days in jail, which was never fulfilled because Puccini himself settled the matter out of court with the Manfredi’s, paying them a rather large sum of money. After Doria died, it was confirmed she was not at all involved with Puccini. Alright, now you may cry.
I understand Puccini. Who would be able to hold a stable relationship with a woman like that? I think he had to make these women, these tragic heroines to escape from the real world. He tried to make other wordly goodness.
So… Just some food for thought as you listen to Puccini in your later operatic endeavors. As Nick Reveles said on Opera Talk! (A Favorite show of mine, I urge you to watch it on the UCSD.tv website. Just search “Opera Talk!”) , “You must separate yourself from Puccini the composer, and Puccini the man”. It’s the same with Wagner (That was the original composer in the previous quote). Wagner was a huge and influential anti-Semite. He even published pamphlets defacing Jewish people. I am yet to find a composer with a squeaky clean reputation.
This was definitely one of my more depressing posts, but I wanted to voice my theory about Puccini… Which could be totally wrong, but It’s what I think… What do you think? What made Puccini the man he was? I want to hear your opinions and get some feedback. La Boheme tomorrow. I’m sure everybody will enjoy the beautiful opera, by the great composer, Giacomo Puccini.