Giacomo Puccini

The Early Years



Giacomo Puccini, the oldest boy in a large family, grew up in Lucca, Italy. His mother had high hopes for him, and she ". . . entrusted her son to her brother Fortunato Magi for his first musical instruction . . ., [but] when the hours with Fortunato Magi produced no good results, Albina sent her son to another teacher, Carlo Angeloni" (Simonetta Puccini in Weaver 1994, 10-11). Puccini's mother thought that Giacomo would do better in Milan, so she sought the support to send him to study at the Milan Conservatory.
Giacomo was granted a scholarship of one hundred lire monthly for a year. . . . On 10 November 1880, not long after his arrival in Milan, Giacomo wrote to his mother: '. . . the exam went well.' (Simonetta Puccini in Weaver 1994, 12-13)
Puccini studied at the Milan Conservatory (the conservatory where Verdi had applied and failed to gain admission) from 1880 until 1883. His primary composition teacher was Amilcare Ponchielli, who may have been the major influence on Puccini's operatic future. "The final examinations at the Conservatory went well, and the Capriccio Sinfonico [exam composition] was successfully performed on 4 July 1883 by an orchestra of Conservatory students under Franco Faccio" (Simonetta Puccini in Weaver 1994, 15).

In Il Teatro Illustrato on 1 April 1883 there appeared an announcement for an opera competition--a competition sponsored by the publisher Edoardo Sonzogno of Milan (Sonzogno published the illustrated music journal from 1881 to 1892). The advertisement read as follows:

INCORAGGIAMENTO AI GIOVANI COMPOSITORI ITALIANI

CONCORSO

Il teatro illustrato apre ai giovane musicisti di nazionalita italiana un concorso per un'opera in un atto di soggetto idilliaco, serio o giocoso, a scelta del concorrente, col premio di L.2000, oltre la rappresentazione dell'opera in un teatro di Milano per cura e a spese del giornale.

ENCOURAGEMENT TO YOUNG ITALIAN COMPOSERS

COMPETITION

Il teatro illustrato opens to the young musicians of Italian nationality a competition for one-act operas, the subject can be either idyllic, serious or giocoso (playful, merry), the choice is that of the competitor, with a prize of lire 2000, and a performance of the opera at a theater in Milan at the expense of the newspaper.

Puccini probably decided to enter the competition in July 1883.

At this point Ponchielli came to the aid of the student. About 17 July he invited Puccini to spend several days at his villa at Maggianico . . . during the few days spent at Maggianico, the two men decided that Puccini would enter the Sonzogno competition. [At a chance meeting] Puccini and Ponchielli met [Ferdinando] Fontana . . . [and] Ponchielli broached the subject of the Sonzogno competition and apparently succeeded in persuading Fontana to prepare a libretto for Puccini. (Michael Elphinstone in Weaver 1994, 70)
Puccini awaited the announcement of the results of the competition which appeared in Il teatro illustrato in April 1884 and read as follows:
La Commisione, prese in esame le opere presentate al concorso, ebbe a fermare la propria attenzione sulle cinque sequenti:
Anna e Gualberto
La Fata del Nord
Celeste
La sposa del fabbro
Marcellina

Il Teatro Illustrato listed the top five operas with Anna e Gualberto by Luigi Mapelli, libretto by Fontana (by the same librettist of Puccini's entry), and La Fata del Nord by Guglielmo Zuelli being the prize winners. Puccini's entry Le Willis did not even receive an honorable mention, but his story as an opera composer had begun.

Le Willis received its first performance only days after the winning operas of the Sonzogno Competition. Mapelli and Zuelli are names in opera history, but check the New Grove Dictionary of Opera and you will not find them at all.

Puccini revised Le Willis into a two-act opera known as Le Villi.


List of Puccini Operas
Tim Cordell (cordellt@queens.edu)