Puccini, Giacomo

Puccini, Giacomo

Puccini, Giacomo, 1858-1924, Italian composer of operas. He wrote some of the most popular works in the opera repertory. A descendant of a long line of musicians, he studied piano and organ at his Tuscan birthplace, Lucca, and in 1880 entered the Milan Conservatory. He first gained recognition with a one-act opera, Le Villi (1884). His finest operas, Manon Lescaut (1893), La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904), and Turandot (produced posthumously in 1926), display his characteristically lyric style and masterful orchestration, evoking strongly dramatic emotional effects. Although the characters in his operas are rather generalized, romantic figures, they come alive through expressive melody. A penchant for exotic settings produced some incongruities in his music, as in La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West, 1910), and some of his works have been criticized for excessive sentimentality. Wit and dramatic vivacity, however, mark his comic opera Gianni Schicchi (1918), and Puccini has remained, with Verdi, a preeminent master of the Italian operatic stage.

See his letters, ed. by G. Adami (tr. 1931, repr. 1973); biographies by V. Seligman (1938), M. Carner (1959), R. Specht (tr. 1933, repr. 1970), and M. J. Phillips-Matz (2002); critical biography by J. Budden (2002); studies by W. Ashbrook (1985) and W. Berger (2005).

(born Dec. 22, 1858, Lucca, Tuscany—died Nov. 29, 1924, Brussels, Belg.) Italian composer. Born into a family of organists and choirmasters, he was inspired to write operas after hearing Giuseppe Verdi's Aïda in 1876. At the Milan Conservatory he studied with Amilcare Ponchielli (1834–86). Puccini entered his first opera, Le villi (1883), in a competition; though it lost, a group of his friends subsidized its production, and its premiere took place with immense success. His second, Edgar (1889), was a failure, but Manon Lescaut (1893) brought him international recognition. His mature operas included La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), Madam Butterfly (1904), and The Girl of the Golden West (1910). All four are tragic love stories; his use of the orchestra was refined, and he established a dramatic structure that balanced action and conflict with moments of repose, contemplation, and lyricism. They remained exceedingly popular into the 21st century. He was the most popular opera composer in the world at the time of his death; his unfinished Turandot was completed by Franco Alfano (1875–1954).

Learn more about Puccini, Giacomo (Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria) with a free trial on Britannica.com.

:For other versions of the Manon story, see Manon (disambiguation). Manon Lescaut is an opera in four acts by Giacomo Puccini. The story is based on the 1731 novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost.

The libretto is in Italian. It was somehow cobbled together by five librettists whom Puccini employed (or went through): Ruggero Leoncavallo, Marco Praga, Giuseppe Giacosa, Domenico Oliva and Luigi Illica. The publisher, Giulio Ricordi, and the composer himself also contributed to the libretto. So confused was the authorship of the libretto that no one was credited on the title page of the original score.

The first performance of Manon Lescaut took place in the Teatro Regio in Turin in 1893. Manon Lescaut was Puccini's third opera and his first great success.

His publisher, Ricordi, had been against any project based on Prévost's story, because Massenet had already made it into a successful opera, Manon, in 1884. While Puccini and Ricordi may not have known it, the French composer, Daniel Auber, had also already written an opera on the same subject with the title, Manon Lescaut, in 1856.

Despite all the warnings, Puccini proceeded. "Manon is a heroine I believe in and therefore she cannot fail to win the hearts of the public. Why shouldn’t there be two operas about her? A woman like Manon can have more than one lover." He added, "Massenet feels it as a Frenchman, with powder and minuets. I shall feel it as an Italian, with a desperate passion."

Puccini took some musical elements in Manon Lescaut from earlier works he had written. For example, the madrigal Sulla vetta tu del monte from Act II echoes the Agnus Dei from his mass, Messa. Other elements of Manon Lescaut come from his compositions for strings: the quartet Crisantemi (January 1890), two Menuets (probably 1884) and a Scherzo (1883?). The love theme comes from the aria Mentia l'avviso (1883).

Roles

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, February 1, 1893
(Conductor: Alessandro Pomè)
Manon Lescaut soprano Cesira Ferrani
Lescaut, her brother, a sergeant baritone Achille Moro
Chevalier des Grieux tenor Giuseppe Cremonini
Geronte de Revoir, Treasurer General bass Alessandro Polonini
Edmondo, a student tenor Roberto Ramini
Innkeeper bass Augusto Castagnola
Singer mezzo-soprano Elvira Ceresoli
Dancing Master tenor Roberto Ramini
Lamplighter tenor Roberto Ramini
Sergeant of the Royal Archers bass Ferdin. Cattadori
Naval Captain bass
Hairdresser silent Augusto Ghinghini
Singers, old beaux and abbés, girls, townsfolk, students, courtesans, archers, sailors

Synopsis

Time: The second half of the eighteenth century.
Places: Amiens, Paris, Le Havre, New Orleans.

Act 1

Amiens, a public square near the Paris Gate It is evening, and a crowd of male students and girls are strolling about a square known for its drinking and gaming activities. Edmondo sings a song of youthful pleasure. Des Grieux enters, but is melancholic and does not join the other students. They joke with him. A carriage from Arras arrives. Manon, her brother Lescaut, and an elderly tresurer-general, Geronte de Ravoir, descend from the coach. At the first sight of Manon, Des Grieux falls in love with her and approaches her, she initialy resists but agrees to meet Des Grieux later on that day. Meanwhile Lescaut and Geronte have a convesation and Lescaut reveals that Manon is on her way to a convent, following the instructions of her father, with which he disagrees.

Lescaut and Geronte agree to meet later for supper. Geronte, who also is captivated by Manon, saying that she will only be wasted upon a convent, orders the Innkeeper to help him to elope with her. Edmondo manages to overhear this and warns Des Grieux. While Lescaut is playing cards with a group of students, Des Griex tries to convince Manon to flee in the carriage arranged by Geronte; finally, he persuades her and they leave together. Geronte sees his plans foiled and urges Lescaut to pursue the couple, but Lescaut sees through him and says that Geronte's "fatherly" love for Manon had better wait because he knows his sister all too well: she will readily dump a poor student for a life in a luxurious palace.

Act 2

A room in Geronte's house in Paris

Manon is now Geronte's mistress. She is in the room with her hairdresser when her brother enters. He notices that she is sulking, but lets it go. Despite the surrounding luxuries, she misses her more passionate life with Des Grieux not withstanding that it implies a more modest existence. Musicians arranged by Geronte enter to amuse her and to sing one of the many madrigals he composes for her. After the musicians leave, the dancing master enters. While the musicians tune in their instruments, Manon confides to her brother that much of the lifestyle is boring. Lescaut is upset to learn that his sister is not happy and he goes to find Des Grieux. Manon dances a minuet, then she sings a gavotte. After she dances and at her request, Geronte and the musicians leave the house to go out and stroll about, while she remains behind to wait for a carriage and inspects her appearance in the mirror.

Des Grieux appears and is furious to find her in Geronte’s house. Manon begs for pardon and slowly manages to seduce Des Grieux once again, but as they renew their vows of love, Geronte returns unexpectedly. He salutes them ironically, reminding Manon of his many favors to her. She replies that she cannot love him for his looks alone since they cannot inspire the kind of love compared to her youth and that of Des Grieux. Bowing low, he leaves them. Manon rejoices in her freedom. Des Grieux wants to leave but Manon is saddend by having to renounce her lifestyle.

Lescaut enters with terrible news: Geronte has denounced her as a prostitute and is approaching with soldiers. Manon hesitates at the thought of leaving her jewels and pretty frocks; she snatches up her jewels and they go to the door, but the soldiers appear to arrest her. In trying to escape, she drops the jewels at Geronte's feet and is dragged off. Des Grieux is stopped by Lescaut: if he is arrested Manon will be lost.

(Intermezzo: The journey to Le Havre.)

After trying everything to release Manon from the prison, but to no avail, Des Grieux follows her to Le Havre.

Act 3

A square near the harbor in Le Havre

It is near dawn. Manon is in prison with other courtesans waiting deportation to Louisiana. Lescaut has bribed a prison guard to let Des Grieux speak with Manon. A lamp lighter passes, singing a song while he extinguishes the lights. Lescaut attempts a rescue, but in vain. The guard appears, escorting a group of women who are going on the same ship as Manon. She walks among them, pale and sad. The crowd makes brutal comments during the roll call of the courtesans but Lescaut inspires pity for Manon. Des Grieux, in despair at the idea of being separated from Manon forever, goes to Manon's side. He tries to seize her but is roughly pushed away by the sergeant. However the captain of the ship sees his intense grief and allows him to board the ship.

Act 4

A vast desert near the outskirts of New Orleans

Fleeing from Louisiana across the desert and hoping to find protection in a British settlement, the couple wanders in the desert without any water. The ailing Manon is exhausted; she falls and can go no further. Des Grieux is alarmed by Manon's appearance and goes to look for water. Alone, Manon recalls her past, muses about her fatal beauty, and her fate. Des Grieux returns, having been unable to find water. Manon bids him a heart-rending farewell and dies in his arms. Overcome by grief, Des Grieux falls unconscious across her body.

Selected recordings

Year Cast
(Manon Lescaut, Des Grieux, Lescaut)
Conductor,
Opera House and Orchestra
Label
1954 Licia Albanese,
Jussi Bjoerling,
Robert Merrill
Jonel Perlea,
Rome Opera orchestra and chorus
Audio CD:RCA Victor
Cat: 60573-2-RG
1959 Maria Callas,
Giuseppe di Stefano,
Giulio Fioravanti
Tullio Serafin,
Teatro alla Scala Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD:EMI
Cat: CDS5 56301 2 (Mono)
1980 Renata Scotto,
Plácido Domingo,
Pablo Elvira
James Levine,
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
DVD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 00440 073 4241
1984 Dame Kiri Te Kanawa,
Plácido Domingo,
Thomas Allen
Giuseppe Sinopoli,
Royal Opera House Orchestra and Chorus
(Movie)
DVD: Kultur Video
ASIN: B00008DDRL
1984 Mirella Freni,
Plácido Domingo,
Renato Bruson
Giuseppe Sinopoli,
Philharmonia Orchestra
Royal Opera House Chorus
CD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 413 893-2 2
1993 Mirella Freni,
Luciano Pavarotti,
Dwayne Croft
James Levine,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
CD: DECCA
Cat: 440 200-2
1998 Maria Guleghina,
José Cura,
Lucio Gallo
Riccardo Muti,
Teatro alla Scala Orchestra and Chorus
CD: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat: 463 186-2

Note: "Cat:" is short for catalogue number by the label company; "ASIN" is amazon.com product reference number.

References

  • Synopsis is based on The Opera Goer's Complete Guide by Leo Melitz, 1921 version.
  • Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times Essential Library of Opera, Times Books (Henry Holt and Company), 2004.
  • Julian Budden, Manon Lescaut, Grove Music Online, 2005.

External links

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