Italian composer Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) was born to a family with rich musical traditions. He was a grandson of the composer and conductor Domenico Puccini. After the death of his father, Giacomo was raised by his uncle, who enrolled him in the Institute of Music in his home town of Lucca.
His studies at the Milan conservatory bore fruit in the form of a few larger instrumental pieces, while his first operatic effort – Le Villi – was entered into a competition sponsored by the Sozogno music publishing company. It did not win, but was staged anyway, attracting the attention of the competition organiser’s rivals. Struck up at that time, Puccini’s friendship with music publisher Giulio Ricordi lasted until the composer’s death. Ricordi’s company released Puccini’s subsequent scores. The friendship was sealed with the success of Manon Lescaut in 1893, which also allowed Puccini to sustain a comfortable living.
After Manon the composer began collaborating with the librettists of his three subsequent masterpieces: La Bohéme, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly. After the ‘trilogy’, Puccini had to wait 15 years for another success. Following the triumph of La fanciulla del West (The Girl of the West) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, his career again reached a stalemate. The composer regained momentum only after the premiere of Gianni Schicchi, reaching the height of artistic ability in Turandot, which he worked on from the early 1920s, with mixed fortunes but undiminished enthusiasm. Unfortunately, in 1924 he fell suddenly ill and died at the end of the year, leaving his last opera without the final duet. The instrumentation was completed by Franc Alfano, chosen for this task by conductor Artur Toscanini.
Puccini’s body was transported to Milan, where the official funeral service was held. The audience bid the composer their farewell at the world premiere of Turandot at La Scala conducted by Toscanini. Although not as artistically prolific as Verdi, Puccini was recognised as a leading opera creator of the turn of the 19th and 20th century.