Italian composer of operas. Born 1858 in Lucca, Italy, died 1924.
The scion of several generations of well-reputed composers and church musicians in his native town of Lucca, Puccini studied composition at the conservatory in Milan from 1880 to 1883. At the instigation of his teacher, Amilcare Ponchielli, he wrote his first opera, Le Villi (1884), followed by Edgar (1889 and by the succesful Manon Lescaut (1893).
His real breakthrough, however, came with La Bohème (1896), based on the memoirs of Henri Murger from his student days in Paris in the 1830s. Later came Tosca (1900) and Madama Butterfly (1904). The latter flopped dismally at its premiere, but a revised version, published three months later, became a great success.
In the following years, Puccini's works became popular material at most of the great stages of Europe and America, and the premiere of his next opera, La fanciulla del West ("The Girl from the West", 1910) took place at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. A somewhat failed attempt at the operetta genre, La Rondine ("The Swallow", 1917) was followed by the more succesful Il tabarro ("The Cloak"), Suor Angelica ("Sister Angelica") and Gianni Schicchi. Known collectively as Il trittico ("the triptych"), these premiered together in 1918 at the Met.
The opera Turandot, which Puccini failed to finish before his death in 1924, was completed by Franco Alfano on the basis of Puccini's sketches, and premiered at La Scala in Milan in 1926.
With Giuseppe Verdi, Puccini is indubitably one of the two most successful and popular Italian opera composers in history. His operas are filled with dulcet bel canto, garnished with dashes of French impressionism and refined orchestration. His use of leitmotifs is subtle but effective. In his "exotic" operas he includes local music for colour, e.g. pentatonics in Madama Butterfly (where The Star-Spangled Banner, later to become the American national anthem, is also heard, as the motto of the male lead, Lieutenant Pinkerton).
In his choice of subject matter, Puccini is often attracted to tragic, self-sacrificing female characters, such as the seamstress Mimi in La Bohème; the singer Floria Tosca in Tosca; the geisha Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly and the slave girl Liù in Turandot. This leads to a certain over-sentimentalisation of his operas.
Apart from his operas, Puccini composed a mass (1880), a requiem for Giuseppe Verdi (1905), several instrumental works, and a number of songs.