Puccini is the most popular of all Italian opera composers, whose emotionally-charged music has captured the hearts of millions worldwide. Building upon the work of Verdi, his operas similarly focus on flesh-and-blood characters caught in soul-searching predicaments, yet his works are less rigidly structured and employ richer orchestration and harmonies.
Puccini grew up in a musical family. He intended to work as a church organist and composer, but after hearing Verdi’s Aida was inspired to pursue a career in opera. He soon attracted the attention of publisher Ricordi, and won his first and greatest success with Manon Lescaut in 1893, establishing him as a leading figure. His next three operas, all collaborations with librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giocosa, have posthumously become mainstays of the repertoire, yet garnered a mixed reception when new. La bohème skilfully mixes humour and pathos, Tosca marks Puccini’s full adoption of the verismo style, while Madam Butterfly is now regarded as his most sophisticated work though its La Scala premiere was a fiasco.
Puccini and his family settled in Torre del Lago in 1900, but a scandalous affair with a servant girl interrupted his career, and La fanciulla del West, La Rondine and his Trittico of one act operas only achieved modest success. His last opera Turandot, left unfinished at his death and completed by Alfano, rapidly travelled the world and the aria Nessun dorma, immortalised in recent times by Luciano Pavarotti, is for many the epitome of Italian opera.