Italian passion in the depth of a drama is something that everyone should experiment before they leave this planet.
Puccini, The Heir
The dynasty of great Italian composers is very large and goes back to the very beginning; opera was born in Italy and it makes perfect sense, since it shows every aspect of the Italian culture: that amazing clash between the extremes of sorrow and happiness. To Italians, everything is drama and both, the highs and the lows, are equally spectacular. Moving along the timeline of the great musicians, composers and lyricists, the moments I enjoy the most are the Romantic (late Romantic) and the beginning of the Contemporary, which matches the change of Century. It was Verdi the last of the great Romantics to die and his heir, the one in charge of bringing this classical style into the XIX Century was no other than Giacomo Puccini. He took very specific elements from his predecessors like the diatonic melodies that made the Italians so famous across Europe, but also incorporated more intricate and modern elements from composers like Stravinsky. In Puccini it’s visible the duality between the ups and the downs as well as the visceral power and emotion for which Verdi was praised among pairs. Italy has one of the most traditional and beautiful opera houses in the world: La Scala and it was precisely there where his first successful opera (ManonLescaut) and the last one from Verdi (Falstaff) were presented with one week of difference (February 2nd and 9th of 1893) placing Puccini as the heir and the pivotal author between the past and the future of Italian operas.
Puccini’s Heroic Women
If there’s one thing I can say that changed my perception about opera in general is Puccini´s tremendous work performed with his female characters.
“They are powerful, heroic women who often sacrifice themselves to save those they love.”
This is a very interesting fact when you find out he was brought up by women (orphan from his father at age 5) and that he was very promiscuous and frequented as many women as he could. I think he’s the key element to understand the change in the upcoming operas in which the role of the music was increased to reach the dramatic peaks while the voice of the singer carries the dramatic burden. He was very jealous of his libretto when composing his work and paid almost equal attention to the dramatic shifts from a literary point of view as he did from the musical one.
The term is taken from the Italian literary movement which changed the whole idea of who they were writing for and about, because the characters and stories involved the poor and the outcasts. Puccini can be considered as the greatest exponent of verisimo in opera. He was the one who brought the musical performances of the most skilled singers in the world to stories that were related to the everyday life of those who were the largest population in the at the moment (and now, of course) with a level of power and emotion that was never matched by any composer. I definitely know a have a weakness for Italians (especially romantics and contemporaries) but the work produced in the early XX Century was to set the standard by which all the upcoming opera was to be measured with. Puccini blew my mind with the strength of simplicity, the melodic turns, the emotional depth, the multi-layered female characters and the down-to-Earth approach to the selection of the topics.