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How Puccini Learned To Stop Being Lazy And Love The Opera

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Giacomo Puccini is one of opera's most beloved and widely recognized figures. His work has had such impact on modern culture that even today, many people who have never attended an opera recognize the music from such works as La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Turandot.

Unlike many in the pantheon of important composers, Puccini was not a prodigy, nor was he especially interested in music as a boy. He was, in fact, reportedly rather lazy. He did not do well in school, and was known for truancy. However, his family had composed and played organ for the San Martino Cathedral in Lucca for five generations. and his mother would not give up on him.

When he was 17, Puccini saw a production of Verdi's Aïda in Milan that so moved and inspired him, he could see no other career choice. It was narrative that attracted him. He found his inspiration in stories. He explained, “The basis of an opera is its subject and its treatment.”

His final opera, Turandot, was unfinished when he died in 1923. Puccini had left sketches of the final two scenes, and Franco Alfano completed them under the supervision of Arturo Toscanini.

Turandot premiered at La Scala in 1926, with Toscanini as conductor. On opening night, Toscanini stopped the music where Puccini's work on the score ended, but subsequent performances included the completed scenes.

You have one chance to see Turandot onstage at Century II, brought to you by the Wichita Grand Opera on August 28th.

Sanda Moore Coleman received an MFA in creative writing from Wichita State University in 1991. Since then, she has been the arts and community editor for The Martha's Vineyard Times, a teaching fellow at Harvard University, and an assistant editor at Image. In 2011, she received the Maureen Egan Writers Exchange prize for fiction from Poets & Writers magazine. She has spent more than 30 years performing, reviewing, and writing for theatre.