Tag Archives: Giacomo Puccini

float like a ‘Butterfly,’ hurt like a ‘Butterfly’

Washington National Opera's 'Butterfly'

Today I’m seeing WNO’s Madama Butterfly at the Kennedy Center, my first time visiting the venue. If all goes as planned, I’ll be seeing Ana María Martínez sing Cio-Cio-San and Plácido Domingo conducting, who is amazing. (What doesn’t the man do?)

Following the performance, there is an artist Q&A–a nice value add for the audience.

While the reviews have been glowing (look for my own later today or tomorrow) and Martinez singled out for her performance, it is such a sad story. Even all the beautiful music can’t disguise a tragic tale of rape and abandonment.

While I love Puccini‘s music, I have found his heroines to be problematic characters. Puccini was a man of his time and place, and his female leads are too often VICTIMIZED and preyed upon and spend too much time portraying victims. I’ve found Puccini’s women to be somewhat two-dimensional. Not nearly as interesting as Shakespeare’s female protagonists, who can be as flawed and evil as any man or worse–think Lady MacBeth–and who deserve their tragic ends.

So, today when I watch the production, I’ll be considering what makes this opera so popular–and it’s wildly popular in the United States, eclipsed  only in popularity by La Bohème.

While I expect the music to float to the rafters, I already know I’ll have a hard time processing why such an innocent woman will be not only hurt but ruined in the course of this opera–a fate she scarcely deserves.


Filed under Classic Opera, North American Opera

trivia and a treat for Tosca’s 111th anniversary

On this date, January 14, in 1900, Tosca premiered in Rome, Italy at the Teatro Costanzi. To mark the 111th anniversary of much admired opera, here’s a little Tosca trivia (and a Tosca treat). 
  • Tosca is considered to be Puccini’s  first foray into verismo, the realistic depiction of many facets of real life including violence.
  • Puccini wrote Tosca right in the middle of his career, with four operas preceding and five following.
  •  Tosca is unique in that all of the four main characters die violently.
  • For the “Te Deum,” Puccini exhaustively researched the liturgical practices at Rome .
  • The morning bells of Act 3 required a list of all the churches surrounding Castel Sant’Angelo and their bells, including the respective pitches.
  • 1928 marked the first and most notable Traviata-Tosca mashup in Milan. Apparently, the soprano singing Violetta drank too much champagne and made a mess of the first act of La Traviata. After a long intermission, the curtains opened on the second act . . . of Tosca! 

And now, the treat!  Here is  the complete second act of Franco Zeferelli’s (traditional)  Tosca filmed in 1962 at London’s Covent Garden with Maria Callas as Tosca and Tito Gobbi as Scarpia.


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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Premieres, Video

Puccini’s best opera?

While listening to the Met’s Tosca with Sondra Radvanovsky and Roberto Alagna tonight, and after hearing La Fanciulla del West driving home from Wilkes-Barre Saturday, I was wondering which of Puccini’s works was considered his best–critically speaking.  Which might be a different choice than your favorite, if you catch my drift.

What do you think? Which is Puccini’s best opera?

Pick one:
Le Villi (The Willis or The Fairies)
Manon Lescaut
La Bohème
Madama Butterfly (Madame Butterfly)
La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West)
La Rondine (The Swallow)
Il Trittico (The Triptych) – Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, Gianni Schicchi

List your choice in the comments section. (Thanks to FanPop for all the retro thumbnails.)


Filed under Audience participation, Classic Opera, Classical Composers

opera composers and literary counterparts

A few days ago, I sent a question out into the Twittersphere? Who are the literary counterparts to the greatest operatic composers? I got a nice response comparing famous cinematic directors to opera greats but no feedback regarding authors and composers.   

While I understood the comparisons between Puccini and Martin Scorcese and Verdi and James Cameron, I was still searching for a literary framework. Fundamentally, my first language is writing, not music composition. Cinema is a distant fourth or fifth. Finding no definitive work that likened composers to writers, I decided to create my own.   



Puccini and Shakespeare    

Giacomo Puccini’s operas including La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire. Shakespeare wrote heartbreakingly romantic tear-jerkers such as Romeo and Juliet that remain the most performed works in the dramatic repertoire. Puccini’s opera’s like Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted for modern audiences: Rent (Puccini), West Side Story (Shakespeare). According to The New York Times, Shakespeare, like Puccini, was “a notorious artistic poacher, so much so that tales of Shakespeare’s actual poaching of game have attached themselves to his legend.”   



Verdi and Dickens  

 With 28 operas to his credit,Verdi’s operatic output is staggering, , many of which contain arias that have made their ways into popular culture and become mainstays. His mature period produced “Nabucco,” “Ernani,” “Macbeth” (after Shakespeare),” “Luisa Miller,” “Rigoletto,” “Il Trovatore,” “La Traviata,” “Un Ballo in Maschera,” “Don Carlo,” his most famous work: “Aida,” “Otello,” and “Falstaff” (both after Shakespeare).   

Charles Dickens wrote 31 novels comprising the mainstay of most-read works. References from many of Dickens’ works have infiltrated popular culture. Who doesn’t know what a Scrooge is? Who among us doesn’t recognize the Miss Havishams and Oliver Twists illuminated in contemporary literature? Like Verdi, he could do comedy and tragedy with equal aplomb.   



Wagner and Homer   

 Of the top ten longest operas, seven of the epics are by Wagner. Götterdämmerung, the last of the Ring cycle, is 6 hours long. His operas are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. The four dramas, which the composer described as a trilogy with a Vorabend (‘preliminary evening’), are often referred to as the Ring Cycle, “Wagner‘s Ring“, or simply The Ring.  Wagner wrote the libretto and music over the course of about twenty-six years, from 1848 to 1874. He was not precocious. He was slow, thoughtful and philosophic; and music did not attract him so much as letters. His  four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen is gargantuan. It has also been said that the art of filmmaking would be set back 500 years, had Wagner not existed.   

 Homer was a legendary ancient Greek epic poet, traditionally said to be the author of the epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homeric poems developed gradually over a long period of time. Many other works were credited to Homer in antiquity, including the entire Epic Cycle (comparable to the Ring Cycle?)   

Mozart and Kafka



 Mozart was the most gifted musical genius in history, the most famous genius of any field in history, and is considered to be the perfecter of classical music. He wrote 41 symphonies, 27 piano concerti, a large amount of chamber music, 23 operas, 18 sonatas for piano, 36 for violin, for cello, church sonatas, organ pieces, 18 masses, including one Requiem, four horn concerti, 20 string quartets, serenades, divertimenti, and many others.   

Likeswise, Franz Kafka was a genius among literary geniuses. One Kafka expert claims that The Trial can be read “in any place, in any time, and it becomes about that place and time.” All his novels are classics, even minor ones. Vladimir Nabokov considered Kafka “the greatest German writer of our time.” Similarly, Mozart is considered the gold standard among musical composers. The entire ouevre of classical music is categorized around Mozart.   

So, there you have my framework for comparing opera greats to literary greats. How about it–those of you who are both literati and operaphiles? Do you agree with my comparables?

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Filed under 20th Century Opera, Classic Opera, Classical Composers