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Thread: Why Does Puccini Find Such Little Love?

          
   
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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Why Does Puccini Find Such Little Love?

    Puccini's operas are wonderful, and sure, some of them are weaker than others, but his works may be among the most famous in all of opera. Why then, when we talk about Puccini's operas here, does everyone start to hold their noses until thinking about it a little - or listening?

    I guess, speaking for myself, it's a matter of over-exposure. Washington National Opera seemingly has the habit of scheduling a Puccini opera each season. Unfortunately, they also limit themselves to rotating most often between Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Manon Lescaut. La Boheme shows up about every 8 years or so.

    A further issue, for me, is on those rare occasions when WNO stages Turandot, the productions tend to be way over the top and feature spectacularly weak Calafs. One has heard Pavarotti's "Nessun Dorma" so often that one expects all tenors to be able to toss it off without effort. Not so much.

    Maybe it's the whole verismo thing - I'm also not much of a fan of Cavalleria Rusticana, I Pagliacci or Francesca di Rimini. Or maybe it's the heavy melodrama.

    Maybe the operas are just a whole lot more difficult to cast well than is typical, but are so popular that companies can get away with middling casting that works for most audiences.

    I don't know.

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    Senior Member Top Contributor Member Clayton's Avatar
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    It was the opposite for me, unfamiliarity.

    When I said Puccini was not one of my favourites, I really meant that (I would list 16 or 17 composers I prefer before). I guess I've been following you guys on a wild whirlwind tour of opera all over the place from Monteverdi to Benjamin and it has not been the most orthodox introduction to opera (but definitely good).

    Though thanks in part to the Maria Callas remastered set (oh what a good buy that is turning out to be), I am starting to really appreciate the gentleman who I did not even take a photograph of when I was at La Scala

    Name:  La Bohème - Antonio Votto 1956, Maria Callas Remastered.jpg
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Size:  34.3 KBName:  Madame Butterfly - Herbert von Karajan 1955, Maria Callas Remastered.jpg
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    Name:  Manon Lescaut - Tullio Serafin 1957, Maria Callas Remastered.jpg
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Size:  32.5 KBName:  Turandot - Tullio Serafin 1957, Maria Callas Remastered.jpg
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    Senior Member Veteran Member
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    I disagree with the basic premise that Puccini's works are not "loved". His output is admittedly uneven, but Boheme, Tosca and Butterfly remain box office favorites, and Boheme may be the most recorded of all operas ( This has not been validated; it remains a belief of mine).

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    Senior Member Top Contributor Member Clayton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnGerald View Post
    I disagree with the basic premise that Puccini's works are not "loved"...
    I think Hoffmann refers to the last round of our recommended CDs thread, where I think three members started the recommendation with "Puccini is not my favourite composer..."

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    I think Hoffmann has hit the nail on the head about many of us being over-exposed. Of the most popular ones my favourite is Tosca, I love that second act (must be a bit of a masochist). But I'm over Boheme and Butterfly.

    He is also right about weak tenors in Turandot, and sopranos that can manage to do more than just be loud.

    My favourite Puccinis are La Fanciulla del West, cheesy as it may be, and the amazing Tabarro from Il Triticco. Clayton, if you have not heard the latter, give it a whirl. It's very evocative.
    Natalie

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    I like Puccini's tunes, but find it hard to take him seriously as an artist. While Verdi looked to Shakespeare, Schiller, and Hugo for inspiration, Puccini settled for Gozzi, Sardou, and Belasco. Too often he resorts to cheap melodrama or cloying sentimentality.

    That said, I can enjoy the youthful charm of Bohème or the savage obsessions of Turandot, and I do respond to the passion of Tosca (obviously). And then there's always my tragic romance and secret love child with Suor Angelica.

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    Something of my character can be gleaned from the fact that my older son, who REALLY knows beer, buys me Dirty Bastard and Crusty Curmudgeon beers. He fervently denies any connection, but others nod their heads ...

    I mention this bit of trivia to underscore my consistant reaction to Boheme, having seen it staged several times and having at least six DVDs: I melt when Mimi dies. Every time.

    Go figure.

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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnGerald View Post
    Something of my character can be gleaned from the fact that my older son, who REALLY knows beer, buys me Dirty Bastard and Crusty Curmudgeon beers. He fervently denies any connection, but others nod their heads ...

    I mention this bit of trivia to underscore my consistant reaction to Boheme, having seen it staged several times and having at least six DVDs: I melt when Mimi dies. Every time.

    Go figure.
    Me too. I like the image of a hard core opera-lover (I know I don't hold a candle to you guys), and Puccini seems just too vin ordinaire. Nonetheless, when Mimi buys the farm, despite my best efforts, (providing the performance has been well sung) I've got tears to deal with.

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    Senior Member Involved Member Floria's Avatar
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    I love Puccini's operas. It is not difficult to guess which one is my favorite.

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    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    I like many of Puccini's operas quite well -- Madama Butterfly has such lovely music, and that heartbreaking scene when Butterfly speaks to Kate Pinkerton will make me puddle up if anything will. La Boheme seems to be the one I really can't warm up to all that much, and I'm not exactly sure why. (Apologies to all of those who love this opera.) Cincinnati Opera is performing Turandot this coming summer with Marcy Stonikas in the title role, so I'll see how that turns out. The last time I heard it here, the two leads were sung by Martina Arroyo and Ruben Dominguez, a very good Venezuelan lirico-spinto tenor with amazing high notes.

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Overexposure is right, as a reason for the occasional dislike (but one must acknowledge that it is overexposed exactly because it is so popular, and it is so popular because it does have great merit). Me, I think Tosca is an astounding masterpiece - mean, lean, very well planned, down to the details of environmental sounds and music, with memorable scenes and incredibly compelling hits. Bohème as overexposed as it is, contains a sequence of four musical numbers that might qualify as top five in terms of packing sheer melodious beauty, in all of opera, featuring the quintessential Italian romanticism. All three operas in the Trittico are phenomenal little gems (at one time I didn't like Suor Angélica but now I've entirely changed my mind about it). Puccini is referred to as the King of Melody and it sounds about right, although Handel might disagree. Turandot up to the point when the composer died is a beam of light into the upcoming modernist music. Yes, Manon Lescaut is messy and I prefer other versions of the story; La Rondine is messy, but both have their moments. I can't seem to warm up to La Fanciulla, and I consider Edgar very weak, while Le Villi is charming.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Senior Member Top Contributor Member Florestan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva) View Post
    I can't seem to warm up to La Fanciulla...
    How about reconsidering La Fanciulla in light of this:

    Fanciulla is surrounded on many levels by a series of Wagnerian suggestions. There is a narrative line which brings about moral redemption, as in Parsifal, although cleansed of mystic incrustations and of the Wagnerian mythology of purity: in Minnie’s harsh analysis, the men remain “outlaws and cheats”: the “gamemaster” Rance, the true “outlaw” Johnson/Ramerrez, the “mistress of the flophouse and of gambling” Minnie. There is a trace of the union of Sigmund e Siglinde in the embrace of the two protagonists who ignore the gusts of wind that batter their shack, but it is only fleeting. There is the evocation of Minnie in Valkyrie’s clothing the instant she bursts onto the scene of Johnson’s hanging, “on horseback, scantily clad, her hair to the wind,” and heralded by a “savage cry.” And there are musical reverberations that permeate a few key moments in the score. One of these affects Minnie’s motif – the vibrant and fortissimo exclamation that announces her first appearance in Act I – which, due to its beginning interval on a descending seventh as well as its melodic contour, alludes to the leitmotif associated with Gutrune in Gotterdämmerung and, in particular, to the variant thereof categorized in guides (from Hans von Wolzogen onward) as the “theme of the treachery of love.” Another reflects the reiterated use of the opening of the initial motif found in Tristan und Isolde: a commonplace Wagnerism in Italian opera, widely adopted by Puccini in Manon Lescaut, was the use of the related Tristan Chord. The four notes of which it is composed (a, f, e, d-sharp in Wagner’s original), currently classified as a “theme of suffering”, in Fanciulla appear for the first time in the final duet of Act I, at the point when Johnson attempts to mollify Minnie, who is bent on defending the miners’ gold with her life (“Oh, non temete, nessuno ardirà!”). After which, in Act II, with a harmonization structured on the tritone and a messa in sequenza in the ostinato form which reinforces the original intention of the sorrowful motif, it orchestrally highlights Minnie’s anguish over Johnson’s fate: the episode in which she succors the wounded Johnson (“Su, su, su, presto! Su, salvati!…”), the scene in which she pleads with the merciless Rance (“Aspettate, non può”), the dramatic, final bet (“Una partita a poker!”) until the act closes, in the convulsive moment of exuberance mixed with a desperate cry (“Ah! È mio”).
    Source (see part 5): http://www.operatoday.com/content/20...olors_of_l.php
    Since that night at the Polka, I don't understand you, Sheriff.
    --Ashby, La Fanciulla del West

  13. #13
    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    "Scantily clad" in the 19th century meant that her ankle was showing.

  14. #14
    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Florestan View Post
    How about reconsidering La Fanciulla in light of this:
    I have to admit . . . it made me want to listen to Wagner.

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    Senior Member Top Contributor Member Florestan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amfortas View Post
    I have to admit . . . it made me want to listen to Wagner.
    Well that isn't exactly a bad thing at all.
    Since that night at the Polka, I don't understand you, Sheriff.
    --Ashby, La Fanciulla del West

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