Day 206 of Colourisation Project – November 29
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
If there is any doubt as to whether life imitates art, you need delve no further than into the life of Italian composer, Giacomo Puccini. Love, infidelity, jealousy, vengeance and death, – all staples of Puccini’s operas; but they were also the ingredients to another more palpable drama being played out in real life.
Giacomo Puccini is the most commercially successful opera composer there has ever been. His genius lay in his ability to write beautiful melodies that audiences responded to. Often ranked as one of the greatest exponents of operatic realism, Puccini’s operas include the ever popular, La Bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), and Madama Butterfly (1904). These operas are his most frequently performed and let’s face it, one can never get enough of Puccini.
Puccini started the operatic trend toward realism with these popular works, using a theme called Il tabarro (The Cloak); Chi ha vissuto per amore, per amore si morì. (He who has lived for love, has died for love). This theme is played out repeatedly in the fate of many of his operatic heroines. But it doesn’t stop there for Puccini.
Picture this if you will. The time is late 19th century. The place is Lucca in Toscana, Italy.
In 1884, long before any of these operas had been written, the 26 year old Puccini became involved with an unhappily married woman named Elvira Gemignani, whose husband, was an ‘unrepentant womanizer.’ Elvira fell pregnant to Puccini, and a son, Antonio, was born in 1886. Elvira left town when the pregnancy began to show to avoid gossip and along with Antonio and Elvira’s daughter by her husband, fled to Como to live with Puccini shortly afterwards. They later moved to Torre del Lago, a small community near Lucca, his hometown where they lived for the rest of their lives.
Years later in 1903, Elvira’s husband, Narisco Gemignani was killed by the ‘cuckolded’ husband of a woman that he had an affair with. It was then that Puccini and Elvira were able to marry and legitimize their child, Antonio. However, there is no ‘…and they lived happily ever after’ in this story.
The marriage between Puccini and Elvira was also plagued by infidelity. Puccini had become a serial adulterer with well-known singers at the time, such as Maria Jeritza, Emmy Destinn, Cesira Ferrani, and Hariclea Darclée.
In 1909 the ever suspicious, Elvira publicly accused Doria Manfredi, a maid working for the Puccini family, of having an affair with the composer, after which Doria riddled with shame commits suicide by drinking poison. She was only 23 years old. An autopsy however, determined that Doria had in fact died a virgin, thus refuting Elvira’s accusations. (Makes you wonder about Liu, the slave girl from Turandot who dies tragically by suicide. No?)
Enter the law! Elvira Puccini was prosecuted for slander and was sentenced to five months prison. Puccini made a payment in an out of court settlement to the Manfredi family thereby sparing Elvira from having to serve the sentence.
Cut to the year 2007
Documents found in the possession of a Manfredi family descendant, Nadia Manfredi, reveal that Puccini was actually having an affair with Giulia Manfredi, Doria’s cousin. Doria was simply acting as a go-between, carrying letters to the furtive lovers.
The affair continued long afterwards, with Giulia bearing Puccini a son, Alfredo Manfredi in 1923, 15 months before Puccini’s death at the age of 66. Nadia Manfredi it is alleged was Puccini’s granddaughter, by his son, Alfredo Manfredi.
According to Italian film director Paolo Benvenuti, whose film Puccini e la Fanciulla, premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2008,
“Doria discovered Puccini’s stepdaughter, Fosca, in flagrante with the librettist of Fanciulla Del West, Guelfo Civinini, in Villa Puccini.” Fosca was 28 at the time and married to the impresario Salvatore Leonardi. “Fosca was afraid that Doria would tell all so she decided to discredit Doria and accused the girl of having an affair with her stepfather. Puccini’s wife Elvira sacked Doria.”
[The Independant – 6 July 2008 – Scandalissimo! Puccini’s Sex Life Exposed]
What an imbroglio! Now if that’s not Art imitating life…I don’t know what is.
Critics and interpreters of Puccini’s work have speculated that Puccini’s complicated love-life had psychological consequences which had a significant influence on the development of his characters but also put the brakes on his musical output.
Puccini, chain smoker of Toscano cigars and cigarettes, died of throat cancer 90 years ago on this day, 29 November, 1924 in Brussels.
And in true dramatic style as the curtain came down on this real life opera…news of Puccini’s death reached Rome in the middle of a performance of La Bohème. The opera was immediately stopped, and the orchestra played Chopin’s Funeral March for the stunned audience.
Puccini’s remains lie in a specially created chapel inside the Puccini villa at Torre del Lago.
And now for a change of mood. I leave you with the impeccable Maria Callas singing the popular aria “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Gianni Schicchi, a comic one-act opera which turned out to be Puccini’s last completed opera. Enjoy!
“Tu pure, o, Principessa, nella tua fredda stanza, guardi le stelle che tremano d’amore e di speranza. Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me, il nome mio nessun saprà…!”
“Even you, oh Princess, in your cold room, watch the stars, that tremble with love and with hope. But my secret is hidden within me, my name no one shall know…!”
– Giacomo Puccini – Nessun Dorma