Now, anybody who knows anything about opera will tell you that Puccini was a genius. His operas are among the most frequently performed today. In fact, you may be hard-pressed to find a single opera company, anywhere in the world, that does not include at least one Puccini opera every season. But what is it that makes Puccini so popular? Is it his beautiful, soaring melodies? His incredibly romantic libretti? The intense, often heart-rending drama? Or is it the immediacy of his style, a style that often leads the viewer to forget that he or she is watching an opera rather than an action movie? Well, the simple answer is, "yes!" It is a bit of all of these, and every opera lover is drawn to a different element of his work. My husband, for example, was particularly impressed with Rodolfo's suave, poetic pickup lines. My brother blares Liu's delicate arias as he drives down the street with his windows open. And I hang on the edge of my seat for the entire second act of Tosca, even though I already know exactly what's going to happen. And when you put all of these elements together, the results are often magical!
When I decided to write about Puccini, I thought about what I might include here. Do I talk about his personal history? His influences? His wonderful music? After giving it some careful consideration, I decided to just start writing and see where it carries me. After all, that is precisely what his music does: it carries the listener off into the world of the opera. So I think that the best place to start, as an introduction to FGO's new production, is with the most well-known aria from La Rondine.
Okay, so here we have a beautiful aria. It demonstrates Puccini's status as a master of gorgeous melody. But what about the drama? What about the gut-wrenching, nail-biting action I spoke of? Well, here is the very scene I mentioned above, as sung by Bryn Terfel and Angela Gheorghiu.
And what of the poetry? The romantic lyrics? The beautiful words, and the music that reflects them? Puccini's operas are full of these gorgeously amorous moments, and who is better suited to demonstrate them than his very own poet?
So here we have some of the most essential elements of Puccini's work: beauty, passion, and drama. I know I really didn't get into those other things I mentioned, such as history and influence. But for me, Puccini has always been purely about the art. Any other discussion, to me, would be a distraction. When I watch Puccini, I want to close my eyes and enjoy every note. But I don't dare, because I don't want to miss a moment of what is happening on stage. I don't want to think; I want to be swept away! I want to be carried to 19th century Rome, or to Nagasaki, or to Peking! And therein lies the pure genius of Puccini: with a note, he can carry you to any one of those far-off places and times.
And on that note, (no pun intended,) I will leave you with one final aria to sweep you away.