Mister Giacomo Puccini, this stranger

Cartolina a Giulio Ricordi. Dall'Epistolario di Giacomo Puccini (Per gentile concessione di Olschki editore)

-by Gianmarco Caselli-

The young Giacomo Puccini talks. Gianmarco Caselli, among the project’s partners , tells us what we know about him thanks to the letters published in the first volume of his letters. READ THE INTERVIEW  WITH GABRIELLA BIAGI RAVENNI ABOUT THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OPERA  TO BE PUBLISHED SOON
“Send me the money at once as I don’t have a penny and I’ve hardly been able to get by for four days  ”: who wrote these words is not a stranger but Giacomo Puccini. Of course, not the Puccini we know, rich and famous, but a Puccini who had just begun, studying in Milan trying to become famous and asking his mum for money to get by.

Fotografia di Giacomo Puccini con dedica autografa a Gustav Mahler (dal volume1 dell'Epistolario, per gentile concessione di Olschki)

A picture of Giacomo Puccini with the authentic inscription to Gustav Mahler (from volume1 of the Letters, by gracious permission of Olschki)

It is just one of the many curiosities revealing a less known Puccini who discovered himself reading his vast collection of letters contained in his Epistolario edited  by Olschki and prepared by  Gabriella Biagi Ravenni and Dieter Schikling. It is possible to reconstruct from this amazing collection, REWRITE of which the first volume came out, maybe the most fascinating  chapter  in Puccini’s history, the one about the beginning of his career: postcards, letters, telegrams, photographs with short messages. Materials go  from 1877 to 1896: Puccini keeps constantly in touch with friends, his mum and sisters from Milan where he studies and from Torre del Lago where he finds shelter.

The relationship with Elvira, a woman who’s already married with children, will make him go to  Monza after making her pregnant; it was a scandal in the town of Lucca and Puccini writes from Monza to one of his sisters : “for now it is necessary he lives unknown and undetectable”; in the meantime he still has to find a job, as it is written in the letter : “I have no money, sometimes not even enough to eat and if there wasn’t Fontana to help it could have been even worse […]”, he writes referring to his first librettist  Fontana. From his first letters a very young Puccini emerges looking for success in Milan, the city where it’s possible to get in touch with the most important editors, such as Giulio Ricordi, and who is poor, who suffers the cold, with just a pair of shoes, asking his mum to send him some socks to keep him warm in winter, money and maybe some oil and beans. Needless to remember what has already been written, that this phase is a part of his life which will give birth to  La Bohème.

Giacomo Puccini con Elvira Bonturi (da http://piccoliviaggimusicali.blogspot.it/2014/12/chi-era-giacomo-puccini-1858-1924.html)

Giacomo Puccini with Elvira Bonturi (from http://piccoliviaggimusicali.blogspot.it/2014/12/chi-era-giacomo-puccini-1858-1924.html)

In our society (made-up of sycophant politicians ready to change their mind whenever  suits them) we find another surprising letter in which the future Master blames his mother for asking  Bazzini –his Milan based composition teacher –to back him in publishing houses: “You in Lucca always want to get intercessions; damn those who invented them.” It’s the time in which Puccini hopes to become someone but remains Tuscan at heart with an uncontrollable, often trivial irony, which may scandalize the non Tuscans,  although being afraid not to succeed in making his dream come true; it’s that Puccini who lets  shadow his wife , who, coming back to Torre del Lago where he found a “shelter” to be distant and close to Lucca, looks for his friends to drink wine and have fun and who in many letters he can’t but speak by riddles, maybe even women, without talking about his music; they are all ingredients which make his Epistolario unique, unforeseeable and pleasing even to non experts.

But reading his letters from the volume we can see how Puccini manages to become someone  and the most famous composer at that time. Together  with his editor Giulio Ricordi an incredibly intimate relationship will come to life rephrasing and he will become someone to talk to, not only about music but also to even send some beans: “Beans are delicious and they are cooked like this: they are put in cold water on fire– water must be nor too much nor too little  – they must boil two hours over low heat and when they’re cooked 3 or 4 spoons of broth must remain.” Then, after making his last recommendations about beans, Puccini talks in detail about technical aspects concerning the libretto of his soon-to-be Bohème.

Puccini sends  his friend Alfredo Caselli as a secret agent also his friend,owner  of the bar in via Fillungo, the artists’ meeting point  from Lucca, to shadow a soprano in a relationship with a salesman, a friend of his, ordering him to jump on the same  “carriage, to see in Pisa who accompanies, greets, or kisses her, to see if  someone jumps on the train with her during the  journey from Pisa to Pistoia and if once she arrived  in  Pistoia she goes to  Bologna or stops in  Pistoia. (Particular signs: the lady wears glasses, is short, fat, speaks with the nose) She will probably wear a long coat trimmed with clear hair. It is known that  travel,  vermouth,  cigar, newspaper costs will be reimbursed.” All in all a well-rounded  Puccini, even the one you wouldn’t expect, always complaining with Caselli: “Did you read Fanfulla 20 21 7mbre? Read it and  you will feel sorry for me as they have hurt me damaging what I hold so dear  the villains!”: the Master  in this case got angry with a  journalist of Fanfulla who criticized him not as a composer  but unfortunately as a “very mediocre hunter.”

Cover image: Postcard to Giulio Ricordi. From  the Letters  by Giacomo Puccini (By gracious permission of  Olschki ed.)

Translated by Giulia Biagi

Proofread by Antoinette D’Arbela and Riccardo Gileno

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