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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
BBC TV Series: Great Composers:
Excerpts from:
Messa di Gloria (1880): ‘Gloria’
Preludio sinfonico (1876)
Le Villi (1883): Act II, ‘O sommo iddio’
Manon Lescaut (1890-2) : Act II, ‘Tu, tu amore? Tu!’ and Act III, Prelude.
La Bohème (1894-5)– Act IV  ‘Ah! Mimi!, mia bella Mimi.’
Tosca (1898-9)– Act III ‘Vissi d’arte’ and Act III ‘E lucevan stelle’.
Madama Butterfly (1901-4) – Act III Prelude; Act I ‘Viene la sera’ and Act II ‘Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio’
La Fanciulla del West (1908-10) – Act III – ‘Ch’ella mi creda’
Il Tabarro (1913-18)- Opening
Turandot (1920-26) – Act I ‘Principessa, principessa’ Act III ‘Nessun dorma’
Narrated by Kenneth Branagh
Music Performed by: Jose Cura (tenor); Julia Migenes (soprano)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Richard Buckley
Contributors include: Julia Migenes; Jose Cura; Julian Budden; William Ashbrook; Raymond Gubby; Jonathan Miller; Simon Callow; Richard Buckley; Sir Charles Mackerras
BBC broadcast, 1997
WARNER MUSIC/NVC ARTS 50-51011-5452-2-1 [59:00]

“His music goers straight to your heart” - Julia Migenes – soprano 

Here is another valuable DVD, another programme culled from the BBC ‘Great Composers’ series, broadcast in late 1997 and early 1998. This one, devoted to the life and works of Puccini is visually splendid. Its locations include the lovely, medieval Tuscan town of Lucca where the composer was born but why not film inside the actual birthplace which is such an interesting Puccini museum? We also see Pisa and Milan and Puccini’s homes in Viareggio and Torre del Largo for a glimpse of Madam Butterfly in the outdoor, lake-side theatre that is the location the annual Puccini Opera Festival.

As usual, in this BBC series, the most telling contributions are by the artists and the biographers. Again I must protest that the Warner/NVC packaging. It does no justice to the invaluable contributions of the musicologists and authors, Julian Budden and William Ashbrook whose credits are diminished to tiny proportions, obscured by the placement of the DVD, on the inside right of the single sheet leaflet that is all that accompanies the disc.  Opera producer Jonathan Miller confirms that Puccini “is a master dramatist and, that the operas are the most popular of all, the revenue of their performances enabling the production of so many other operas. Julia Migenes enthuses about the strong roles for women in Puccini’s operas citing the characters, Tosca and Manon Lescaut, Of Puccini’s music for the latter opera she says that it is “… perfectly, musically, emotionally spoken out, with every instrument expressing every feeling; [Puccini] seems to have had a great sense of acting in his music.”  Many contributors comment on Puccini’s vivid sense of theatre and how his operas are so shrewdly constructed so as to derive the maximum dramatic and emotional impact; and how meticulous Puccini was in his background researches. Julian Budden cites, for example, how Puccini had visited Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo and stood on the battlements to hear the bells of the City before he wrote that wonderfully evocative dawn scene: the orchestral introduction to Act III of Tosca.

Although one appreciates that the scope of the documentary is restrained by its 58- minute running time, it is to be regretted that there is no mention of Puccini’s much underrated opera, La Rondine, and it hardly touches upon Il Trittico, except for a mention of the beautifully atmospheric Prelude to Il tabarro. We could have done with a little less attention to the more lurid details of the composer’s life; his many extra-marital affairs recalled with amusement and relish by descendants of his neighbours. If so it might have released time for this more pertinent material.

The excerpts are all performed with enthusiasm and dedication; the ardent voice of Jose Cura impressing especially.

Despite a few reservations especially about certain omissions, this is an excellent introduction to the life and work of opera’s most popular composer.

Ian Lace






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