Richard Nisley

Music - Classical Released - Dec 15, 2018
It's from the movie, "Kate and Leopold," where actor Hugh Jackman (as Leopold) describes "La Boheme" as "one of man's great works." Which is curious because the opera premiered in 1896, while Jackman's character, who mysteriously has been transported forward in time, is from 1885.

To be sure, "La Boheme" is one one of the greatest operas ever written, and one of Puccini's great works.

As with the French composer George Bizet, the critics didn't think much of Puccini's music. Said one: "La Boheme, even as it leaves little impression on the minds of the audience, will leave no great trace upon the history of our lyric theater." Even today a good many critics are not much impressed with the musical of Giacomo Puccini. They dismiss his operas as sentimental "tearjerkers," his scores as too obvious, and his last acts as "weak."

Also with Bizet, the public ignores the critics and absolutely adores Puccini's music.

Puccini was part of the late-nineteenth century "verismo" school of Italian Opera. Which means he dealt with the real world in real settings, rather than in history, legend, or traditional heroes. "La Boheme" is about starving artists on Paris's Left Bank in the 1830s; "Tosca" is about a brutal Roman police chief, torture, and attempted rape in 1800; "Madame Butterfly" is about a Japanese woman who falls in love and marries an American naval lieutenant in 1900.

About his art, Puccini said: "Almighty God touched me with his little finger and said, 'Write for the theater–mind, only for the theater.' And I have obeyed that supreme command." He also said, "Just think of it! If I hadn't hit on music I should never have been able to do anything in the world." Indeed, Puccini's life was going nowhere until he hit upon opera. While considered lazy by friends and family, he was not casual about his work. Once he zeroed in on composing opera, he paid great attention to detail for the sake of authenticity, be it Japanese music for Madam Butterfly or the appropriate church-bell tones for Tosca.

Puccini, Verdi and Bizet are the composers of the seven most performed operas by the New York Metropolitan Opera. In order of frequency of performance, they are:

1 - Aida, by Verdi
2 - La Boheme, by Puccini
3 - Carmen, by Bizet
4 - La Traviata, by Verdi
5 - Tosca, by Puccini
6 - Madam Butterfly, by Puccini
7 - Rigoletto, by Verdi

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