Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)

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Dear Artist,

You can’t go anywhere around Lucca without bumping into the operatic composer Giacomo Puccini. He’s everywhere — museums, posters, walls, books, postcards, schools and freestanding displays advertising the current Puccini Festival. His music drifts from cafes and salon pianos. Sopranos and tenors nightly sing his arias in restaurants. While for most of us he’s from another time and another place, there’s wisdom in his life that many artists might find of interest:

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Puccini with a new speedboat at Torre del Lago
1909

Puccini was born into a musical family and encouraged early by his parents. His father was titular organist and composer for the local cathedral. His greater family, like others in Italy, was blessed with pervasive nepotism and the need for accomplishment. Everyone was behind him. There was lots of early practical experience, including violin lessons, composing for local choirs, and playing the organ in Lucca churches. Puccini developed a lifelong loyalty to place, never failing to honour and praise his roots. Throughout all, he had a particularly persistent and dedicated advocate in his mother — it seems she gave him an immunity to the effects of failure. Puccini developed the wisdom of reapplication after disappointments — of which he was to have many.

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At Torre del Lago with a new Sizaire et Naudin
1906

In his early maturity he made long-lasting and mutually loyal publishing and libretto connections. While he was no stranger to fundraising and political manipulation, he was also a willing cooperator in adjusting things to make them more appealing and effective — forever revising scores, sometimes over several years. He was generous in public advocacy, donations and petitions (at one time he signed one for a “road for cars.”) Puccini forever intervened and lent his name to projects of civic good, theatrical improvement and expansion of the arts.

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Portrait (detail) by Eduardo Gelli. A lifetime smoker, Puccini died of throat cancer in 1924.

Puccini was what we now call an “early adopter,” encouraging the film treatment of opera and the wider and cheaper distribution of printed scores. Not surprisingly, he drove one of the first cars in Lucca and was hospitalized for a while in 1901 as one of its first auto-accident victims. He sported vigorously and had a love of relaxing diversions — hunting, driving, boating. Puccini took play seriously and enjoyed the camaraderie of friends, both creative and otherwise. Above all, he had a philosopher’s understanding of the greater world — his operas were not all homespun tales — The Girl of the Golden West takes place in America, Madame Butterfly, in Japan, La Boheme in Paris.

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Not that you need to know this, but as a sub-project while in Italy I have been researching the various cars owned by Puccini. They were, in order: 1901 De Dion Bouton, 1901 Clement (accident car), 1904 De Dion Bouton, 1904 Fiat, 1905 Isotta Fraschini, 1905 La Buire, 1906 Sizaire et Naudin, 1906 LeBuire, 1906 Isotta Fraschini, 1908 De Dion Bouton, 1910 Italia, 1915 Fiat, 1919 Fiat, 1922 Lancia, 1923 Lancia. Quite a nice museum if you had them all together today.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “The sons of cats catch mice.” (Italian proverb)

Esoterica: I’m laptopping you from the mezzanine of the Guinigi Palace in Lucca. In the room above, part of yet another Puccini museum, a player piano distantly recreates Puccini’s ghostly hand with themes from Manon Lescaut, Tosca and Turandot. Out the window, thanks to the local religion of architectural preservation, the red-tiled rooftops, decorative chimneys, towers and dovecotes, look very much the same as Puccini’s own view. The distant Tuscan hills of opportunity are still in place. In many ways, nothing changes.

 

 

 

 

 

Creative energy
by Ignacio Rosenberg, Chicago, IL, USA
 

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Slipknot

I find myself working with a huge array of creative people, right now the most iconic and specialized being Slipknot. Behind the angry songs and grotesque masks they have a sense of the theatrical that’s amazing. Clown, their founder and conceptual creator has a remarkable mind for the visuals of his band. We’ve bonded as photographers and developing new things for them. From this tour I go straight to Janet Jackson, before this I did REM. I’ve started playing bass because I feed off the creative energy of the musicians I work for. I guess creative energy comes in all shapes, sizes and flavors!

 

Unexpected talent
by Marney Ward, Victoria, BC, Canada
 

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“Foxglove”
watercolour 14 x 10 inches
by Marney Ward

I am an artist who can’t sing a note but for some unfathomable, miraculous reason my daughter is an opera singer, and her first opera was Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. She was just in the chorus but she was chosen to sing a madrigal with Manon. This month I had my first major solo exhibition in a prestigious gallery, and on opening day she could not be with me because she was the guest soloist with the Sooke Philharmonic Orchestra. As all my friends were toasting my art, she was singing “Quando me’n vo soletta” from Puccini’s La Boheme. Though I can’t credit my genes with giving her, her voice, I do think my creative spirit is flowing in her veins.

 

 

 

Disappearance of sculptures
by James Larson, Scottsdale, AZ, USA
 

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“Hiding place”
(Adam and Eve)
marble by James Larson

Naturally, I love seeing these old marble images, where in the old Europe and everywhere else marble and bronze were a common language, as common as drawing and painting. An Eastern Indian play-write, living in Minneapolis once asked me, “What happened to sculpture?” and I answered, “Maybe, the physical presence in the room became too intimidating?” I’m still not sure.

 

 

 

 

 

International gallery tours
by Lori S. Lukasewich, Calgary, AB, Canada
 

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“Abalone”
oil painting 30 x 40 inches
by Lori S. Lukasewich

I am going to Italy with a dear friend, I should say, a collector of mine who has become a dear friend. We will be focusing on the Cinque Terra in Florence and the Uffizi Gallery. I am awed and humbled — and truly looking forward to this trip of a lifetime.

 

 

 

 

Taking great steps
by Wendy
 

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“Feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square”
original painting by Wendy

I have just set up my small business as an artist (and it took great courage). I am opening my home, garden and studio from 30th August to 6th September inclusive and have about 60 paintings to put on show. Now I’ve taken the step I am really excited. I have one more year to do of a BA (Hons) Fine Art Degree course at Carmarthen Art School. I have been a painter all my life but needed input to help me think differently and a little more abstractly. I am 68 now and so loving this third stage of my life.

 

Cherishing culture
by Linda Clark, Canada
 

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“Anonymous Chronicler”
Statue in Vajdahunyad Castle in the City Park, Budapest, Hungary

Norm and I along with our son Duane, daughter Paige and her partner Suzy and their daughter Chais, leave for Venice, Hungary and Italy for 17 days in August. I will pack with me a small sketch book and water colour set — my granddaughter is packing one too. What a reward to have one of your own enjoy the Art with our family’s encouragement. We know we won’t have time to do paintings but quick impressions as we tour and enjoy the people and culture. We are lucky that we will actually be staying at Suzy’s family village in Hungary where little has changed and traditions are old before moving on to the vistas of Tuscany and Rome.



There is 1 comment for Cherishing culture by Linda Clark

From: Helen Zapata — Aug 06, 2008

I came by to catch up on the Clickbacks that I’ve missed, but have been stopped in my tracks by the statue of the “Anonymous Chronicler” in Linda Clark’s comment. It takes my breath away! What an astounding piece of work. THIS is ART. I feel I need to lay on the floor with my arms outstretched and simply stare at the ceiling. I can’t even remember what we were talking about.

 

Remembering the composers
by Jan Ross, Kennesaw, GA, USA
 

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“View of Lake Placid”
watercolour by Jan Ross

This letter reminds me of my years of living in Vienna, Austria. During that time, we lived in the Wienerwald or Vienna Woods. Except during the ‘quiet hour,’ it seems one could hear Mozart or Strauss being played everywhere from the neighbor’s terrace, to the Strassenbahn, or streetcars, to the orchestra practicing in the Central Park. The entire country proudly sells items reflecting these beloved musicians. Even small villages sell foil- wrapped chocolates featuring a portrait of Mozart. Saltzburg holds tours of his small apartment, featuring some of his instruments and music. How wonderful to feel a sense of unity and inspiration through art! I received such great respect and interest for my then, simple watercolors, as everyone celebrated creativity.

To this day, when I listen to Mozart or Strauss, I am immediately carried back to the beauty and joy of Austria as well as find the inner peace necessary to proceed with my current painting. Tho’ countries and people may change, our fondest remembrances remain the same.

 

Wiping maneuver
by Roger Davis, Aspen, CO, USA
 

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“Brook trout”
oil painting 12 x 16 inches
by Roger Davis

I viewed your short videos this afternoon after subscribing to your letters and am puzzled by the wiping maneuver by which unity of tone and color is produced. The movies suggest it is done during a short session, using oils on a canvas, with little or no smudging of the main masses. This would be a lovely advantage. What’s the trick? A drying medium?

(RG note) Thanks, Roger. No trick. I work in acrylics. The glaze can be put on in fairly short order. You can do it in oils as well, but rather than force things with a drying medium and risk cracking, etc., you can give a half-finished painting a few days drying time and then go for it. Painters such as Maxfield Parrish and Fred Machetanz of Alaska used the oil glazing system. I’ve written letters about both these painters.



There is 1 comment for Wiping maneuver by Roger Davis

From: Terrie Christian — Aug 05, 2008

I am a native Minnesotan and love fish paintings. I also love Maxfield Parrish. I am mostly a watercolor artist and my love affair with it has been because of the transparency. I figured out a long time ago, that the transparency of Parrish was why I preferred his oils to anyone else’s I had ever seen! I think you have captured transparency in your painting Brook trout!

 

Applying canvas to board
by Joyce Petrina, Memphis, TN, USA
 

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“La Roche Bernard”
original painting
10 x 15 inches
by Joyce Petrina

I read that you were experimenting with applying linen on board. I have a young artist friend who (foolishly) took an exacto knife to a very excellent oil painting on canvas. She should have pried out the staples but she didn’t. Now it is impossible to have the canvas stretched without losing part of the painting. I suggested she might try applying the canvas to board but I don’t quite know how it is done. Can you help?

(RG note) Thanks, Joyce. Here in Tuscany we’ve not been applying linen to board, but rather using a commercially prepared Pebeo board with linen already adhered. It has a particularly delicious olivaceous colour and a nice surface. I don’t know about its longevity. A bit absorbent, I find these panels best after a coat of clear acrylic medium. Sara is using them as they come from the package. With regard to your friend, she will have to mount on board. Acrylic medium makes an excellent adhesive. Roll it out from the painting side with a brayer before subjecting it to moderate weight. Art Boards of Brooklyn, NY, manufactures excellent archival boards in a variety of styles for just that purpose, including those with heat-sensitive adhesive that help artists to feel good about the future.

 

 

World of Art Featured artist Kiki Kaye, Mexico  

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Nail it

collagen painting 80 x 80 inches
Kiki Kaye, Mexico

 
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Roberta Levy who wrote, “Tuscany is wonderful. I painted for 10 days there last fall with a group. Enjoy, enjoy…”

And also Jane Barnard of Stevens Point, WI, USA who wrote, “As a passionate Puccini devotee and an even more passionate plein air artist, I’m drooling over your description of Lucca (the red-tiled rooftops, decorative chimneys, towers and dovecotes…). Wish I could beam myself there to paint and have a strong espresso coffee with you.”

And also Elfrida Schragen who wrote, “I’m not sure of my facts, but I think that Puccini copied his own work in many different forms. Also at a certain point in his life, he stopped composing completely, basically retired and live the good life. Have I got the right man?”
 

 

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)

 

 

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 31, 2008

Your essay on Puccini spurred my mind to think on immortality of classical music and art as a whole. Fame doesn’t always guarantee your work will survive to be enjoyed by current generations. Either the creator of the work survives more than the work or conversely the work survives without a clear understanding of who created it. Current generations mostly have seen or heard of a great work by some famous artist, but many can’t tell you who created one work from another unless it’s a contemporary work. Of course, if life causes you to pinpoint a great work to a meaningful event, the work will have some significance for you and will lodge in your brain forever. Overall, artwork and artists are remembered separately if at all. For example, if I were to name several classical music pieces or several classical paintings, few would be able to place the artist to the work or the work to an artist. Very few artists will reach any level of notoriety to achieve lasting fame. Sadly, many works will go orphaned because people will never have heard of the creator. I wonder about those who still survive like my mother, who is in her nineties and live in a world that has changed so much as to be unrecognizable of anything she knew when she was young. I find this becoming true for myself. With all the media we have today there is little out there in the forefront of our consciousness of the past. We are falling headlong at lightning speed toward the future as we slough off the past like dead skin.

From: Barb — Jul 31, 2008

Rick’s comment is very interesting and indicative of the American culture. In Europe, the people with average education could easily list several pieces of art and music and connect them to their creators. It is unfortunate that the American education doesn’t bring art history closer to the population.

From: L. L. Lupachino, Milan — Aug 01, 2008

While you mentioned the influence of Puccini’s mother, you failed to mention his wife Elvira. Like many creative men, he attempted to replicate the character and dedication of his mother when he married, rather than select a passionate love object as in his operas. Resentment soon took its toll. While they had one son, Antonio, it was a rocky marriage and its rancour provided further stress and turmoil for the composer who had trouble focusing his considerable genius.

From: Wendy — Aug 01, 2008

The value of a supportive family cannot be overestimated. It was in the Puccini blood to produce a great composer. Giacomo had the burden. Another proverb goes, “The apple does not fall far from the tree.”

From: Donald Wells, Boston — Aug 01, 2008

These letters are the most advanced and wide ranging available on the Internet. I congratuate Robert and his staff for their dedication.

From: Jennifer Horlsey — Aug 01, 2008

Wow, Rick. You just verbalized what I’ve been feeling lately…and I’m “only” 42.

From: PattyO. — Aug 04, 2008

I was transported to Italy seeing in my mind the landscape and hearing the strains of music in the air. Thanks so much, and I’m so glad I subscribed to this website, there is an understanding between all of us that is not easy to capture in daily life.

From: Susan J. Brasch — Aug 05, 2008

 

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