Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Puccini

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Madama Butterfly

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post marked the 116th anniversary of the premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly. The body of that post dealt with the charges of sexism, racism, and cultural appropriation leveled today at the opera, charges that have led many contemporary arbiters to demand that changes be made to the opera or that it be eliminated from the repertoire altogether. As I rather forcefully observed in yesterday’s post, none of this changes the fact that Madama Butterfly is a masterwork of musical theater and deserves its place among the top tier of the operatic repertoire. Unlike most other of Puccini’s operas, Madama Butterfly had something of a rough start; that story in a moment. Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in the Tuscan city of Lucca on December 22, 1858. He was born into a virtual dynasty of local musicians; members of Puccini family occupied the position of maestro di cappella (“master of music”) of the Cathedral of San Martino in Lucca for 124 consecutive years, from 1740 until 1864 (when Puccini’s father Michele, the current maestro di cappella, died prematurely at the age of 50). Giacomo was groomed to enter the family profession and in the […]

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Music History Monday: The Case Against Madama Butterfly

We mark the world premiere performance on February 17, 1904 – 116 years ago today – of Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly at the storied opera house of La Scala, in the Italian city of Milan. I would tell you a story. Some 34 years ago my first wife and I attended a performance of Madama Butterfly at the San Francisco Opera (I know it was that long ago because my wife was pregnant with our first child, my daughter Rachel. Having mentioned Rachel, or Rocqui as she is known to me, I would play the supreme bore and note that she and her husband Jon delivered up our first grandchild in December. Her name is Celeste Marigold Shahvar, and her royal adorableness is pictured below.) Pardon me my distraction. Back to where we were: some 34 years ago my first wife and I attended a performance of Madama Butterfly at the San Francisco Opera. Sitting behind us were four guys; my guess is that they were in their early-to-mid 40’s. We chatted a bit. They told us that they were something of an opera club, and that as their partners didn’t share their operatic passion, they attended with each […]

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Music History Monday: Tosca

On January 14, 1900 – 119 years ago today – Giacomo Puccini’s three-act opera Tosca received its first performance at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome.  Based on a play by the French playwright Victorien Sardou (1831-1908) and adapted for opera by the librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Gioacosa, Tosca has been an audience favorite since the day of its premiere. According to Operabase, an online database of opera performances, Tosca is the fifth most popular opera in the repertoire today.  Of course, we will want to know which operas are numbers one through four! They are, starting with number one: La Traviata (1853), by Giuseppe Verdi; The Magic Flute (1791), by Wolfgang Mozart; Carmen (1875), by Georges Bizet; and La bohème (1895), by Giacomo Puccini.  We would observe that Puccini is the only composer with two operas in Operabase’s top five. Based on number of performances worldwide, the five most popular opera composers today are, in order one through five: Verdi; Puccini; Mozart; Wagner; and Rossini.  Unfortunately, unlike Verdi, Mozart, Wagner and Rossini, Puccini’s popularity with audiences has not been matched with equal acclaim from the critics. No doubt, some critics have said nice things about Puccini’s operas, but they remain […]

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