Giacomo Puccini was born in 1858 in the small Northern Italian town of Lucca. His family had been the musical heart of Lucca for several generations and the same was hoped for young Giacomo. His mother, Albina, was a single parent with seven children who scrimped and saved so that Giacomo could have music lessons. To help with family finances, Puccini began working at age 11 as a church organist, and later earned money by playing piano in Lucca’s taverns.
After seeing Verdi’s AIDA in Pisa at age 18, he moved to Milan to study at the Conservatory having decided that opera was his true path. To save money, he shared an apartment with several friends, dodging bill collectors and playing piano in bars for food. This experience would help Puccini breathe life into the young artists in LA BOHÈME.
Puccini wrote his first opera, LE VILLI, for a competition. The judges didn’t like it but Giulio Ricordi, the most important publisher in Italy, did and saw great promise in Puccini. He paid Puccini a stipend for several years, and stood by him through several attempts to write a successful opera. Ricordi believed that Puccini would become famous and he was right. He made a fortune as the publisher of the world’s most popular operas: MANON LESCAUT, LA BOHÈME, TOSCA, MADAMA BUTTERFLY, and TURANDOT.
Puccini teamed up with librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa to adapt Henry Murger’s novel/play Scènes de la vie de Bohème into an opera. Puccini was all about the detail and tortured his librettists to get every detail just right. The first few performances were met with lukewarm responses but the overwhelming success in Palermo sealed the deal and LA BOHÈME has gone on to become one of the most performed and beloved operas in the repertory.