Puccini, like other great songwriters, could spin a melody that goes into the ear, through the cerebral cortex, and from there straight to the heart.
What makes for a great tune? What is the gift that Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lennon and McCartney, Carole King, and others like them have?
Giacomo Puccini is cut from the same cloth. The short aria in the video below comes from a moment in his one-act opera Gianni Schicchi (see poster above) where the heroine is attempting to win her father’s approval of her intentions (“Oh My Beloved Father“).
For many listeners (myself included), Giacomo Puccini’s operas often trigger a kind of musical cognitive dissonance. Objectively, the music is anachronistic — firmly rooted in the 19th century at a time when other composers like Stravinsky were pulling music forward in a huge way. The plots are often convoluted, illogical, sappy, or all of the above. The characters are frequently stereotypical and two-dimensional. There is no subtlety in music, words, dramatic gestures, or orchestration — everything is heart-on-the-sleeve. And, oh yeah — how many of us really understand Italian?
… Somehow the sweep of it all and the perfect way Puccini bonds beautiful melodies to the well-trained human voice — it’s all magic. He pulls us in and we never want him to let us go.
Personal connection #1: I have seen the performer here — soprano Renée Fleming — sing this aria in person as an encore. Her buttery tone and the composer’s heartbreaking melody are made for each other.
Personal connection #2: A voice teacher friend of mine was a classmate of Renée’s at Eastman Conservatory. He knew her in the days when she rode around campus on a bike wearing sweats — just like everyone else.