Verdi and Puccini

Giacomo Puccini: Documents in the Archive

The operas of Giacomo Puccini are all excellently documented in the archive: there are autographs of all operas (with the exception of La Rondine), all the libretti, stage designs, and figurines for the first performances of the operas La bohème, Tosca, Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly and Turandot. Noteworthy examples include the beautiful watercolor designs by Adolf Hohenstein, Ricordi’s artistic director at the time, for the première of La bohème (1896 in Turin, conducted by Toscanini). Executed with great attention to detail, from Rodolfo and Mimì to the farmer’s wife in the chorus and the gendarme extras, they not only depict the conditions under which opera was produced, but also represent the fashion and watercolor painting of the time. The same goes for the designs of Metlicovitz and Hohenstein for Tosca (1900), the opera that Mosco Carner has described as “a harbinger of modern musical theater”. In addition, there is an extensive collection of correspondence between Puccini and Giulio (as well as Tito II) Ricordi, documents about the reception the operas received, and photos.

The opera La fanciulla del West, which premiered on December 10, 1910 in New York City, is a special case. Here again, the archive contains the complete set of materials. This is true initially for the autograph score and all printed editions. There are several copies of the libretto as well: with added descriptions of the characters, handwritten notes about the success of the première, and an accompanying clipping from a newspaper about a performance on December 27, 1910 in Chicago. There are English, Dutch and French versions, and various versions of the German edition by Alfred Brüggemann. The proof sheets of a printed score, used in rehearsals for the première, show changes by the hands of both Puccini and Toscanini.

As for the sets and costumes, Ricordi modeled them on the production of the play the opera is based on: The Girl of the Golden West by David Belasco in New York, 1905. Numerous photographs of this performance are preserved. A comparison of the stills with those of the opera première shows how closely the concept is modeled on the theater performance. The archive also contains comprehensive press reviews of La fanciulla del West, including its foreign tours.