New York, NY, July 24, 2009—The life and art of one of opera’s iconic figures, composer Giacomo Puccini, is the subject of a new exhibition opening September 15 at The Morgan Library & Museum. On view are approximately forty items related to Puccini’s career, including rarely seen original sketches for his acclaimed operas Madama Butterfly and La Bohème. The exhibition celebrates the 150th anniversary (2008–09) of Puccini’s birth in Lucca, Italy, on December 22, 1858. The show runs through January 10, 2010.
In addition to original manuscripts, the exhibition also includes a display of first-edition librettos, personal letters, a period poster and playbills, souvenir postcards, and rare material linked to Puccini’s relationship with such legends as Enrico Caruso and Arturo Toscanini. The exhibition is drawn almost
exclusively from the Morgan’s extensive music holdings, including the Cary, Heineman, and Fuld collections, as well as the Robert Owen Lehman
Collection, which is on deposit at the Morgan.
“The Morgan is delighted to bring to life this major figure in operatic history,” said William M. Griswold, director of the Morgan. “So many of
Puccini’s compositions have become part of the opera canon that we may now know the work as well as or better than the artist who created it. To see original manuscripts for Madama Butterfly and La Bohème is truly thrilling. And to learn about the arc of Puccini’s triumphant career is equally inspiring.”
Visitors have the rare opportunity to view manuscripts for five Puccini works: Le Villi, Edgar, La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, and La Fanciulla del West. A display of first-edition librettos constitutes a chronology of Puccini’s operatic output, augmented by information about premieres, casts, and first performances in cities throughout the world during the composer’s lifetime.
The last in a line of five generations of organists and composers, Puccini, inspired by a performance of Verdi’s Aida, decided to pursue an operatic career. After graduating from the Milan Conservatory, he wrote his first opera, Le Villi. The work attracted the attention of Giulio Ricordi, Italy’s preeminent publisher, who acquired the rights to the work and also commissioned the composer’s next opera Edgar. Although Edgar was not a success, Ricordi continued his support, enabling Puccini to realize his ambition.
A letter dated December 16, 1884 from Ricordi to soprano Romilda Pantaleoni documents the high regard Ricordi had for Puccini’s work as well as his efforts to promote his music. Also on view is a telegram sent by Ricordi the morning after the premiere of La Bohème, attesting to his enthusiastic response.
Adolf Hohenstein’s vivid poster for the original production of La Bohème and a playbill for the world premiere of Turandot are on view. Also featured are souvenir postcards, designed by Hohenstein’s pupil Leopoldo Metlicovitz, for Tosca, along with a commemorative postcard, marking the opera’s premiere at Rome’s Teatro Costanzi and inscribed with comments about the performance.
Puccini met tenor Enrico Caruso in 1897 and is reported to have said, “Who sent you to me? God?” On display is Caruso’s signed receipt for his compensation for performances at Covent Garden in La Bohème and Tosca in June 1907. Also on view is a silk program from the gala performance on June 11, 1907 commemorating the visit of the king and queen of Denmark to England in which Caruso sang excerpts from Madama Butterfly and La Bohème. Puccini, in London at the time, probably attended.
The stormy relationship between Puccini and Arturo Toscanini (who conducted the world premieres of La Bohème and Fanciulla, and after Puccini’s death, Turandot) is revealed in letters from Puccini.
The Morgan Library & Museum houses one of the finest collections of music manuscripts in the country. In addition to a large collection of musicians’ letters and first editions of scores and librettos, it has the world’s largest collection of Mahler manuscripts and substantial holdings of Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Mozart, Schubert, and Richard Strauss. The collection spans six centuries and many countries. The Morgan’s holdings of material relating to the lives and works of the dramatist William S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur S. Sullivan form the most extensive archive of its kind in the world.
Although Pierpont Morgan is not on record as evincing any notable interest in music, he did make two important purchases: the two earliest dated letters of the thirteen-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the manuscript of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Sonata no. 10, op. 96, in G Major.
The Morgan’s music collection is the result of the generosity of several donors and lenders. In 1962 the Dannie and Hettie Heineman Collection, a small but exceedingly well-chosen selection of music manuscripts, was placed on deposit and then formally given to the Morgan in 1977. In 1968 the institution became a major repository of music manuscripts with the donation of Mary Flagler Cary’s extraordinary collection of manuscripts, letters, and printed scores. In 1972 Robert Owen Lehman put on deposit his collection of manuscript scores, the greatest private collection of its kind. In 2008 the Morgan acquired the James Fuld Collection, by all accounts the finest private collection of printed music in the world.
Celebrating Puccini is organized by Frances Barulich, Mary Flagler Cary Curator and Department Head of Music Manuscripts and Printed Music at The Morgan Library & Museum.
This exhibition is generously sponsored by Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò. Additional support is provided by the William C. Bullitt Foundation.
This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
For more information visit www.themorgan.org.