The Land, life and love of Puccini

 Visiting some of the best Puccini hotspots in Tuscany

Regarded as one of the great operatic composers of the early 20th century, Giacomo Puccini still has a heavy musical imprint on the city of Lucca and surrounding comuni.  The proudness of association with the composer is apparent and almost oozes between the medieval stones of the famous walls. Visitors of this beautiful city can even pretend to live like Puccini by visiting the cafe he used to play the piano in, gain inspiration from the Roman ampitheatre and cathedrals, roam the bustling streets of which he once walked on and even pop to the Puccini museum to visit the family home. These and more Tuscan hotspots of Puccini can take you on a journey from his birth, to where he composed and played his music, to where he is currently buried.

Statue of Puccini - Lucca

Statue of Puccini – Lucca

Giacomo Puccini was born in the heart of Lucca in 1858 in the house that has now been transformed into a museum, representing the early memories of Puccini and his family home. Outside the museum sits a grande exalted bronzed statue of the composer positioned perfectly in the centre of the courtyard – highlighting his importance. Inside this restored mid-nineteenth century museum, the rooms have been recreated to present their original uses when the family once lived there. Each room was like a time warp, stepping back in time allowing you to have a glimpse of what it might have been like to live in the Puccini household. Decorated with careful consideration and to a high curatorial standard, the rooms featured period style furniture, painted portraits of the family, original music sheets written by Puccini himself and of course a piano which greets you in the entrance hall.

Piano inside the Puccini museum - Lucca

Piano inside the Puccini museum – Lucca

With so much sightseeing to do during the day within the ancient Lucca walls, the activities don’t stop at night. I witnessed the city come alive with the sounds of Puccini whilst sat outside enjoying dinner at ristorante Puccini. Accompanying the deliciously authentic and fresh food, was an operatic performance of the ‘Buonasera Puccini’ show. Two professional opera singers told the story of Puccini’s life, whilst I ate by candlelight amongst the locals. The performance was very entertaining and was even admired by an opera loving canine who watched the singers from a balcony overlooking the restaurant!

(I heard he was also a fan of the composers Johan Sebastian Bark and Dalmatian Alberti…)

Buonasera Puccini show performed outside Ristorante Puccini.

Buonasera Puccini show performed outside Ristorante Puccini.

Leaving the bad puns aside, it’s clear that the city of Lucca demonstrates strong connections with culture and music flaunting the importance it has on the city’s history, tourism and locals lives. Every year Lucca holds a summer festival in the Piazza Napoleone and has previously played host to top quality musicians & groups, such as Duran Duran, Tony Bennett and Jamiroquai. This year the line-up includes Mark Knopfler (lead guitarist & vocalist from dire straits), Neil Young and Leonard Cohen. (For more information on line-up and tickets visit: www.summer-festival.com.)

For those with more classical and opera interests, the Puccini festival is situated 25 kilometres from Lucca in Torre de lago and is the only festival in the world that is dedicated entirely to the composer. The festival is held between 12th July – 23rd August in the Gran Teatro all’aperto Giaccamo puccini (Great outdoor theatre G. Puccini).

To get to the Gran Teatro all’aperto in Torre del lago, I had to sail across the lake Massaciuccoli  – well known for Puccini’s favorite hunting spot. Every year Lucca celebrates the composer’s work by holding the Puccini Festival in this beautifully spacious outdoor theatre that has the capacity of seating 3,370 people.

Catching the boat to the Gran Teatro all’aperto in Torre del lago

Catching the boat to the Gran Teatro all’aperto in Torre del lago

I felt extremely lucky to experience opera for the first time (especially in Puccini’s hometown) and what better way to whet my operatic appetite by watching Madame Butterfly. The atmosphere felt lively and friendly, people were dressed in smart/casual attire and there was not a hint of pretentiousness in the air. The set design was japanese minimalist but the costumes, acting and singing were definitely not. As a special treat I was allowed to go back stage and witness the singers get ready for their big performance. Hearing their almost glass shattering impressive warm up scales and seeing them have their make-up and hair done was wonderful. I don’t think I have ever seen so many wigs in one room!

Seeing behind the scenes - Prima Donna of Madame Butterfly i make up

Seeing behind the scenes – Prima Donna of Madame Butterfly in make up

Madame Butterfly made out of fresh flowers

Madame Butterfly floor art

The performance was incredible, stunning lights danced around and illuminated the stage and the pitch perfect orchestra accompanied the incredible singing that blew everyone away.

I have to admit, I did struggle at first to understand what was happening narratively, but an American orchestral conductor who sat next to me became a very handy ‘opera for dummies’ guide book and I soon caught up with what was happening and who the characters were.

Madame Butterfly stage set

Madame Butterfly stage set

The Gran Teatro is not the only highlight of Torre del Lago, another must see destination on the Massacciuccoli lake is the villa museum. This is where Puccini captured inspiration from the beautiful location and love interests for most of his operas, including La boheme, Tosca and Madame Butterfly. Inside this beautifully decorated villa, contains a private chapel where Puccini is buried. This villa was also where Puccini lived with his wife Elvira, their son Antonio and Elvira’s daughter Fosca and where many love scandals took place including the suicide of a servant girl following Elvira’s false affair accusations between her and the composer.

For those wanting to discover more, there are some Puccini gems tucked away in Pescaglia, situated 15 km northwest of Lucca, including the ‘Teatrino di vetriano’ accredited in the Guinness book of records as the smallest theatre in the world and ‘Museo di cassa Puccini’ where Puccini’s great-grandfather was born. Teatrino di vetriano is a charmingly petite theatre containing 99 seats and a beautifully decorated backdrop.  I was told that Puccini once visited the theatre as an audience member and when the locals heard about his visit, they were so excited that they decided to sing a song for him. However Puccini reacted by saying “If I had my rifle with me I would shoot it!”.

The theatre is well worth a visit and if you’re planning on going, tours are by reservation only and cost 4 euros adults/ 2 euros children.

old box office in the 'Teatrino di vetriano' - worlds smallest theatre

old box office in the ‘Teatrino di vetriano’ – worlds smallest theatre

It’s no wonder why Puccini created such masterpieces with the amount of inspiration gained from such a beautiful part of the world and after you’ve squeezed in everything Puccini related on your trip, make sure you acquire your own inspiration and visit some other Tuscan highlights, such as the beautiful sandy beaches in Viareggio – a great spot for families to relax and go for a swim in the warm Mediterranean sea or perhaps a trip discovering Lucca’s countryside at Villa Torrigiani, an authentic Aristocratic mansion with stunning gardens and landscaped views.

Beach in Viareggio

Beach in Viareggio

Landscaped gardens at Villa Torrigiani

Landscaped gardens at Villa Torrigiani

FYI…

  • Closest airports to Lucca are Pisa and Florence
  • The kennedy family adopted one of the 99 seats in the ‘Teatrino di vetriano’
  • Driving within the Lucca walls is mostly reserved for residents, therefore Parking inside the walls is extremely difficult. Your best bet is to park outside and walk into the centre.
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