PUCCINI by Howard Greenfeld


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Mosco Carner's critical-biographal study, despite its controversial approach, remains the Puccini biography for students and serious music-lovers. And casual fans will get a nice enough introduction from Paul Hume's recent little The Man and His Music volume. But the readership in between may well want to forsake Stanley Jackson's jaunty, slapdash Monsieur Butterfly (1974) for this new, thorough, sober (to a fault) life history--which makes no attempt to deal with the music itself or to get inside the composer's mind and soul. In uncommonly drab prose, Greenfeld simply sets out the facts--which, once Puccini has survived near-penniless years as student and neophyte to hit it big with Manon Les-caut, consist primarily of collaborations, premieres, and the neverending search for opera subject-matter. Luckily, however, Puccini and his colleagues--especially music-publisher Ricordi--were inspired, emotional letter-writers; so the generously quoted correspondence here provides some lively, angry, eloquent respites from Greenfeld's monotone. And, though (in marked contrast to Jackson) Greenfeld primly de-emphasizes Puccini's philandering, the Doria scandal--an innocent maid driven to suicide by crazy Mrs. Puccini's false allegations of adultery--does add some tension. But here, as with Puccini's reluctance to join anti-German protests early in World War I, Greenfeld never examines what seems to be an interesting pattern of passive, fearful, near-cowardly behavior; likewise, Puccini's increasing melancholia is merely mentioned, never explored. Nor is any aspect of Puccini's work itself--its place in opera history, his move toward more dissonant sounds, etc.--even indirectly illuminated. And, throughout, Greenfeld consistently drains events of drama: he even paraphrases Toscanini's famous Turandot-premiere announcement instead of quoting it. Deadly dull, then, but reliably researched and agreeably modest.

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 1980
Publisher: Putnam