Paving the Way to Triumph: Puccini's 'Le Villi' and 'La Boheme'

WOO-1348-VilliTechnically, Giacomo Puccini's first venture into the opera house was a loser -- yet it also played a pivotal role in launching one of opera's truly great careers.

Puccini's first opera, 'Le Villi,' began life as a one act drama in the early 1880's. He wrote it for a competition, sponsored by the successful Italian publisher Sonzogno. They might have been even more successful had they hired a more discerning panel of judges for the contest. Those judges heard Le Villi at its first performance, in the spring of 1884 in Milan -- and didn't even give it an honorable mention.

But apparently, that didn't faze Puccini. Rather than give up on the piece, he revised it, in a two-act version with a couple of intermezzi breaking up the action. The revision was performed in Turin the following winter, in a production observed by the still powerful publisher Casa Ricordi, one of Sozogno's chief competitors. Ricordi saw promise in the young Puccini, and promptly offered him a contract.

For a time, at least, the folks at Ricordi may have questioned their own judgment. Puccini's next opera was Edgar, which never really caught on. But within a decade, Puccini had followed up with not only Manon Lescaut, but also a trio of the most popular operas ever composed: Tosca, Madame Butterfly and La Boheme. Ricordi, in other words, made a killing -- and they're still making a healthy profit from Puccini's operas today.

Both La Boheme and the revised, two-act version of Le Villi premiered at the same theater -- the Teatro Regio, or Royal Theater, in Turin. And World of Opera will be visiting that theater for the second half of an unusual, Puccini double bill.

To begin this week's program host Lisa Simeone takes us to Charleston, SC, and the 2013 Spoleto Festival USA, for Le Villi. The production features soprano Jennifer Rowley as Anna and tenor Dinyar Vinya as Roberto.

After that, it's off to Turin's Teatro Regio for La Boheme. Soprano Erika Grimaldi stars as Mimi, alongside tenor Giorgio Berrugi as Rodolfo, in a production led by conductor Renato Palumbo.