Giacomo Puccini (full name: Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini); 22 December 1858 – 29 November 1924) was an Italian composer whose operas are among the most frequently performed in the standard repertoire.
Puccini has been called "the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi". While his early work was rooted in traditional late-19th century romantic Italian opera, he successfully developed his work in the 'realistic' verismo style, of which he became one of the leading exponents.
Today, Puccini is by far the most-performed composer among his Italian contemporaries, and the same was true during his lifetime. One contemporary English author, writing in 1897 wrote "[Puccini] is undoubtedly the most fully equipped of the younger Italian composers, and his future career will be watched with some interest." Italian opera composers of the generation with whom Puccini was compared included Pietro Mascagni (7 Dec. 1863 – 2 Aug. 1945), Ruggero Leoncavallo (b. Naples, 8 Mar. 1857; d. 9 Aug. 1919), Umberto Giordano (28 Aug. 1867 – 12 Nov. 1948), Francesco Cilea (23 July 1866 – 20 November 1950), Baron Pierantonio Tasca (1858-1934), Gaetano Coronaro (b. Vicenza, 18 Dec. 1852; d. Milan, 5 5 Apr. 1908). By the time of his death in 1924, Puccini had earned $4 million from his works.
Eleven of Puccini's operas numbered among the 200 most-performed operas between August 2008 and December 2011 (worldwide, by composers of any nationality, as surveyed by Operabase). Only three composers, and three works, by Italian contemporaries of Puccini appear on this list: Cavalleria rusticana by Mascagni, Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo, and Andrea Chenier by Umberto Giordano).
Puccini is frequently referred to as a "verismo" composer. Verismo is a style of Italian opera that began in 1890 with the first performance of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, peaked in the early 1900s, and lingered into the 1920s. The style is distinguished by realistic – sometimes sordid or violent – depictions of everyday life, especially the life of the contemporary lower classes. It by and large rejects the historical or mythical subjects associated with Romanticism. Cavalleria rusticana, Pagliacci, and Andrea Chenier are uniformly considered to be verismo operas—they represent the primary verismo works in performance today other than those written by Puccini.
Puccini's career as a composer is almost entirely coincident in time with the verismo movement. Only his Le villi and Edgar preceded Cavalleria rusticana. At least two of Puccini's operas, Tosca and Il tobarro, are generally considered to be verismo operas. While some view Puccini as essentially a verismo composer, others, although acknowledging that he took part in the movement to some degree, do not view him as a "pure" verismo composer. In addition, critics differ as to the degree to which particular operas by Puccini are, or are not, properly described as verismo operas. For example, Puccini scholar Mosco Carner places only two of Puccini's operas other than Tosca and Il tobarro within the verismo school: Madama Butterfly, and La fanciulla del West.