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When a composer has written two of the most romantic operas in the international repertory, La Bohème and Madama Butterfly, some listeners will take an interest in his love life. Giacomo Puccini’s tangled amorous history, involving three women in addition to his wife, has proven irresistible for writers of fiction. Puccini, a miniseries on the composer’s life and loves, was broadcast by Italy’s public broadcasting service, RAI Uno, in March 2009. Small wonder that Helmut Krausser, a German novelist, poet, playwright, and composer, was drawn to the subject. Krausser previously published Two Unequal Rivals: Puccini and Franchetti (Bertelsmann, 2010) a study of Alberto Franchetti, who wrote the once-renowned opera Germania (1902). An earlier novel by Krausser, Melodies (1993; revised edition 2014) was about Marc’Antonio Pasqualini, a castrato singer in such Baroque operas as Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo. No shrinking violet, Krausser has also produced what he terms ‘Replacements of the Sonnets of William Shakespeare’. These are German versions ‘selected and rewritten’ by himself. Such boldness is probably needed to hazard a new look at Puccini’s life. In stately prose, the reader is introduced to the composer in 1904, when he is busy shooting ducks: ‘The hunter. A handsome, not too tall man of almost forty-six, with barely graying temples, a well-groomed moustache, and brown eyes that always seem slightly sleepy or sad.’ From there we leap to 1924 and a dying Puccini is preoccupied with bitter regrets that make him resemble, as free-associative narrator, Gustav von Aschenbach in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. It all reads as very German, even Freudian, but with a certain cumulative weight and loftiness. Possibly exotic to readers familiar with documented biographies of the composer, Krausser’s Puccini is nonetheless a convincingly stalwart creator and cad, somewhat along the lines of the poet Gregor Mittenhofer in Henze’s opera Elegy for Young Lovers.

Benjamin Ivry Read the full review on Agora Classica

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