Lucca's tribute to its famous son

October 8, 1999

The Teatro di Giglio is a typical 19th-century civic opera house in Lucca, Tuscany, where the local Giacomo Puccini came to watch operas by Verdi, Donizetti and the man who founded the city's Istituto Musicale, Giovanni Pacini.

Here, too, Puccini saw performances of his own operas, which have made him possibly this century's most popular composer.

But the Teatro di Giglio is also home to a small research institute, the Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini, housed on an upper floor of the theatre since 1996.

The centre came into existence in 1994 as the result of a congress convened to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the composer's death.

One of the organisers, Gabriella Biagi Ravenni, was at the time a researcher in Pisa University's faculty of letters and philosophy. With American musicologist Carolyn Gianturco, Dr Biagi Ravenni invited Puccini experts from around the world here.

But something more than a publication came out of the congress. "We imagined for ourselves an institute whose principal aim was to collect everything, every document, book and article about Puccini," said Dr Biagi Ravenni.

"Every source, whether original or in reproduction; an institute in fact that would study every aspect of Puccini's life and music."

Dr Biagi Ravenni now works as vice-president of the centre while Julian Budden, a British academic and biographer of Verdi and Puccini, holds the presidency.

Together they have overseen the acquisition of a private collection of nearly 700 books, articles and items of Puccini memorabilia that is now on permanent loan to the centre.

Many of Puccini's letters and his original librettos are also housed in the theatre. The centre supplements this collection annually with its own purchases.

The centre has also made a database of Puccini's life assembled by Dieter Schickling, a former radio producer. Based in Stuttgart, Dr Schickling had been employed by Puccini's publishers, Ricordi, to make a complete catalogue of all the composer's scores and sketches.

"To be able to date everything correctly, he went through all the letters and diaries. A by-product of this was that he was able to produce a chronology of Puccini's life, so we know what he was doing on just about every day," Dr Biagi Ravenni says.

The database is available to anyone who wants to do research at the centre, but Dr Biagi Ravenni has found that she spends a lot of her time answering inquiries on the internet.

"I can usually look up any aspect of Puccini's life in a few minutes," she said.

"I get enquiries from all over the world - from Austria to Argentina - almost every day." The centre is working on a project to expand Dr Schickling's database so that it will eventually include every letter (published or unpublished) that Puccini wrote. Next year its scholarly journal, Studi Pucciniani, will bring out an up-to-date Puccini bibliography to replace the one of some 1,500 works published in December 1998.

The centre's big coup this autumn will be the first performance this week of an early symphonic work by Puccini that was believed to have been lost.

The centre has a website at http://www.puccini.it and can be contacted on 00 39 0583 469225 or by fax on 00 39 0583 958324. Its email address is centrostudi@puccini.it

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