The Puccini Opera Festival, (or Lucca Opera festival or Lucca Summer Festival as it is sometimes called), is set in the charming hamlet of Torre del Lago Puccini. actually about 15 km from Lucca.
The Puccini festival is the only one in the world dedicated to the composer Puccini and is because of his very strong connection to Torre del Lago. Puccini based himself here from 1891 until 1921 and composed many of his masterpieces at Torre del Lago including Tosca (1900), Madame Butterfly (1904), La Fanciulla del West (1910), La Rondine (1917) and Il Trittico (1918). He found the picturesque and peaceful lake Massacciuccoli was the perfect spot for his opera creations.
The town Torre del Lago is named after an old tower on the banks of the lake which was renovated into a rustic dwelling occupied by a gamekeeper when Puccini first moved there. Puccini then purchased it in 1899 and transformed it into a 2 storey villa to be his home and work place, and it was only in 1921 he felt forced to move to Viareggio due to the pollution from peat works.
He died of a heart attack in 1924 after complications on throat cancer treatment aged 65 having been a chain smoker most of his life. When news of his death reached Rome during a performance of La Boheme it was immediately halted and instead Chopin’s Funeral March was played to a shocked audience. The hamlet community of Torre del Lago decided to rename itself to Torre del Lago Puccini in his honour.
The Puccini Festival origins started in 1930, only 6 years after Puccini’s death and the Lucca Opera Festival now runs every summer during July and August and has become one of the most prestigious Opera venues in the
world. Folklore is that Puccini declared that he loved going on a boat onto the lake to shoot snipe, but would be even happier to go onto the lake to hear one of his performances. It is not known if this is true or not but it certainly makes sense and the first performance was by a travelling opera company on the 24th August 1930. They performed La Boheme on a stage on piles stuck into the lake in front of Puccini’s house. They returned in 1931 for another La Boheme performance but political and financial instability meant the next Opera performance was not till 1949 with Fanciulla del West, with ad hoc performances continuing into the late 1950’s.
However it wasn’t until 1966 that the Festival site moved to some reclaimed land near to the small harbour and the Puccini Festival became established as an annual summer event. There were however some concerns about the acoustics at the time. In 1990 the town authorities of Viareggio purchased 270,000 sq ft on land to create the Music Park and built rehearsal and workshop space as well as the Outdoor Theatre designed to make the most of the Lake view and addressing the acoustic issues.
As a result the stunning location is home to a spectacular open aired theatre overlooking the serene Massaciuccoli Lake surrounded by the Apuan Alps. Built in the 1990’s this modern open-aired theatre is considered one of the best in the world for acoustics and staging.
The theatre only takes 3,400 spectators and so the seats are hotly contested, though that still adds up to 40,000 spectators a year over the 14-15 performances! Only Puccini Operas are performed with La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, Tosca, Turandot and Manon Lescaut being firm favourites, though normally there is also one token Ballet performance a year at the Puccini Opera Festival.
The surrounding area is a park with contemporary sculptures in, and the villa where Puccini lived when he was composing which can be visited is close by.
After his death his villa was turned into a museum by his
son which is worth a visit. The museum gives you an insight into the atmosphere that Puccini worked in with many objects and paintings retained from his day including his Forster Piano, manuscripts in the manuscript room, and his rifles and trophies in his hunting room. Some rooms are left virtually untouched so you really get a feel for the environment he worked in. The drawing room was converted into a beautiful Chapel which now contains Puccini remains.
Do take a look at the wonderful Opera break we offer at the Puccini Festival Italy