La Boheme's Garret
Photo credit: Palm Beach Opera

Italian Recipes

Upon arriving at the Kravis Center this past Friday to tweet the final dress rehearsal of Puccini’s La Boheme, the first show in Palm Beach Opera’s 2014-15 season, I really wasn’t expecting a lot of food talk but was pleasantly surprised. With mentions of sausage and warm fritters, pies with whipped cream, bread and salted herring… I started wondering more about the man who composed the opera.

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in the town of Lucca, Tuscany on December 22, 1858… a region characterized by having simple food prepared with olive oil which is also used as a salad dressing, poured over bread and in soups and stews.

Puccini was the first son of Michele Puccini and Albina Magi’s seven children. At 4-years-old, his father Michele passed away leaving Albina to raise the kids, ages from 16 months to 12 years old. His mother was adamant that though he was destined to become a musician, she wanted him to complete a basic education first. “Puro musico, puro asino” (pure mucician, pure jackass), are her words.

After seeing a local production of Verdi’s Aida, he decided to pursue opera and spent three years at the Milan Conservatory. There “Puccini lived the life of a student, continually broke, asking Mamma for money and good olive oil, eluding creditors, outwitting landlords, going to the opera, – in short, living an impoverished artistic life not unlike that evoked in his later opera La Boheme.”

 While struggling to write La Boheme, Puccini — a self-described “hunter of wild birds, opera librettos and beautiful women” — wrote the following invitation to Luigi Illica:

…In my house there are soft beds, chickens, geese, ducks, lambs, fleas, tables, chairs, guns, paintings, statues, shoes, velocipedes, pianos, sewing machines, clocks, a map of Paris, good oil, fish, three different qualities of wine (we don’t drink water), cigars, hammocks, wife, children, dogs, cats, rum, coffee, different kinds of pasta, a can of rotten sardines, peaches, figs, two outhouses, a eucalyptus, a well in the house, a broom, all for you (except the wife).

It would seem that Puccini was a lover of life. His own relationship with Elvira Gemignani seems as if it made for great entertainment. When they fell in love, she was already married with two kids. Together they left for Milan with her daughter Fosca. Throughout their relationship it’s rumored that he had several affairs. “She eavesdropped on Giacomo, went through his clothes, checked his mail. She was even known to resort to hunger strikes and to physical attacks on Giacomo and at least one of the women with whom he was involved.”

There’s a legend that when she suspected him of being on the prowl, Mrs. Puccini would cook him a sumptuous dinner of all his favorite dishes and load them with garlic, at which point women had no trouble resisting him.

In his lifetime, Puccini composed some of the most popular operas ever written (La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Tosca, Turandot). He was made very rich as a result and gambled most away at the poker table, satisfied his appetite for loose women, boats, fast cars and, most of all, exterminated the population of wild geese around his villa at Torre del Lago.

 While in Brussels on November 29, 1924, he died of throat cancer with the incomplete score of Turandot in his hands. His body was buried at his home at Torre del Lago.

Enemies, A Love Story (Feb. 20-22)

Set in New York City in 1948, Holocaust survivor Herman Broder finds himself in quite the predicament juggling his second wife, mistress, and first wife who was presumed dead. Based on the novel by Nobel Prize winning Yiddish author Isaac Bashevis Singer and adapted into an Oscar-nominated movie, the story examines the immigrant experience with a mix of determination, irony, and humor in a uniquely engaging way.

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