Sailing on seas of uncertainties: late style and Puccini’s struggle for self-renewal

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Amir Cohen-Shalev

Abstract

The popularity of Puccini’s melodramatic operas, often derided by “serious” musicologists, has hindered a more rounded evaluation of his attempt at stylistic change. This paper offers a novel perspective of lifespan creative development in order to move the discussion of Puccini beyond the dichotomy of popular versus high-brow culture. Tracing the aspects of gradual stylistic change that began in The Girl from the Golden West (1910) through the three operas of Il Trittico: Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi (1918–1919), the paper then focuses on Puccini’s last opera, Turandot (1926), as exemplifying a potential turn to a reflexive, philosophical style which is very different from the melodramatic, sentimentalist style generally associated with his work. In order to discuss this change as embodying a turn to late style, the paper identifies major stylistic shifts as well as underlying themes in the work of Puccini. Th paper concludes by discussing the case of Puccini as a novel contribution to the discussion of lateness in art, until now reserved to a selected few ’“old Masters.”

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