Near the hamlet of Torre del Lago on the shores of Lake Massaciuccoli, only a couple of miles inland from the Tuscan coast, Giacomo Puccini built himself a villa. Here he wrote most of his operas, and in later life sought refuge between the rigorous demands of the worldwide tours which fame and success had thrust upon him. Here also is the open-air theatre where, since 1955, there has been an (almost) annual festival to celebrate the local boy who brought to a culmination the most Italian of the arts, lyric theatre. In 2008 the festival celebrated the 150th anniversary of Puccini’s birth in Lucca with the inauguration of a larger and more impressive theatre on the shores of Lake Massaciuccoli.
Other places associated with the composer are scattered through the hills and valleys of the hinterland including his birthplace in Lucca, the village of his ancestors and childhood holidays, churches where he worked as an organist, bars he frequented. Though Rome, China, Paris and Japan provide the settings of his best-known operas, it is salutary and strangely enlightening to sense the creative process in the context of turn-of-the-century Tuscany.
Puccini was the last Italian opera composer whose works continue to be regularly performed in opera houses throughout the world; his death marked the end of three hundred years of Italian hegemony in this branch of artistic creation. Moreover, his works are perhaps the best loved in the whole operatic repertoire. An occasional critic may still cavil, but Puccini’s music-dramas continue to exercise their glorious power by going straight for the heart, and the tear ducts.
The tour is based in Lucca, which is only fifteen miles from Torre del Lago. Within the remarkably complete and beautiful circuit of Renaissance ramparts, Lucca consists of a dense network of streets and squares with innumerable fine palaces and churches, outstanding among which are the Romanesque churches with distinctively Lucchese façades of superimposed arcades.
Fly at c. 11.30am (British Airways) from London Gatwick to Pisa. Drive the short distance to Lucca where all four nights
Lucca, Torre del Lago. Morning lecture. Visit the Romanesque church of San Michele in Foro on the site of the Roman forum, San Paolino, where Puccini played the organ, and the house where Puccini was born, including many of his precious instruments and possessions. Set off in the late afternoon for Torre del Lago and visit Puccini’s villa, which retains virtually all the original décor and many mementoes. Evening opera: Madame Butterfly (Puccini).
Lucca, Torre del Lago. Morning lecture. Among the morning visits are the cathedral of San Martino, which houses an early representation of the crucified Christ and the dazzling effigy of Ilaria del Carretto. Some free time. Evening opera: Il Trittico (Puccini).
Celle, Torre del Lago. Morning lecture. Drive to the tiny hamlet of Celle where Puccini spent much of his childhood. Evening opera: Tosca (Puccini).
Lucca. The morning is free in Lucca. Fly from Pisa, arriving at London Gatwick c. 4.45pm.
Simon writes programme articles and surtitles for many British opera companies, and reviews for Opera, Opera Now, Musical Opinion, Early Music Today, Bachtrack and a range of other publications. A novelist, poet and librettist, from 1989 to 2012 he was dramaturg at Welsh National Opera.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £2,230 or £2,050 without flights.
Single occupancy: £2,390 or £2,210 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (aircraft: Airbus 319); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 1 lunch and 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; city tax; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Tickets (1st sector) for 3 performances are included costing c. £320. A higher category of ticket is available (Gold), but we find that they are too close to the stage.
Hotel Ilaria, Lucca: an excellently situated 4-star, within the city walls, with friendly staff. Single rooms throughout are doubles for sole occupancy.
Quite a lot of walking, much of it on roughly paved streets, and late nights (all three operas start at c. 9.15pm). Average distance by coach per day: c. 35 miles
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'Lucca was a delight and the excursions served to give greater insight into the life of Puccini.'
'A thoroughly enjoyable holiday in every respect.'
'The holiday has left us with wonderful memories. Your skill in putting all this together is very much appreciated.'