Over the past decade, few music theorists have explored the works of Puccini. Notable exceptions have been Burton (1995) and Davis (2003), who examined motive and style in Tosca and Turandot, respectively. This dissertation considers their work on Puccini and goes beyond their modernist approaches to explore various postmodernist aspects of his operas. Instead of working on one particular opera, this dissertation focuses on some of Puccini’s female protagonists—Mimì and Musetta from La bohéme (1896); Tosca from Tosca (1900); Butterfly from Madama Butterfly (1904); and Turandot and Liù from Turandot (1926). My goals are: (a) to utilize linear and harmonic analysis in order to illustrate how Puccini’s compositional style distinguishes his female protagonists; (b) to identify and categorize the harmonic language Puccini employs for his female characters; and (c) to demonstrate how these harmonic underpinnings evolve from the middle of Puccini’s career to the end.
Moreover, I also consider the relationship between harmony, linear design, and exoticism in Puccini’s work, exploring links between his distinct use of Western tonality, Japanese Ying and Yang, and the Chinese pentatonic systems. Puccini’s early music already manifests a structural potential for the later application of the Japanese and Chinese systems, but Puccini’s last opera, the unfinished Turandot, integrates the two systems seamlessly, moving from exoticism towards a more authentic portrayal of Eastern music. My intention here is to illustrate how Puccini’s harmonic language blends aspects of Eastern and Western music and how his operas bridge the cultural gap of Eastern and Western aesthetics.
The Introduction presents my motivation in researching Puccini as well as the goals for this project. Chapter I contains an extensive review of sources on Puccini and his music and sets up the analytic foundation for the following chapters, outlining a methodological plan.
Chapter II presents two female protagonists—Mimì, a character in the distinctly verismo mold; her life is controlled by the inevitable trajectory of fate, and Musetta, who represents a euphoric moment as a contrast to the life of Mimì. In Mimì’s aria, the subdominant takes on a dualistic oppositional role to the dominant, acting in a juxtaposed, rather than supporting role. In such a way, the harmony illustrates her fate, and her futile attempts to escape from it. Contrast this with the subordination of catastrophe—the subdominant in Musetta’s aria presents her beauty and attractiveness.
Chapter III presents Puccini’s writing on the verismo-inspired character, Tosca, focusing on the implication of the submediant that presents the boundary of Tosca’s world where she is oblivious to anything but her seemingly happy life. Floria Tosca, the innocent and religious character, can do no harm to anyone. Ultimately, however, the diva will act out through the device of deceptive motion and religious strength in an opera within the opera, killing Scarpia, the chief of police.
Chapter IV demonstrates Puccini’s only finished exotic Eastern writing, by focusing on Butterfly. This female protagonist uniquely engages with her own fate. As her American dream is constructed by her Japanese fantasy, she is both an insider and outsider in every aspect of her life. The implication of the Japanese Ying and Yang system in both foreground and background levels of her aria portrays that she can never abandon her inherent Japanese identity.
Chapter V discusses the great humanity that Puccini consistently expressed throughout his career. The music for his last two female protagonists, Turandot and Liù, was the culmination of his career, representing his best writing. The analysis of Turandot’s aria explores Western tonality as it is interwoven with the Chinese pentatonic system and demonstrates how Turandot is possessed by her angry ancestor, Lo-u-Ling. Contrasting with the ice cold Turandot, Liù’s sacrifice is prefigured through pseudo -pentatonic writing with an emphasis on the subdominant to portray the torment of her love. As a result, Liù presents Puccini’s most mature verismic character.
Chapter VI discusses how Puccini’s musical portrayal of the feminine reflects the social aspects of his time. In addition, it describes a harmonic evolution based on Puccini’s six female characters. In doing so, it also displays the nature of exoticism in Puccini by examining the weak hierarchic relationships that allow the exotic borrowings to be subsumed in a tonal framework. In conclusion, Puccini’s sentimental writing identifies him as a great humanitarian and places him in the pantheon of the great artists of Italian opera.