The city of Lucca dates back to 180 B.C. [stock photo]
  • The city of Lucca dates back to 180 B.C. [stock photo]
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I was invited by the Tuscan city of Lucca, Italy, to learn more about its beloved son, Giacomo Puccini.

The fifth generation of famous musicians in his family, Puccini lived from 1858–1924 and was the composer of such opera standards as Tosca, La Boheme (on which the musical Rent is based), Madame Butterfly and Turandot. The region has proudly preserved the important aspects of his career, life and influences.

Puccini's lush, consonant music was set to some darker themes, but as a whole, his style was firmly rooted in the Romantic period that roughly paralleled the Victorian period in history. His scores did not have the raw dissonance of his contemporaries in the early part of the 20th century.

When visiting his birth home, his favorite haunts and his adult home, the 19th century clearly reigns supreme in design. This is despite his love for some of the burgeoning technology of his time – like the Victrola, sports cars and lots of cigarettes.

bronze bust of Puccini in a Lucca piazza

When taking in his music and surroundings as a whole, it’s easy to see why Puccini was a legend in his own time. He was not only gifted in his artistry, but also handsome and quite the ladies’ man. His music and debonair demeanor must have reminded audiences of a world that was quickly disappearing. He allowed them to forget, for the few hours that an opera lasts, the intruding cacophony and chaos that was the early 20th century.

Where to stay. The city of Lucca itself is celebrating its 500th year of intact city walls in 2012. To this day, very few cars are authorized to enter its city gates. Because of this, not just any old taxi can take you to your hotel; you must make prior arrangements.

When you realize this and the fact that no cars equals frequent, impromptu street parties, you’ll know that the Hotel La Luna is the perfect location. It’s simple and cozy-sized, but the staff is pretty fluent in English, there are cafés and shops right outside its door, and they have gourmet cold cuts for breakfast in the morning.

Residence Prunali names each of their large apartment-type accommodations after an aspect of Puccini’s music. It offers comfortable luxury, with terracotta floors, wood beams, pool, sauna and WiFi.

What to do. If you’re a fan of Puccini’s operas, seeing his birth house and museum dedicated to him will provide great insight into what made him tick. You’ll learn about his illustrious musical heritage and his many loves. You’ll see his handwriting and glamorous costumes used on stage.

The Puccini Museum in Celle (Pescaglia) is also a must-see to dig deeper into Puccini’s mindset. It’s the home of his 16th-century ancestors, and you can see that for those times the family had been fairly comfortable. This museum has been the fortunate repository for many special items donated by Puccini’s kin and has the only known Edison recording of his voice (below).

Beachgoers in Marina di Pietrasanta, just north of Torre del Lago.

Torre del Lago Puccini is the site of Puccini’s last home on the beach. The home/museum/mausoleum for the composer is open most mornings. (Contact them for information.) It’s in this home that Puccini’s personality really shines through, with the accolade letters and presents he collected, his shotguns, piano, and other tokens of a life well-lived.

There’s no way you can learn all about Puccini and not see a Puccini opera live! First, avoid the parking situation and take a relaxing boat ride to the theater with the Escursioni Nella Palude across Lake Massaciuccoli.

The Grand Theatre Giacomo Puccini - Torre del Lago Puccini near Lucca, where the Puccini Festival is held in the summer, is a breathtaking outdoor venue. The seating is stadium-style, so there are no obstructed views. The gigantic scale sets create a larger-than-life experience.

Also, in the city of Lucca, there are performances held every single day - even on Christmas - in a large church venue with plenty of available seats for all concerts. Concerts are generally at the Church of San Giovanni starting at 7 p.m., but for holidays that can vary. (Payment in cash only.)

Guinness Book of Records lists the Vetriano Theater as the smallest in the world, with only 99 seats. Located in a former barn, it’s a gem of a venue, performing operas in conjunction with La Scala.

Where to eat. Puccini certainly liked fine dining, so why not follow in his footsteps? His publisher even wrote to him to put down the red wine and get to work. Lucca is in the Tuscany region, with luscious olive oils, wines, honeys and meats to tempt you.

Right next door to the ancestral Puccini home is the Puccini Restaurant, serving delightful country fare in an ancient abode. Homemade soups and pastas are made with the freshest ingredients, enjoyable with a local wine.

Tenuta San Pietro offers a stunning, bird’s eye view of Lucca from the hills, while serving the most delicate seafood, their own olive oils and proper pasta.

Lucca’s Caffè Di Simo looks like a vintage ice cream store, but offers great coffee and cocktails. Puccini apparently thought so too and was a frequent customer.

Another Puccini Restaurant, this one in Lucca, offers the most elegant, relaxed dinner theater you may ever attend. They perform Puccini shows (and other events, like Paganini), with outdoor seating, serving classic salads, pastas and entrées.

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