Dr. Andrew Simpson

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), composer of several operas which have enjoyed a continual place in the operatic repertoire since their premiere, is generally celebrated as a supremely gifted melodist with a keen dramatic sense. The clear, logical, economical structure of his scenes, his sophisticated harmonic language, as well as his substantial gifts as an orchestrator, are often relegated to secondary consideration, however.

This course seeks to discover the structure and language (use of motives, return of ideas, and harmonic language) underlying Puccini’s scores, shedding light on this composer’s impressive compositional technique. The seminar will analyze a small number of operas in detail. Tosca will be considered first, particularly as it corresponds with Washington National Opera’s production in September 2011. Madama Butterfly and La Fanciulla del West will also be studied, in addition to passages from other operas as time and interest permit (such as completing the unfinished Turandot).

The seminar will analyze Puccini’s harmonic language and scene structures. Audio, production video, secondary literature and score study will aid seminar members in developing an informal grammar of dramatic structure, exploring how Puccini employs and capitalizes on musical devices to serve dramatic purposes.

Students in the seminar will present on a topic related to the course, and a term paper will explore a Puccini topic in detail.