Many of Lucca’s musicians came from outlying villages in the province. At nearby Granaiola, for example Nicolao Dorati was born in 1513. Appointed master of the Palatine Chapel in Lucca he was primarily a trombone player but all of his Venice– published music is vocal, and consists mainly of some quite pioneering madrigals for 5 to 8 voices. Last year local organist Enrico Barsanti played at a recital of his music in Granaiola to celebrate the composer, an event which we attended and enjoyed very much.
Much better known, of course, is Giacomo Puccini but his family, too, came from an outlying village, Celle dei Puccini in Val Pescaglia – two train stops down from Bagni di Lucca – where the ancestral family house dating back to the XVI century has been transformed into a fascinating museum.
Giacomo belonged to the fifth generation of a family of musicians who had originated in Celle; he spent much of his summer months when a child and teenager here enjoying the freedom that the surrounding countryside offered him and clearly developing his taste for hunting both wild-life and women.
Even if you are not a Puccini fanatic the house is well worth visiting for its other-times atmosphere of what it must have been like to live here. The Museum displays a typical well-to-do village residence house with all its furniture, utensils and farm tools and also collects together Puccini memorabilia donated by the musician’s nephews.
Casa Puccini di Celle was turned into a museum in 1976 thanks to the Associazione Lucchesi nel Mondo which now owns the house and has its headquarters on Lucca’s walls. In 2005 we were there when, after extensive restoration, it was reopened. As with all these things we thought it was only yesterday that we’d been here but eight years have already passed! Time flies like an arrow …… or a pineapple?
Among the items on show are donations from Alba and Nelda Franceschini, Giacomo Puccini’s grandnieces (daughters of Ramelde and Rafael Franceschini), and other heirs. There is the original bed in which Giacomo was born (the one in casa Puccini of Lucca is a recent copy), the laurel crown offered to the composer after the success of his first opera (a one-acter called Le Villi) which he was just in time to present to his dying mother, a screen with images showing the Florence scenario design for La Bohème in 1896 , a piano on which Puccini composed part of Madama Butterfly, the gramophone Thomas Edison donated to the composer, a substantial collection of letters, mostly addressed to his family members in addition to musical leaves and sketches.
The first-floor dining room contains original furnishings and, the kitchen is a reconstruction of a typical country kitchen. The upper floor is dedicated to Giacomo Puccini’s ancestors, family relics (including his baptismal gown) and other documents.
Most poignant is a photograph showing Puccini’s last visit to his beloved ancestral home in 1924 when the locals decorated the village streets with twelve floral arches, each one displaying the name of one of his operas. Before the days of proper roads it must have been an effort even for people not suffering from the advanced stages of throat cancer to have made it here and the picture shows a person closer to the other world than this one. His voice was so frail that it could hardly be heard. This is confirmed by contemporary news cuttings which can be found on the walls of a local restaurant (which also is well worth visiting!)
Days later Puccini was dead in Brussels after an operation which was supposed to have been successful but the strain of which caused heart failure.
We visited some of Puccini’s present relatives in Celle who showed us the rifle he used for his hunting exploits. The museum was desperate to have it but somehow the terms were not acceptable. Who knows how much other Puccini memorabilia is hidden in private hands?