It seems that the landmark that signals that one has abandoned the neophite stage in opera happens when one starts to feel contempt for Puccini. There is no shortage of irony in the fact that most of us started listening to opera precisely because of him, but it is true that his operas soon feel very unsophisticated, too saccharine. And yet, I felt defensive when Anthony Arblaster goes out of his way to single out Puccini and Richard Wagner in Viva La Libertà!: Politics in Opera for not writing about politics. Or even worse, because politics happens in the background, but none of the characters seem to be motivated by politics. I cannot discuss that. Anyone can see that the political background of Tosca –one of my personal favorites– is an extraneous device sets the plot in motion and yet it is ignored in the most critical moments.
However, I feel that this particular criticism expresses the frustration with Puccini for not being Verdi. For being the composter after Verdi and not inheriting his public commitment. And that seems unfair. If nothing else, because politics enter Puccini’s production without flamboyant passion, as the circumstances in which characters take decisions, and not as the center of the action. Characters live in politics, but not for politics. It seems to me that in Puccini, politics abandons the mithological stage of the hero and the metaphor so dear to Wagner.1
Another irony here given Puccini’s ambiguous proximity to the Fascist Party. ↩