Puccini A to Z – The cars

by | Last updated Sep 11, 2017 | Published on Jun 30, 2017 | Composers portraits | 0 comments

Puccini and the cars - Isotta Fraschini - 1911

C as in Cars

After the successes of Manon Lescaut (1893), La bohème (1896) and Tosca (1900), Puccini left his bohèmienne life in Milan: free from financial constraints, he could give complete way to his passions.

He loved hunting, smoking (about seventy cigarettes a day) and had a thing for speed and new mechanical experiences. First, the bikes: he loved the New Turner, the Adler, the Marchand, the American Humbers.

The painter Ferruccio Pagni remembers Puccini’s first attempt to biking in Torre del Lago: “It wasn’t easy to balance his weight on the bike and run after him. Little by little he started going by himself but, still inexperienced, he ended up in a pond of green water…”.

Eventually, biking became one of his favorite sports, to the point where he took part in biking competitions.  He dragged into it his brother-in-law, advising him on what bike to buy and how to maintain it.

The cars

 

Puccini was, by the beginning of the 1900, a rich man: he owned the villa in Torre del Lago (on the Massaciuccoli lake, near Lucca), the Borsalino firm designed and produced, especially for him, the hats, his shirts were coming from London and his shoes from Paris.

He started getting passionate about cars in 1901 when he bought the De Dion Buton, even before the King of Italy did. With his first car, Puccini raced through the streets of Versilia, arousing admiration and awe, and getting some tickets for speeding.

At that time only Giovanni Agnelli in Turin, Adler in Rome, Osvaldo Barnioni in Florence and the Duke of Abruzzi owned one.

Soon after the De Dion Buton came the Clément-Bayard, and then a Sizaire-Naudin, a Fiat 60, the Isotta Fraschini, the La Buire, the Atala, the Fiat 501. All automobiles were good for going out with family and friends but not for hunting. This is why Puccini asked Vincenzo Lancia for a special vehicle to be used on difficult terrains: a few months after, the first Italian cross-country vehicle was born. The price was, for the time, outrageous, but Puccini was so satisfied with it that he ended up buying a Trikappa and a Lambda.

In 1922 he organized a car trip through Europe, driving from Lucca through Austria and Germany, all the way up to The Hague, Netherlands.

The “Lambda”, which he got in the spring of 1924, was his last car: he drove it to the station of Pisa, where he took the train to Brussels for the throat operation that proved fatal.

The car accident

 

On February 25, 1903 Puccini Puccini went to Lucca for a medical exam.

With him,

Puccini DeDion-Bouton 1902

Puccini on the DeDion-Bouton in 1902

his wife Elvira, his son Antonio and the driver. After dinner, while heading back home, the car went off the road and flipped over. Antonio and Elvira, thrown out of the car, suffered minor injuries; the driver fractured his femur while Puccini, pinned under the vehicle suffered a severe fracture on his right leg.

Saved by a doctor living nearby, it took him months to heal, months during which he finished his next opera Madame Butterfly. The opera premiered almost exactly one year after the accident, on February 17, 1904.

Sources:

Top image of the Isotta Fraschini by Ricce (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Historical archive of La Stampa newspaper

About the author

Gianmaria Griglio

Gianmaria Griglio

Composer and conductor, Gianmaria Griglio is the co-founder and Artistic Director of ARTax Music.

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