Puccini In America

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America had brought Puccini great fulfillment. He cherished one unrealized desire: a motorboat, sleek and powerful, which he had seen in a display window on Fifth Avenue. In his mind’s eye he saw himself in it, knifing through the water at Torre del Lago and stupefying his Italian friends. But the boat cost $3,000—to Puccini’s thrifty Tuscan heart an unimaginable sum.

One evening the composer was the guest of honor at a banquet at the Vanderbilt mansion, where he was approached by a famous banker whose great desire was to own a Puccini-autographed manuscript page. The man’s favorite music, he said, was “Musetta’s Waltz” from La Bohème, and he would pay any price to have Puccini write it out for him.

“Any price?” Puccini repeated, unbelieving.

“Anything,” was the answer.

“Three thousand dollars?” Puccini asked, eying his admirer.

The following day the banker owned the manuscript of “Musetta’s Waltz,” and the day after that Puccini owned his motorboat.

When he returned to Italy, Puccini took back more than just memories. He held to a firm conviction that the United States was the country with a future. He always retained a genuine sense of gratitude toward this country for its generosity toward him. The Metropolitan, in fact, paid him the kingly sum of 120,000 lire (then worth $22,800) for the first-night royalties on The Girl of the Golden West alone. That represented more than 1,600 times the monthly pension his mother had raised her children on! In a velvet-lined leather box, he carried his silver wreath. And a month after his return to his Paradise, the motorboat came, a polished, tangible trophy to recall his triumphs in America.