Simonetta Puccini 1929 - 2017
Blog 12 16 December 2017
Simonetta was born in Milan on the 2nd June 1929 and took the surname of her mother Giurumello. However, her mother Giuseppina had been in an extra-marital relationship with Antonio Puccini the only son and heir of Lucca’s great composer, Giacomo Puccini. Antonio was born, also out of wedlock, in 1886 in Monza just outside Milan and when he died in 1946 Simonetta was barely a teenage girl of 16 or 17 years of age. Antonio was married to the Baroness Rita dell’Anna when Simonetta was born and although he did not officially recognise her as his daughter she was apparently supported financially by him and she was naturally supported and encouraged to believe this truth by her mother Giuseppina.
It was in the early 1970s when Simonetta was in her forties that she was recognised finally by the Tribunale in Lucca to be the natural granddaughter of Giacomo Puccini. Although Giacomo Puccini had died in 1924, nearly five years before she was born, the legal decision allowed her to take the surname Puccini and importantly a third share of what remained in terms of an inheritance.
When Antonio died in 1946 his whole estate went to his wife Rita and since they had no children themselves it passed to her brother, the self-styled Count Livio dell’Anna upon her death in 1979. According to Dr Aldo Giarizzo, the court-appointed judicial trustee of Antonio’s estate, he remarked in 1986 upon the death of the count,
'Neither the count [Livio] nor Rita did a day's work in their lives. They simply spent the millions which had resulted from the genius of the maestro on living it up. They have committed a moral crime.'
To make matters worse, Giacomo Puccini’s financial legacy was further squandered by the homosexual bachelor Count and his lover and apparent butler Pasquale Belladonna, who was thought to have embezzled millions from the last years of the count’s bedridden life. However, the estate still included two flats in Monte Carlo; three villas in Italy; many millions of pounds and several decades of copyright from some music pieces. Included in the Italian villas was the important one at Torre del Lago where Giacomo, his wife Elvina, Antonio and Rita are buried and where the maestro composed many of his famous operas.
It was at Torre del Lago where Simonetta devoted a lot of time and energy maintaining and improving the museum and overseeing the development of the operas held there every summer. It was Jan and my good fortune when visiting the museum to be show around by Simonetta and with no others present, to have her undivided attention. In her presence one felt somehow closer to the maestro himself such was her devotion to the family connection and her intimate knowledge of the house and the personal items and memories held there.
Whilst attending two operas at Torre del Lago, Jan and I sat next to Simonetta on two occasions and discussed briefly with her the performances. I also had two opportunities to meet with her again in Lucca where she attended the opening of the new biglietteria (ticket office) in 2013 in Piazza Cittàdella for the museum of the Casa Natale di Giacomo Puccini. Simonetta was always a friendly, elegant and charming lady who has had to fight hard to promote her grandfather’s legacy. She has used her influence to create several foundations in conjunction with the commune and other institutions to use Puccini’s legacy correctly.
It was with much sadness that her death on Saturday 16th December was reported in the local press and that her funeral was to be held in the church of San Giovanni Bosco in Viareggio on Wednesday 20th December. I was able to attend the funeral mass where the large modern church was full that included the mayors of Viareggio and Lucca.
A small extract of her grandfather’s music was played by a string quartet at the funeral called Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums), presumably a known favourite of Simonetta and a flower symbolically linked to funerals generally. It is part of a passage from Puccini’s first major successful opera Manon Lescaut and is a seven-minute elegy specifically for a string quartet.
Amongst the many flowers at the funeral I noticed a huge wreath from Casa Ricordi, the firm of music publishers that were so important to Giacomo Puccini during his lifetime and a relationship that has continued to the present day through the life of his granddaughter Simonetta.