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Second Thoughts


Even the best composers can stumble on the first step to writing an opera – coming up with a subject! Giacomo Puccini wrote from New York to his publisher in February 1907:

Regarding Conchita, I still have major doubts about the subject. When I think of the novel I have no doubts, but when I think of the libretto, I have plenty. The structure and the murky psychology scare me.

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The development is drab and treacherous to put into music. The first and second scenes are all right, but the scene at the window in the dance-cafe and the last scene both seem to me unsatisfactory.

Give this boat a good going-over and see if you can find any leaks. I can see them. But what can I do? The world is expecting an opera from me and it’s past time to have one ready. We’ve had enough of Boheme, Butterfly, and company. Even I am sick of them!

I’m writing all of this to prepare you for my doubts about Conchita. You’ll ask, “Why did you pick up the subject in the first place?” My dear boy, I’ve been wracking my brain and my soul for three years to find a place to lay my four notes and I have latched onto the most impressive one like a hungry cat.

The scene with the naked dance has to be disguised. The virginity question, which is the focus of the book, cannot be made clear in a spoken version of the story.

I’m afraid of the last scene, which — unless it’s unusually realistic — will be just an ordinary duet. And the scene the way I’ve imagined it won’t be accepted by the public. So I assure you that my life is not a bed of roses,

Puccini writing to his publisher in February 1907. He never wrote the planned opera.