Sie sind auf Seite 1von 251

Florida State University Libraries

Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations The Graduate School


The Harmonic Representation of the

Feminine in Puccini
Ya-Hui Cheng

Follow this and additional works at the FSU Digital Library. For more information, please contact





A Dissertation submitted to the

College of Music
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Awarded:
Summer Semester, 2008

Copyright 2008
Ya-Hui Cheng
All Rights Reserved
The Members of the Committee approve the dissertation of Ya-Hui Cheng defended on
July 9, 2008.

Matthew Shaftel
Professor Directing Dissertation

Douglas Fisher
Outside Committee Member

Jane Piper Clendinning
Committee Member

Linda Saladin-Adams
Committee Member

The Office of Graduate Studies has verified and approved the above named committee


When I begin the doctoral program, my teachers suggested I work on something that I
could live with for the next ten or more years. I am glad to have gotten that part right! I’ve
enjoyed every aspect of my research and sincerely appreciate my advisor Professor Matthew
Shaftel and the members of my committee, Professors Jane Piper Clendinning, Douglas
Fisher and Linda Saladin-Adams, not only for their continuous support and guidance but also
for the inspiration I have gained from each of them.
My desire to explore the work of Puccini began while working on an opera project with
Professor Clendinning and continued with Professor Fisher’s Opera Literature courses. Then,
in Professor Saladin-Adams’s Gender Studies course, I was inspired by the literary analysis of
gender issues, and the idea for my dissertation on the evolution of Puccini’s writing for his
female protagonists developed. Finally, my advisor, Professor Shaftel, kindly gave me space in
which to grow; his invaluable suggestions and consistent encouragement made it possible for
me to develop and finish this project. Each of my professors played a significant and yet
different role in the progress of my work.
Thanks particularly to the College of Music at Florida State University for giving me
the best doctoral experience possible. I wish to express my sincere thanks to all the
professors who have contributed to my education since I first came to the United States to
pursue an undergraduate degree. Without their help in the different stages of building a solid
theoretical foundation, I could never have come this far. Thanks also to my editors and
friends, Nikki Nojima Louis and Hsin-Jung Tsai, for their advice and expertise. Finally, I am
also grateful to Giacomo Puccini, whose operas have kept me intellectually and emotionally
stimulated. Indeed, when I was a child preparing my first piano recital, my teacher asked me
to play the Chinese song Mo-Li-Hua from Puccini’s Turandot. I am gratified that it is with
the work of Puccini that I complete my last music theory degree and launch the beginning of
my career.
Finally, I warmly express appreciation for my family in Taiwan for their tremendous
support in allowing me to study in the United States for more than a decade, and to whom
this work is dedicated.


List of Musical
List of Figures................................................................................................................ix
List of Tables .................................................................................................................xi

INTRODUCTION .......................................................................................................... 1

Research on Italian Opera............................................................................................ 1

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)..................................................................................... 3

CHAPTER 1: LITERATURE REVIEW AND METHODOLOGY ................................. 6

Selected Relevant Literature Review on Puccini and His Music .................................. 6

Methodology ............................................................................................................. 20


La bohème................................................................................................................. 38
Musical Synopsis – La bohème.................................................................................. 44
Musetta: “Quando me’n vo' ” .................................................................................... 48
Mimì: “Mi chiamano Mimì” ...................................................................................... 51

CHAPTER 3: HARMONIC REPRESENTATION OF TOSCA (1900).......................... 69

Tosca ........................................................................................................................ 69
Musical Synopsis – Tosca ......................................................................................... 85
Tosca: “Vissi d’arte” ................................................................................................. 94


.................................................................................................................................... 109

Madama Butterfly.................................................................................................... 109

Musical Synopsis – Madama Butterfly .................................................................... 125
Butterfly: “Un bel dì”.............................................................................................. 136


Turandot ................................................................................................................. 151

Musical Synopsis – Turandot .................................................................................. 182
Liù: “Signore, ascolta!”........................................................................................... 194
Turandot: “In questa reggia”................................................................................... 198

PUCCINI .................................................................................................................... 216

6.1 The Feminine .................................................................................................... 217

6.2 Harmonic Representation .................................................................................. 218
6.3 The Harmonic Representation of the Feminine .................................................. 221
6.4 Giacomo Puccini and Italian Opera.................................................................... 222
6.5 Conclusion and Directions for Future Study ...................................................... 224

BIBLIOGRAPHY....................................................................................................... 227

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH....................................................................................... 237


Example 2.1: I/36/10-13 – End of B section and beginning of the 2nd A section............. 54

Example 2.2: I/38/20-23 – End of 2nd B section and coda .............................................. 55

^ 6-
^ 5^ ........................................................ 61
Example 2.3: The “sweet magic” motion of 5-

Example 2.4: The ending as “death” in 5^ ....................................................................... 65

Example 2.5: Harmonic dualist relation......................................................................... 67

Example 3.1: The abbreviation of Tosca’s entrance scene and Madonna tune................ 76

Example 3.2: Where is Angelotti? (II/36) – suffer motif ................................................ 79

Example 3.3: Madonna and the suffer motifs................................................................. 79

Example 3.4: Suffering towards Madonna..................................................................... 80

Example 3.5: Death tune (II/63) .................................................................................... 83

Example 3.6: Spoletta and Tosca................................................................................... 84

Example 3.7: Minor octave descent ............................................................................... 95

Example 3.8: The continuing of Tonic motion – II/53 ................................................. 103

Example 3.9: The deceptive motion and religious faith – II/53 .................................... 103

Example 3.10: Launch from the parapet – III/40/12-III/41........................................... 105

Example 3.11: Cavaradossi: "E lucevan le stele " – III/12/2-3 ..................................... 105

Example 3.12: Tosca and Cavaradossi......................................................................... 108

Example 4.1: Yin scale saturated with 5ths.................................................................. 114

Example 4.2: Yang scale and its extended version (saturated with 5ths) ...................... 114

Example 4.3: Japanese folk tunes ................................................................................ 115

Example 4.4: Whole tone collection ............................................................................ 117

Example 4.5: Butterfly’s dream-like entrance.............................................................. 121

Example 4.6: Pinkerton’s diatonic sequence................................................................ 122

Example 4.7: Butterfly and Pinkerton’s duet ............................................................... 123

Example 4.8: Opening of the Oedo Nihonbashi ........................................................... 141

Example 4.9: The adaptation of “Takai yama kara” into “E Izaghi ed Izanami”........... 143

Example 4.10: “Tu? Piccolo Iddio!” (II.2/53/14-22).................................................... 150

Example 5.1: The authentic tunes from the Chinese music box.................................... 162

Example 5.2: The authentic tunes from J. A. Van Aalst’s Chinese Music (1884) ......... 163

Example 5.3: Melodic arch form in the pentatonic system ........................................... 165

Example 5.4: Dual tonic characters in Chinese pentatonic scale................................... 166

Example 5.5: Mo-Li-Hua in D..................................................................................... 167

Example 5.6: Mo-Li-Hua in G..................................................................................... 167

Example 5.7: The borrowing of the Chinese melodic phrase in Liù (III/24) ................. 168

Example 5.8: The borrowing of the Chinese melodic phrase in Calaf (III/35) .............. 169

Example 5.9: The neighbor motion from Calaf’s “Non piangere, Liù” (I/43)............... 170

Example 5.10: The pentatonic collection in Calaf’s “Non piangere, Liù” (I/43)........... 170

Example 5.11: The neighbor motion from Liù's “Tanto amore segreto” (III/24/1-5).... 171

Example 5.12: Pentatonic scales in Liù's “Tanto amore segreto” (III/24)..................... 172

Example 5.13: Contour relationship to Chinese song No. 2, mm. 1-2 .......................... 172

Example 5.14: French Impressionistic sonorities color the diatonic melody................. 174

Example 5.15: The French Impressionist style integrated with diatonic melody........... 175

Example 5.16: Mo-Li-Hua, the figure of Turandot ...................................................... 176

Example 5.17: Singing in unison, II/47........................................................................ 177

Example 5.18: Turandot and Calaf in Mo-Li-Hua........................................................ 178

Example 5.19: Turandot talks to the Unknown Prince in III/18.................................... 178

Example 5.20: The entry of the Unknown Prince in I/5 ............................................... 179

Example 5.21: Ecstasy in III/49................................................................................... 180

Example 5.22: Riddle in II/50...................................................................................... 180

Example 5.23: Prior to Liù’s death (III/24/1-5)............................................................ 213

Example 5.24: Dualist figure for love and hate............................................................ 214


Figure 2.1: Musetta: “Quando me’n vo' ” (A section: II/21/1-16)................................... 49

Figure 2.2: Musetta: “Quando me’n vo' ” (B and A’ sections: II/21/17 to II/23/15)........ 50

Figure 2.3: The axis along with the narrative trajectory towards death........................... 53

Figure 2.4: Mimì: “Mi chiamano Mimì” (A section: I/35/1-14)...................................... 56

Figure 2.5: The sustained axis vs. continuous voice leading motion............................... 58

Figure 2.6: Mimì: “Mi chiamano Mimì” (B section: I/36/1-11)...................................... 59

Figure 2.7: Mimì: “Mi chiamano Mimì” (C section and sequence: I/37/1 to I/38/11) ..... 63

Figure 2.8: Mimì: “Mi chiamano Mimì” (Background).................................................. 66

Figure 3.1: Tosca: “Vissi d’arte” (Introduction: II/51/1-13) ........................................... 96

Figure 3.2: Madonna tune (I/25/1-8).............................................................................. 98

Figure 3.3: Tosca: “Vissi d’arte” (A section: II/52/1-12) ............................................... 99

Figure 3.4: Tosca: “Vissi d’arte” (A’ section: II/52/13 to II/53/1) ................................ 101

Figure 4.1: Butterfly: “Un bel dì” (A section: II.1/12/1-8) ........................................... 138

Figure 4.2: Butterfly: “Un bel dì” (Transition: II.1/12/9-18) ........................................ 140

Figure 4.3: Butterfly: “Un bel dì” (B section—Transition—B’ section: II.1/13/1 to

II.1/14/11) ........................................................................................................... 142

Figure 4.4: Butterfly: “Un bel dì” (A—C—A sections: II.1/15/1 to II.1/16/9).............. 145

Figure 4.5: Butterfly: “Un bel dì” (Middleground reduction) ....................................... 147

Figure 4.6: Butterfly: “Un bel dì” (Background).......................................................... 148

Figure 5.1: Liù: “Signore, ascolta!” (I/42/1-10)........................................................... 195

Figure 5.2: Liù: “Signore, ascolta!” (I/42/7-20)........................................................... 196

Figure 5.3: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (Introduction: II/43/1-15 to II/44/2) ............. 201

Figure 5.4: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (A section: II/44/3-14) ................................. 202

Figure 5.5: Mo-Li-Hua (I/19/1-16 to I/20/1-21)........................................................... 203

Figure 5.6: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (B section: II/45/1-13 to II/46/1-2)............... 205

Figure 5.7: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (A’ section: II/46/3-12)................................ 206

Figure 5.8: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (C section: II/47/1-14) ................................. 208

Figure 5.9: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (D section: II/47/15 to II/48/1-7).................. 209

Figure 5.10: Prior to the kiss in III/38.......................................................................... 210

Figure 5.11: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (Middleground of the entire aria) ............... 212

Figure 6.1: Directed tonal motion versus dualistic regions........................................... 220


Table 2.1: The overall structure of “Quando me’n vo' ” ................................................ 48

Table 2.2: The overall structure of “Mi chiamano Mimì”............................................... 52

Table 2.3: Comparing the 6^ and Mimì (“Mi chiamano Mimì”)....................................... 64

Table 3.1: The path towards acting out of reality (Tosca) .............................................. 82

Table 3.2: Key relationship between aria and Acts I & III (Tosca)................................. 94

Table 3.3: The overall structure of “Vissi d’arte”........................................................... 95

Table 4.1: The overall structure of “Un bel dì” ........................................................... 138

Table 5.1: The overall structure of “Signore, ascolta!” ................................................ 194

Table 5.2: The overall structure of “In questa reggia” ................................................. 200


Over the past decade, few music theorists have explored the works of Puccini.
Notable exceptions have been Burton (1995) and Davis (2003), who examined motive
and style in Tosca and Turandot, respectively. This dissertation considers their work on
Puccini and goes beyond their modernist approaches to explore various postmodernist
aspects of his operas. Instead of working on one particular opera, this dissertation focuses
on some of Puccini’s female protagonists—Mimì and Musetta from La bohéme (1896);
Tosca from Tosca (1900); Butterfly from Madama Butterfly (1904); and Turandot and
Liù from Turandot (1926). My goals are: (a) to utilize linear and harmonic analysis in
order to illustrate how Puccini’s compositional style distinguishes his female
protagonists; (b) to identify and categorize the harmonic language Puccini employs for
his female characters; and (c) to demonstrate how these harmonic underpinnings evolve
from the middle of Puccini’s career to the end.
Moreover, I also consider the relationship between harmony, linear design, and
exoticism in Puccini’s work, exploring links between his distinct use of Western tonality,
Japanese Ying and Yang, and the Chinese pentatonic systems. Puccini’s early music
already manifests a structural potential for the later application of the Japanese and
Chinese systems, but Puccini’s last opera, the unfinished Turandot, integrates the two
systems seamlessly, moving from exoticism towards a more authentic portrayal of
Eastern music. My intention here is to illustrate how Puccini’s harmonic language blends
aspects of Eastern and Western music and how his operas bridge the cultural gap of
Eastern and Western aesthetics.
The Introduction presents my motivation in researching Puccini as well as the
goals for this project. Chapter I contains an extensive review of sources on Puccini and
his music and sets up the analytic foundation for the following chapters, outlining a
methodological plan.
Chapter II presents two female protagonists—Mimì, a character in the distinctly
verismo mold; her life is controlled by the inevitable trajectory of fate, and Musetta, who
represents a euphoric moment as a contrast to the life of Mimì. In Mimì’s aria, the
subdominant takes on a dualistic oppositional role to the dominant, acting in a

juxtaposed, rather than supporting role. In such a way, the harmony illustrates her fate,
and her futile attempts to escape from it. Contrast this with the subordination of
catastrophe—the subdominant in Musetta’s aria presents her beauty and attractiveness.
Chapter III presents Puccini’s writing on the verismo-inspired character, Tosca,
focusing on the implication of the submediant that presents the boundary of Tosca’s
world where she is oblivious to anything but her seemingly happy life. Floria Tosca, the
innocent and religious character, can do no harm to anyone. Ultimately, however, the
diva will act out through the device of deceptive motion and religious strength in an
opera within the opera, killing Scarpia, the chief of police.
Chapter IV demonstrates Puccini’s only finished exotic Eastern writing, by
focusing on Butterfly. This female protagonist uniquely engages with her own fate. As
her American dream is constructed by her Japanese fantasy, she is both an insider and
outsider in every aspect of her life. The implication of the Japanese Ying and Yang
system in both foreground and background levels of her aria portrays that she can never
abandon her inherent Japanese identity.
Chapter V discusses the great humanity that Puccini consistently expressed
throughout his career. The music for his last two female protagonists, Turandot and Liù,
was the culmination of his career, representing his best writing. The analysis of
Turandot’s aria explores Western tonality as it is interwoven with the Chinese pentatonic
system and demonstrates how Turnadot is possessed by her angry ancestor, Lo-u-Ling.
Contrasting with the ice cold Turandot, Liù’s sacrifice is prefigured through pseudo-
pentatonic writing with an emphasis on the subdominant to portray the torment of her
love. As a result, Liù presents Puccini’s most mature verismic character.
Chapter VI discusses how Puccini’s musical portrayal of the feminine reflects the
social aspects of his time. In addition, it describes a harmonic evolution based on
Puccini’s six female characters. In doing so, it also displays the nature of exoticism in
Puccini by examining the weak hierarchic relationships that allow the exotic borrowings
to be subsumed in a tonal framework. In conclusion, Puccini’s sentimental writing
identifies him as a great humanitarian and places him in the pantheon of the great artists
of Italian opera.


Research on Italian Opera

For decades American trained music theorists have focused their research on the
German musical tradition and have given it preferential status in their approaches to
musical analysis. The unfortunate result is that local musical colors are often ignored; the
German tradition is often viewed as the exclusive, rather than a primary, influence of the
Western musical language. Theorist William Rothstein has discussed this academic
narrowness when he wrote:

German Romantic hegemony has been challenged in many ways—most loudly

perhaps by Richard Taruskin—but theorists have hardly begun to do so using
other repertoires, contemporary to its ascendancy, that might offer alternatives to

Indeed, composers from other European nations, such as Italy, maintained their
own national identities in their music. That is to say, that although Beethoven, Wagner
and other German giants might have influenced Italian opera composers, the Germanic
influence should not be examined to the exclusion of the Italianate musical language.
After all, Italian opera composers (and even some Germanic ones) wrote Italian, not
German, operas. This point corresponds to Carolyn Abbate’s notion that social influences
and composers’ individuality distinguish their creativity. Abbate wrote:

[t]hat high classical music was shaped by social and cultural forces, by national
ethos, and that musical works were molded by their maker’s psychic individuality
are all truisms. In those terms music’s social contingency and non-autonomous
messiness are patent. Were this not the case, as has often been noted, then why
would early Wagner sound like early Wagner and not Schumann, why would

William Rothstein “Common-tone Tonality in Italian Romantic Opera: An Introduction” in MTO 14/1
(March, 2008) (accessed June 21, 2008). Rothstein also discussed this fact at length in a keynote address
focused on Italian opera. See “Why theorists should pay attention to nineteenth-century Italian opera; or,
Confessions of a reformed Germanophile snob,” presented at Music Theory Southeast Annual Meeting,
Chapel Hill, NC, 2006. In that talk, he cited examples that demonstrate how Italian operatic composers
(from Rossini to Verdi) have influenced German composers.

nineteenth-century music not be the same as seventeenth-century music, and why
would German music not be the same as Italian music.2

Abbate explains that each nation preserves its own identity and as a result Italian music
sounds Italian, not German, and vice versa. Thus, rather than applying a stylistically blind
musical hermeneutics to understand the structure, expression, and meaning of opera, one
needs to find a secure way to approach musical expression as it engages with, confirms,
and departs from a particular stylistic context. Following from Rothstein and Abbate’s
messages, a question for the current music theory academy emerges: excluding the
German tradition, how much understanding of other operatic styles have music theorists
discovered and/or explored? The answer is that, despite a small number of exceptions (to
be discussed below), there has been very little music theoretical research on Italian opera,
and almost no exploration of Puccini’s operatic output.
Unlike music theorists, historical musicologists have published abundant research
on various European operatic subjects, giving an almost equal weight to both the German
and Italian operatic traditions. In their landmark book, Analyzing Opera: Verdi and
Wagner, editors Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker provide a thorough survey of the state
of research on Verdi and Wagner. The main purpose for this collection was to invite more
academic devotion to going “beyond and behind” opera analysis.3 In certain respects, the
list of comparative studies on Verdi and Wagner, which is based on common interests in
academia, implies the essential fact that Italian and German operas are equally significant
to the field of musicology. This statement resonates in the authors’ own words: “The
notion of juxtaposing those two operatic lions [my emphasis] of the nineteenth century,
Verdi and Wagner, is, of course, hardly new.”4 Scrutinizing the music theoretical
research, however, one can only conclude that music theorists generally agree that Verdi
and Wagner hold equivalent positions in their respective genres (Italian and German
opera), yet theorists still show a preference for the works of Germanic and, more

Carolyn Abbate, “Music-Dratstic or Gnostic?” Critical Inquiry 30/3 (Spring 2004): 514.
Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker, Analyzing Opera: Verdi and Wagner (Berkeley, University of
California Press, 1989), 4. Abbate and Parker note that the words “beyond and behind” come from Edward
T. Cone’s essay “Beyond Analysis.” For a serious debate about “beyond and behind,” see Edward T. Cone,
“Beyond Analysis,” Perspectives of New Music 5 (1967): 33-51; David Lewin, “Behind the Beyond,”
Perspectives of New Music 7 (1969): 50-60; Edward T. Cone, “Mr. Cone Replies,” ibid., 70-72.
Abbate and Parker (1989), 4.

recently, American composers, which translates into a distinct paucity in music theoretic
research on Italian opera.5

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)

Academic theoretical research on Puccini has rarely been greeted with respect.
This oversight is, in part, due to the tendency of music theorists to ignore opera altogether
and to approach Italian opera in an ad hoc manner. More significantly, Puccini has not
been considered to be an important musical innovator as are his predecessors, Wagner
and Verdi, or his contemporary Berg.
Indeed, Puccini composed in times of great change in the musical world and
beyond. His music largely preserved the Italian tonal tradition; yet the subject of his
operas introduced visions of Non-Western cultures to Italian, and later, worldwide
audiences. Weaver discusses the golden century of the Italian opera, beginning with
Rossini and ending with Puccini. He concludes his book in the following way “But
Puccini left no Crown Prince. With him, the glorious line, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti,
Verdi, came to a glorious conclusion.”6 Weaver’s conclusion clearly defines Puccini’s
status as equal to the other Italian operatic giants. Ashbrook and Powers recall Weaver’s
words and go further to state that Puccini’s last unfinished opera Turandot represents the

This trend is particularly noteworthy in terms of recent Neo-Riemannian discussions of German opera.
The Neo-Riemannian tool appears to be analytically relevant to the harmonic successions of German opera
(particularly Wagner), but yields a distinct dearth of narrative or dramatically-linked understanding of those
operas. Ultimately, since studying German music has been the main focus of the academic curriculum for
some time, it is inevitable that German music holds a privileged place in the field. The historical
precedence and development of this trend is well beyond the scope of this dissertation. Instead, the intent
here is to point out that Italian opera has its own great tradition. Music theorists would do well to give some
attention to discovering it. For introductory studies on Neo-Riemannian theory, see the entire volume in
Journal of Music Theory 41/1(1997). Part of the cause of this is due to the fact that political stress during
the two world wars caused German musicians to immigrate to the United States, an action that influenced
the pedagogic trends of musical theory. This influence continues into our generation, although the situation
has improved. For a relevant discussion on Italian opera’s influence on the German tradition, see William
Rothstein (2006 and 2008), listed in footnote 1 of this chapter.
William Weaver, The Golden Century of Italian Opera: from Rossini to Puccini (New York: Thames and
Hudson, 1980), 242.

last monument of the great Italian tradition.7 Although one might suspect that the event of
Puccini’s sudden death in 1924 marked the close of an entire genre, it is clear that the
great Italian tradition is still alive through the performance of Puccini’s operas.
Examining box office receipts over the past century, there can be no doubt that
Puccini’s operas take a central position in the seasons of all the major opera houses of the
world. The libretti of his operas Madama Butterfly and La bohéme have been successfully
adapted into the Broadway musicals Miss Saigon and Rent, respectively, and La bohéme
has even been performed on Broadway. This is to say that Puccini’s work and the
subjects he selected clearly resonate with audiences even now, and they have had a
profound effect on generations of music lovers.
What remains, then, is a mandate to explore not just the history of these operas,
but also their music, their structure, and their effect on the operatic genre and on society
in general. This dissertation attempts a small contribution to this large task, focusing on
the manner with which Puccini treats his female characters, both musically and
dramatically. In so doing, it touches on issues of harmony, form, gender, exoticism, and
authenticity, shedding light on an evolution in Puccini’s stylistic treatment of his female
Puccini entitled some his operas with the names of female characters, and these
operas show him to be intensely focused on the female perspective, perhaps even moving
beyond Romantic notions of “otherness.” While the British high-modernist movement
was advocating for women’s rights with Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando,
published in 1925, Italian society was still very conservative. Yet, Puccini’s “realist”
operas depicted such heroines as Tosca, who kills a policeman (Scarpia) onstage in 1900.
The original stimulus for the creation of this dissertation stems both from the
above cited concerns and a fascination with Puccini’s women, some of whom are bona-
fide women, while others are more like one-dimensional shells of feminine
representation. Puccini’s arias always seem to reflect the psychology of his character, or,
as Kimbell states: “ [I]n Puccini’s hands the aria can often give less the impression of a
musical composition being performed, more that of an improvisation, of an experience

William Ashbrook and Harold Powers, Puccini’s Turandot: The End of the Great Tradition (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1991), 11.

being lived through.”8 The critical aspect underlying this fact is Puccini’s idiosyncratic
use of harmony as it underlies his well-known melodies, and thus this research focuses on
the harmonic representation in the feminine, as represented by arias written for Puccini’s
female characters. Although this is just one small aspect of Puccini’s work, my hope is
that the many questions that cannot be answered in this dissertation will invite others to
pursue theoretic research on Italian opera and Puccini.

David Kimbell, Italian Opera (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 626.



Selected Relevant Literature Review on Puccini and His Music

Research on Puccini has been particularly abundant in historical musicology since

1958, the one-hundredth anniversary of the composer’s birth. Musicologist Helen
Greenwald has published a comprehensive review of Puccini research since its earliest
stages, with an emphasis on publications in the 1980s. In her study, Greenwald
categorizes Puccini studies into thirteen areas, including bibliographical studies, life and
work, letters, analytical and interpretative studies, and conference papers.1 Each category
is summarized through a brief discussion. In the following, I adopt and adapt
Greenwald’s categories to discuss Puccini research chronologically as it relates to my

1. Life and Work

Mosco Carner’s Puccini: A Critical Biography, published in 1958, adopts

Freudian theory to explore the interrelation between Puccini’s history and his music, and
it briefly analyzes the composer’s twelve operas with musical comparisons to his
predecessors and contemporaries such as Verdi, Wagner, and Strauss. Carner devotes
himself to a serious investigation of a composer who many critics ignored or dismissed.
Despite the fact that this biography has been placed on the required reading list for
Puccini scholars since it was first published, it does not view Puccini as progressive or
modern. To some extent, this is related to Carner’s overemphasis on the Freudian

See Helen W. Greenwald, “Recent Puccini Research,” Acta Musicologica 65, Fassil (Jan. 1993): 23-50.
Here I focus particularly on the theoretic research that plays a role in my own work. A historical approach
to Puccini, unless there is a specific relevancy, is largely excluded or will be discussed within the later
chapters, if needed. For a similar review of Puccini research, see also Deborah Burton, “A Select
Bibliography of Articles and Dissertations about Puccini and His Opera,” in The Puccini Companion, ed.
William Weaver and Simonetta Puccini (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994), 327-34.

analysis of Puccini and his relationships with others. As a result, Carner’s work actually
weakens the weight of Puccini’s authority. Rather than providing an insight into
Puccini’s personal musical style and an appreciation of Puccini as a virtuoso composer,
Carner constantly excuses Puccini for the musical approaches that differ from those of
Verdi and other well-known composers.2 Ultimately, the more excuses he made, the more
the scholarly community lowered their regard of Puccini’s music.3
A later relevant publication on Puccini’s life and work comes from William
Ashbrook, whose book, The Operas of Puccini, was published in 1968.4 Ashbrook
models Carner’s approach but eliminates the pseudo-Freudian prototype in his discussion
of the life of Puccini. He also analyzes Puccini’s twelve operas closely and relates the
music score to the drama. In 1991, Ashbrook and coauthor Harold Powers published an
intensive study, Puccini’s Turandot: The End of the Great Tradition.5 In this book, they
trace the historical origins of this fable tale, discuss the compositional process, and
analyze the entire opera in depth. The analytic approach is based on four types of musical
color that Ashbrook and Powers define in the opera (Chinese, Dissonant, Middle Eastern
and Romantic-diatonic). Their analysis introduces one of the earliest approaches to
understanding Puccini through a stylistic lens and later influenced Andrew Davis, who
adopts this mode of stylistic analysis in his study of Turandot (discussed below).
In 2002, two Puccini biographies were published, by Julian Budden and Mary
Jane Philips-Matz, that chronologically narrated the life of Puccini and his works.
Budden’s book, Puccini: His Life and Work,6 also incorporates a detailed discussion of
his librettos, the society and musical milieu of the time, his relationship to others, and
contemporary musicians’ opinions of Puccini’s works. Budden analyzes each of
Puccini’s operas and provides valuable insights. His analytic content goes beyond other

My critique is obviously biased by my own modern viewpoint. However, Carner’s work represented the
most advanced interpretation of Puccini at the time.
Many scholars, including Carner, have excused Puccini for working to be perfect, but within his own
limitations (emphasis added). A similar description also appears in Donald Jay Grout’s & Hermine Weigel
Williams’ A Short History of Opera (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 494. Recent remarks
are included in Julian Budden’s Puccini: His Life and Work (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002),
479, and Mary Jane Philips-Matz, Puccini: A Biography (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2002).
William Ashbrook, The Operas of Puccini (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968).
William Ashbrook and Harold Powers, Puccini’s “Turandot”: The End of the Great Tradition (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1991).
Budden (2002).

authors’ interpretations, picking up on Puccini’s musicianship and sentiments through the
smallest analytic details. For instance, in his musical description of Madama Butterfly,
Budden presents the figure pertaining to the two busy rhythmic notes that picture the
Japanese milieu.7 This is one way in which Budden illustrates a detail that pinpoints the
greatness of Puccini’s art.
Philips-Matz’s work, Puccini: A Biography,8 records the life of Puccini, his
music, his relationships with family and friends, and the aesthetic trends of the time. The
narrative tone of this book provides an insight into Puccini’s world. One of the most
valuable features of this book is that Philips-Matz incorporates other scholars’ words on
Puccini to firmly support her view of the composer.

2. Analytic Studies

Allan W. Atlas is the earliest scholar to include substantial analysis in the study of
Puccini’s works. His studies of Puccini covers most of his operas and he has published a
series of articles that discuss topics such as the tonal and multivalent approach to the
tonal structure, its association with semantic meaning and its possible expression of the
story line, as correlated to the character’s psychology. A particular example of
multivalence comes from Atlas’ discussion of the tonal plan in Madama Butterfly. He
states that the opera’s tonal plan was based on the link between the keys of Gb and A
major. The Gb major semantically represents Pinkerton’s rejection of Butterfly, while
Butterfly mistakenly sees it as his acceptance. The A major then functions with positive
connotations for Pinkerton, but negative ones for Butterfly. The misunderstanding
between the characters is demonstrated by their musically paralleled (but never
integrated) relationship through the “lovers’ crossed tonal areas.”9

See ibid., 265.
Phillips-Matz (2002).
Allan W. Atlas, “Crossed Stars and Crossed Tonal Areas in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly,” 19th-Century
Music 14/2 (Autumn 1990): 186.

Roger Parker, in his response to Atlas’s Butterfly analysis, reveals a clear tonal
coherence and takes the multivalence in both tonality and semantic meaning as mere
happenstance. Parker states:

[T]hat some overarching system of connections, such phenomena 'govern the

opera' is not to enrich or legitimatize Puccinian musical drama, but rather to
attempt to circumscribe radically its capacity to renew claims on our attention…
[the] rigid semantic 'associations' are fashioned by ignoring or factitiously
extending the text.10

Atlas replies that Roger himself also implicitly advocates the “multivalent” approach in
his work on Puccini.
In his later publication, Atlas claims that multivalence can “inextricably
intertwine” the ambiguous and unambiguous of tonality, harmony, and form with one
another. He describes:

that ambiguity may become apparent only when viewed against something that is
itself unambiguous, and that the two may operate simultaneously at different
levels and be audibly perceived as doing so.11

He uses the example of IV - I harmonic progression from La fanciulla del West to support
his view. First, he analyzes the IV - I progression in three different places within the
scene: the opening, the ending, and a pedal-like passage. Then, he states that the IV - I
progression in both the opening and the ending of the scene might make the ending
ambiguous, for it lacks the leading-tone function of the dominant. However, he claims
that the IV - I unambiguously foreshadows the sentimental storyline of the opera: “love –
virtue – redemption.”12 He then suggests that the IV-I plagal motions:

do not really harmonize a melody or function as an accompaniment. Rather, the

cadences themselves are the ‘event’: that is, they act as isolated sonorities, and
their function is clearly rhetorical [to announce the love adventure].13

Roger Parker, “A Key for Chi? Tonal Areas in Puccini,” 19th-Century Music 15/3 (Spring 1992): 231.
Allan W. Atlas “Multivalence, Ambiguity and Non-Ambiguity: Puccini and the Polemicists,” Journal of
the Royal Musical Association 118/1 (1993): 80. James Webster took a similar approach to Mozart in the
SMT plenary session, November 2006.
Ibid., 80.
Ibid., 84.

This plagal motion is taken as a nostalgic “sigh” for the popular music of the
contemporaneous American West.14 As the story takes place in the American West, it
creates a semantic association with the (at least seemingly) primitive.15 In addition, the
unambiguous IV - I progression clears up the ambiguous structural plan (lack of V - I
motion) at the end of the love duet in Act II.
Overall, Atlas’s discussion of multivalence in Puccini’s music stands as a
significant contribution to Puccini research. In particular, it highlights the association
between drama and large-scale tonal design as well as with more local harmonic
structures. This is a theoretical model that others may follow with greater specificity. In
this study, I have taken up Atlas’s interest in the plagal domain of Puccini’s music,
although I have taken a more linear-inflected approach to the dualistic harmony.
Ultimately, however, much of Atlas’s work provides a useful basis for my work on
Puccini’s women.
Other authors who take an analytic approach to Puccini’s operas and are relevant
to my study include Roger Parker, William Drabkin and Sandra Corse. Parker and
Drabkin both show the influence of Carner as they attempt to define Puccini as unequal
to such composers as Wagner and Verdi. Parker analyzes Act I of Tosca through a
dramatic lens to discuss the text/music relationships, tonality, and the motivic relation to
the drama.16 Drabkin analyzes the harmonies and themes in La bohème and concludes
that Puccini’s harmony fundamentally controls the direction of the melody as well as the
thematic structures. Together, according to Drabkin, both harmony and thematic design
distinguish Puccini’s musical language.17
In her extremely brief, but informative article, Sandra Corse analyzes Puccini’s
female protagonists: Mimì, Musetta, Tosca, Butterfly, Liù, Turandot.18 She studies the

The veracity of Atlas’s claim is outside the scope of this essay.
Atlas claims the connection with American Western music is quite evident, “especially if we have grown
up on the soundtracks of American westerns and those television commercials that pitch the goodness of
golden wheat waving in the Kansas wind” (84).
See Roger Parker, “Analysis: Act I in perspective.” This article is one of the collected essays in Mosco
Carner, Giacomo Puccini: Tosca, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 117-48.
See Willliam Drabkin, “The musical language of La bohéme,” Giacomo Puccini La bohéme, ed. Arthur
Groos and Roger Parker (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 80-101.
Sandra Corse, ‘“Mi chiamano Mimì’ The Role of Women in Puccini’s Operas,”’ Opera Quarterly 1/1
(1980): 93-106.

plot of each opera to portray the psychology of the female characters as well as their
relationship to the males. She also uses short excerpts from their melodies to support her
ideas and claims that Puccini adheres to a singles stereotype for all his female characters,
one that is extremely subordinate. As such, she concludes that his female characters are
distinguished from those of other composers. While Corse’s study is a worthy start, my
study of the larger musical issues that surround each character demonstrates a much
richer variety and trajectory than her summary proclaims.

3. Studies of Exoticist Practice

Mosco Carner also published an earlier study entitled The Exotic Element in
Puccini (1936), which discusses Puccini’s exoticism from the perspective of melody,
harmony and rhythm. He defines the exoticism in Puccini’s works as it differs from those
of his contemporaries, such as Strauss, stating: “[Puccini’s borrowing was] from an inner,
irresistible urge to cope with the exotic problem in music.”19 The study includes a listing
of Puccini’s “exotic” material borrowings and provides little musical analysis. It
represents the earliest significant work to explore the authenticity of Puccini’s use of non-
Western materials.
Michael Saffle follows in Carner’s footsteps, devoting his study to the harmonic
language in Puccini’s exoticism.20 He borrows his harmonic categories from Carner—
pedal points, repeated chord progressions, parallel chords, accompaniment and
heterophony—and claims that they are all combined in unusual ways in Puccini operas.
The results of these combinations distinguish Puccini’s exotic tone colors. Saffle supports
this viewpoint in his close studies of the scores of La fanciulla del West and Turandot.
Both Carner’s and Saffle’s studies set the foundation for the study of Puccini’s
exoticism that will follow. My work will expand their discussion to define Puccini’s

Mosco Carner; G. R., “The Exotic Element in Puccini,” The Musical Quarterly 22/1 (Jan. 1936): 67.
Michael Saffle, “Exotic Harmony in La Fanciulla del West and Turandot.” Exotismo e Colore Locale
nell’Opera di Puccini. Edited by Jürgen Maehder, 119-30. Proceedings of the Prima Convegna
Internazionale sull’opera di Giacomo Puccini in Torre del Lago, Italy. Pisa: Giardini, 1983.

harmonic structure as well as his imitation of authentic melodies and harmonic practices
in his exotic writing.

4. Dissertations

(1). Norbert Christen

Norbert Christen’s dissertation, Analytische Untersuchungen der Melodik,
Harmonik und Instrumentation, focuses on a study of melody, harmony and
instrumentation in Puccini.21 Christen’s discussion of Puccini is set from the perspective
of the Italian tonal tradition’s influence on the composer. For instance, he discusses how
Puccini’s idiomatic use of dissonance is largely the result of adding extra notes to stable
consonances to color the sound.

(2). Helen W. Greenwald

Helen W. Greenwald’s work follows in Atlas’s tonally cohesive footsteps. Her
dissertation, “Dramatic Exposition and Musical Structure in Puccini’s Opera,” discusses
the formal structure, rhythm, time, and vocal discourse in Puccini’s operas.22 In the final
portion of her dissertation, she applies these resources to her analysis of the genesis and
musical structure of La bohéme.
Although issues of large-scale tonality are not her primary concern in the
dissertation, she does briefly address the links between Puccini’s tonality and the drama.
Greenwald states that Puccini explored both traditional and untraditional ways to
manipulate key relationships and to create unusual sonorities. In her research, she points
out that Puccini preferred to use the “simplest diatonic” progressions when he adopted a
traditional tonal structure. In her analysis of Turandot, she shows that the pitches F# - Bb
- Eb outline the main tonal structure of Act I. The intervallic relationship between F# -
Bb - Eb includes one augmented fifth (Bb - F#) and one perfect fifth (Eb - Bb). Although

Norbert Christen, Giacomo Puccini: analyt. Unters. d. Melodik, Harmonik u. Instrumentation
(Hamburg: Verlag der Musikalienhndlung, 1978).
Helen M. Greenwald, “Dramatic Exposition and Musical Structure in Puccini’s Operas” (Ph.D. diss.,
City University of New York, 1991).

the use of augmented fifth may seem to be unusual, it is relatively common in late 19th-
century music to replace the dominant with an augmented triad. Thus, Greenwald
suggests that the interlocking of the augmented and perfect fifths (F# - Bb - Eb) served as
a symbol for Turandot “herself, bloodthirsty [augment fifth], yet splendid, like the moon
[perfect fifth].”23 The example from the Turandot analysis shows how Greenwald differs
from Atlas, going further to explore the intervallic interrelationship and the
interdependence between chords. Also, she is careful to link the local intervallic
relationship with the opera’s drama.

(3). Deborah Burton

Deborah Burton aligns fundamentally with Atlas and Greenwald. Her 1995
dissertation, entitled “An Analysis of Puccini’s Tosca: A Heuristic Approach to the
Unifying Elements of the Opera,” represents the first purely theoretical approach to
Puccini by an American music theorist. This dissertation sets out to outline a
methodology for the analysis of opera, and Burton uses Tosca as a heuristic example in
order to serve and support the innovative music-analytical procedure.24 Among the many
new analytical tools that she produces, the primary one is called the “M-tool” (musical
tool), which serves as the entry level to divide composers’ musical materials into
different categories. After the musical materials are categorized, they go on to the OM
and IM sections for second-level analysis. The OM stands for the grammatical
organizational musical tool. It is used to analyze the structure of operas. The IM means
the illustrative musical tool and is used to express the operatic dramatic vocabulary. The
use of OM and IM separates the musical illustration from structural organization. In so
doing, Burton provides a deep analysis of tonal coherence that goes beyond what has
been provided by previous scholars.
In addition to the new analytic procedure, Burton also introduces atonal theory
into her analysis of Puccini. Instead of utilizing the conventional group of tonal dissonant

Helen M. Greenwald (1991), 94. Although Greenwald’s associations are not theoretically supported,
they do attempt an interesting connection between the intervallic and dramatic structures.
For the application of Burton’s analytic methods on other Italian operas, see Deborah Burton, “Orfeo,
Osmin and Otello: towards a theory of opera analysis,” Studi musicali 33/2 (2004): 359-85.

functions such as decoration, prolongation, and association,25 she views dissonant notes
themselves as possibilities for prolongation. In addition, she groups the dissonant
sonorities into motivic cells, which is made through the intervallic relationship, and
analyzes each dissonant cell over a large span of music. She also uses the concept of
atonal transposition to replace the notion of tonal harmonic progression, such that she
describes the motion from dominant to tonic as the motion from T5 to T1. Both the
reinforcement of functional dissonance and the focus on the transposition operation are
significant contributions in that they break the entrenched boundaries within the
respective areas of tonal and atonal theory and link them together. In other words, she
provides a way to manage the smooth transition between the two domains.
On the one hand, as her treatment of dissonance departs from the underlying tonal
structure, traditional notions of tonal hierarchy and prolongation are greatly weakened.
Her use of the transposition operator for tonal progression suggests an equivalence
between tonic and dominant, and focuses more on pitch centricity, rather than traditional
tonal prolongation. Burton does indeed state that the subject of prolongation can be either
a tonal triad or a pitch class preserved from point A - to - point A and:

that [the point A to point A] journey is not a direct one; inserted into the route are
many detours, some serving illustrative purposes, and some providing side trips
through secondary areas. Nevertheless, the ultimate tonal destination always
remains in sight.26

However, she never attempts to differentiate triadic and pitch-class prolongations in her
analysis. As a result, even if her analysis suggests a tonal/pitch-class structural coherence
in opera repertoire, the basis of that structural coherence remains ambiguous.
This ambiguity presents a number of questions. Are Puccini’s operas written in a
tonal system or an atonal one, or something in between? Given the clear underlying pitch

For a detailed discussion with regard to the tonal dissonance treatment in decoration, prolongation and
association, see Joseph N. Straus publications, "The Problem of Prolongation in Post-Tonal Music,"
Journal of Music Theory 31/1 (1987): 1-22. Also see Straus’ later publication in which he developed this
discussion further: Joseph N. Straus "Voice Leading in Atonal Music," Music Theory in Concept and
Practice, ed. James Baker, David Beach, and Jonathan Bernard (Rochester: University of Rochester Press,
1997), 237-74.
Deborah E. Burton, “An Analysis of Puccini’s Tosca: A Heuristic Approach to the Unifying Elements of
the Opera,” (Ph. D. diss., Michigan University, 1995), 213.

centrism in Puccini’s works, the answer should most likely be either tonal or something
in between. If the piece is written using a tonally-derived system, her analysis loses
something critical in its dismissal of tonal hierarchic function. If the piece is written with
a facile vacillation between tonal and atonal systems, her mixed approach gains
validity.27 However, the greater the extent to which one mixes up the two systems, the
greater the ambiguity of the line between the tonal and atonal. If Puccini mixes tonal and
atonal languages in his operas, does there have to be a distinct boundary between tonal
and atonal systems? And, if such a thing can be does exist, what is it and how do we
define it? Burton does not take up this question of boundaries, nor does she attempt to
address the conflict between the two different systems.28 In not doing so, however, she
actually highlights the very polemical question that she ignores: What is the main
theoretical system at work in Tosca?
On the other hand, although Burton analyzes tonal coherence at a deeper middle-
ground level, she neglects the foreground, stating that it is essentially non-functional.
Thus, she favors larger-scale structural analysis over any notion of musical surface.29 As
her work focuses on presenting the deeper structure of Tosca, ultimately, she has much to
offer. Yet, her neglect of local musical motion and larger-scale dramatic/structural plans,
is a gap that will be filled in the present dissertation. My study focuses on Puccini’s local
harmony to enhance and engage drama as well as incorporating various musical styles
(both exotic and avant-garde) into his fundamentally tonal language.

In a recent email, Prof. Deborah Burton suggests that she views Puccini as a composer that mixes tonal
and atonal structures throughout his oeuvre. Although atonal aspects of Puccini’s harmonic language are
not my interest (in fact, they are always subservient to the overarching tonal hierarchies), it does seem clear
that Puccini was familiar with the music of atonalists, such as Schoenberg, having attended a performance
of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, commenting that Schoenberg’s music was as far from traditional musical
practice as “Mars is from Earth.” Puccini may also have known of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone system. For
details pertaining to Puccini’s attendance of a performance of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, see Budden
(2002), 440-41.
For a detailed discussion regarding the combination of two theoretic systems, see Steve Rings, “Tonality
and Transformation” (Ph. D. diss., Yale University, 2006). Rings approaches this area through
phenomenology. He takes tonality as the fundamental basis while transformation (based on Lewin’s GMIT)
operates phenomenologically.
Burton’s dissertation exclusive focuses on tonal/pitch class coherence. To prove her point, she ignores
the central problems within the two polar systems and eliminates all discussion of the local musical motion.
There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but since she has explored this notion
extensively, my work will focus instead on larger issues of harmonic surface and its relationship to the

(4). Andrew Davis
Over the past decade, two music American theorists have completed dissertation
research on Puccini. Burton, from the previous discussion, was the first, and Andrew
Davis the second. Davis completed his dissertation in 2003: “Structural Implications of
Stylistic Plurality in Puccini’s Turandot.” The two theorists take very different theoretical
approaches to Puccini’s operas. Burton focuses on the unifying tonal/pitch class structure
of Puccini’s Tosca as a whole, while Davis abandons conventional tonal relationships in
his analysis. Rather, he uses a stylistic approach to analyze the formal structures of
In his stylistic approach, he rejects the established notion that Puccini’s Turandot
is conceived in a single style and colored by different atmospheres. For him, the varied
colors represent different style types. They are part of the structure, not merely
atmospheric shading. Different styles can interrelate to each other to comprise what
Davis called “a plurality of musical styles.”30 The stylistic plurality can be applied to the
semiotic square to delineate the structure and psychological narratives of the opera.31 In
his discussion, he shows how the musical structure is closely associated with the drama
and claims that the dramatic structure can itself be an additional tool to analyze the
formal divisions of the opera. Consequently, Davis successfully demonstrates that
stylistic plurality functions as the delimiter of formal divisions in both music and drama.
This is an innovative and useful way (combining the ‘tonal’ and ‘dramatic’ approaches)
to analyze opera.
Davis’s ideas of stylistic distinction come from Ashbrook’s and Powers’ four-
color discussion of Turandot.32 He modifies and expands these four colors into five

Andrew Davis, “Structural Implications of Stylistic Plurality in Puccini’s Turandot” (Ph. D. diss.,
Indiana University, 2003), 100.
The semiotic square is adopted from Johanne Cassar who uses the semiotician A. J. Greimas’ square as a
paradigm to explain musical narrative structure. Davis states “styles serving as the musical actants—
syntactic units in a narrative that together form a story—are responsible for unfolding the plot. This manner
of associating styles and dramatic topics in Turandot, and the role of the stylistic associations in organizing
the operatic narrative, is analogous to the more traditional interpretation of key areas and their associations
with specific dramatic events and situations in nineteenth-century Italian opera,” 178-79. (For more
information, see ibid., 176-86).
See Ashbrook and Powers (1991). See previous discussion on Ashbrook and Power. Ashbrook and
Harold state that these four colors were far more significant in Turandot than in any other of Puccini’s
operas. They act as juxtaposed structural links between sections. Davis suggests that these four colors are
not merely juxtaposed, but that they integrate with one another.

styles: Romantic, Dissonant, Exotic-Chinese, Exotic-Primitive, and Exotic-Persian. The
last three styles can be grouped into one big “Exotic” style category. These styles are
interrelated by either integration or juxtaposition. Davis states that,

The styles are in close proximity, with no musical transition, or ‘bridge’, one
moment the music is dissonant, at the next moment the music might be exotic
Chinese, and the dissonant style might return shortly thereafter.33

Since his analysis focuses on demonstrating the stylistic distinctions of the opera, Davis
rarely addresses how these styles relate to harmonic language. The discussion of the
Romantic style is the only one that contains significant discussion of harmony. Davis
believes that a fundamental aspect of Puccini’s Romantic style is the replacement of the
dominant-tonic progression with tonic-subdominant-tonic harmonic motion. The
avoidance of dominant motion weakens the required forward direction into the tonic and
keeps the harmonic progression away from strong resolution. The use of subdominant
implies a reverse of typical harmonic motion, producing a more lyrical and sentimental
The formal divisions suggested by Davis can be traced back to the Puccini
research done by musicologist Greenwald. Greenwald hoped to demonstrate that Puccini
stayed within traditional Italian formal designs.34 She cites Turandot as particularly
“conventional.”35 Davis agrees with her analysis of formal structure. However, rather
than exploring traditional formal analysis, he employs the stylistic distinctions in making
decisions about musical structure. Davis states that, “They [styles] are structural pillars
that replace nineteenth century [operatic] conventions as pivotal elements in the work’s
organization.”36 Thus, he sees Puccini’s styles as a pluralistic language that affects both
music and drama, and, essentially, integrating the two. In this way, Puccini may be seen
as a “formal innovator” of the early twentieth century.
While Davis’s use of semiotic squares provides a way to illustrate the musical
connection with the drama and can beautifully highlight the characters’ psychologies, it
Davis (2003), 102.
Helen M. Greenwald (1991), 139. Here she discusses traditional designs in Turandot’s aria “In questa
Ibid., 189.
Davis (2003), 16.

gives a disproportionate weight to the drama, inevitably destroying the delicate balance
between the two.37 The pivotal point is apparent when Davis identifies the essential
dramatic problem in the character of Liù, which, consequently, turns out to be the
musical problem for Puccini.38 He states that,

Puccini’s musical-dramatic decisions were sound—the styles and their associative

activity aptly reflect the characters, their relationships, and their motivations—but
the plot has an inherent, perplexing dramatic obstacle that was perhaps

This statement seems to ignore the fact that drama and music have to interrelate in a
balanced fashion in an operatic production.40 To create a virtuosic artwork, both
composer and librettist should (and usually do) consult with each other to solve the
problem (if there is one).41
In particular, in the case of Turandot, it was known that Puccini had planned out
the death of Liù, but was stuck on the ending duet for quite some time. Although he may
have found this moment musically challenging, Puccini did not give up on the opera. His
persistence demonstrates his faith that he could find a musical solution to the problem.
Unfortunately, Puccini died suddenly and left the opera unfinished.42 Thus, instead of

The first half of Davis’s dissertation provides a close discussion of musical theoretical considerations of
opera, but the direction of the second half moves almost exclusively towards dramatic analysis. Indeed, it
tends towards an application of drama to the analysis in a way that disturbs the balance between the two.
Because Davis emphasizes dramatic analysis, he is led inevitably to the conclusion of a “dramatic
problem,” which, ultimately, has little to do with the music and, in fact, contradicts the natural relationship
between music and drama.
Ibid., 238.
Note, however, that the music must be given enough emphasis, such that the balance is slightly more
weighted in that direction. Witness the fact that good music can make a bad libretto acceptable. Many times
it is the composer’s virtuosity that gives a bad libretto life. However, less good music can never be
successful, even with a good libretto, such as in Boito’s Mephistopheles.
Davis mentions that his conclusions relate to Carner who discussed that “[Liù’s death] is a serious
psychological weakness and one of the strangest puzzles in dramatic thinking.” For further information, see
Davis (2003), 239, footnote 26. Also, Ashbrook and Powers have argued that Liù’s self-sacrifice is the root
of the dramatic problem in this opera. See Ashbrook and Powers (1991), 81.
One thing Davis did not mention in his dissertation is that Puccini himself decided to write the opera
Turandot. Also, he is the one who insisted on adding Liù ’s torture and death. For more on this, see Budden
(2002), 472. Lo Ki-Ming and Jurgen Maehder have stated that Puccini is the person who insisted on
incorporating Liù’s torture scene and death. For more details, see the Chinese publication by 羅基敏 and
梅樂亙 [Ki-Ming Lo and Jürgen Maehder,] 杜蘭朵的蛻變 [The Stylistic Shift of Turandot.] (My
Translation) 臺北市: 高談文化出版 [Taipei: Guo-Tan], 2004. Budden also mentions that Liù’s death
brought about Puccini’s dissatisfying conclusion to the opera. To solve the problem is “something that lay

making an excuse for the drama, it might be equally significant to accept the fact that
Puccini’s sudden death was truly the only thing that made the ending of this opera
problematic. From a positive perspective, the mysterious ending has attracted the
attention of music and opera lovers for over a century.
In conclusion, Davis’s work has inspired me in many ways, in particular, in his
statement that,

[Puccini] does not invent new rules....his rules are fundamentally the same as
those of Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and Verdi… But Puccini does employ new
strategies, both in his local-level compositional procedures and at a more general
level in his pluralistic language.43

I agree with Davis, and I explore related questions in my research: What kinds of new
strategies, if any, does Puccini adapt? Which elements of Puccini’s style produce the
unique sound that we recognize as his own? How did Puccini restructure around the
subdominant relationship while musically differentiating the various female characters
and their own inner expressions?44
The literature review presented here supports my research on Puccini’s work as a
whole. In particular, Davis’s and Burton’s groundbreaking studies have set the
foundation for this study. The discussion of Puccini’s distinctive tonality in Davis’s work
is certainly my most important influence. Likewise, Burton’s rigorous notion of internal
structural analysis can be employed for an examination of Puccini through a tonal/atonal
lens. Yet, as my research focuses on tonal interpretations of Puccini’s music (focusing on
the more harmonically conservative arias), her methodology is largely irrelevant to my
work. Furthermore, Atlas’ multivalent approach to the meaning of the IV - I harmonic
progression provides a useful starting point for my understanding of Puccini’s
employment of the subdominant. Greenwald’s consideration of Puccini’s simple
harmonic progressions and the relationship of the intervallic structures to the drama also

outside Puccini’s range.” Yet, had Puccini lived ten years longer, he might have been able to come up with
a satisfactory solution. Budden’s statement seems to conveniently label Puccini as a composer of relatively
meager skill. Budden (2002), 472.
Davis (2003), 246-47.
In a previous discussion, I have shown that Atlas analyzes the IV - I progression in his analysis of La
fanciulla del West, and Davis described the IV – I progression as represented in Puccini’s Romantic style.
There are still many other harmonic tropes that await exploration, but this will constitute my starting point.

play a role in my research. In addition, publications on Puccini’s life and his exotic
borrowings have helped me to understand Puccini the composer, in the social milieu of
the late nineteen-century. Thus, these predecessors all provide the fundamental basis for
my own work. Following in their footsteps, I hope to expand and enhance our
understanding of Puccini.


The following discussion of methodology traces the application of Schenkerian

theory to operatic works, and describes how Schenkerian theory can work in conjunction
with other theories. In so doing, it explores the development of complementary theoretic
methods on operatic works and outlines my own analytic tool (a combination of
Schenkerian linear approaches to music and dualistic theories of harmony).

1. Schenkerian Analysis and Opera

In his 1988 publication, Allen Forte points out that Schenkerian analysis is
ubiquitous within the field of music theory such that it would be difficult to find a
professional music publication without a Schenkerian musical illustration.45 In the
subsequent decades, the importance of this theory has come to be self-evident.46 Yet,
while scholars have attempted to apply notions of linear hierarchy to music of the
operatic genre, doing so raises a number of problems, particularly that of the nature of the

Allen Forte, “New Approaches to the Linear Analysis of Music,” Journal of the American Musicological
Society 41/2 (Summer 1988): 315-48.
For the initial development of Schenkerian analysis in the United States, see William Rothstein, “The
Americanization of Heinrich Schenker,” in Schenker Studies, ed. Hedi Sigel (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1990), 193-203. For a detailed discussion of the “Americanization Schenkerian” (I
borrow from Rothstein’s term) and its development in the twentieth century, see Edward Latham, “Linear-
Dramatic Analysis: An Analytical Approach to Twentieth-Century Opera” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University,
2000), 59-77. For a textbook exposition, see Allen Cadwallader and David Gagné, Analysis of Tonal Music
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

association between music and drama, on which Abbate and Parker have made a clear

For opera is not music alone; it lives in association with poetry and dramatic
action, an association that has made it idiosyncratic and special, certainly different
in fundamental ways from instrumental music. Those whose analytic staple is
nonoperatic music feel baffled by opera and may deal with it in inappropriate
ways; they may be limited by their preoccupation with analytic modes whose
criteria of value run to organic unity…47

This statement points out the vital problem in the interaction of Schenkerian theory and
opera. In particular, the strength of Schenkerian theory centers on an organic
comprehension of music’s internal coherence.48 It divides music into hierarchic levels
through musical reduction and ultimately demonstrates the primacy of the tonic in the
background in both vertical and horizontal dimensions.49 First, whether or not tonal
coherence can actually be heard in an operatic work is an essential question. Second, the
central contradiction is that the power of musical reduction in Schenkerian theory
weakens the musical and dramatic association of the surface in operatic understanding. In
other words, the more musical notes are displaced, the greater the reduction in the
association of music and drama. These challenges have been addressed in several ways,
as will be discussed in the following.

(1). Selected Recent Studies of Tonal Coherence and the Music/Dramatic

Association 50

Much of the perceptive operatic research that addresses the aforementioned

challenge can be found in Analyzing Opera: Verdi and Wagner, a collection of essays
Abbate and Parker (1989), 3-4.
For a discussion of the historic development of an organic perspective as well as the relation of
organicism and musical analysis, see Ruth A. Solie, “The Living Work: Organicism and Musical
Analysis,” 19th-Century Music 4/2 (Autumn 1980): 147-156.
For a discussion of musical reduction in the vertical dimension, see William Rothstein, “Rhythmic
Displacement and Rhythmic Normalization,” Trends in Schenkerian Research (New York: Schirmer,
1990), 87-113.
My discussion focuses on the major analytic concepts as found in research on operatic works. As to its
relevance to Puccini research, see the discussion of Atlas in the Puccini literature review.

edited by Abbate and Parker.51 This volume sets up the future of opera analysis by
exploring various approaches to structure, interpretation, and criticism. Roger Parker
explores motivic parallelisms and their interaction with various tonal plans in Aida,
associating them with specific dramatic events.52 Martin Chusid presents large-scale tonal
coherence as it relates to dramatic ideas in Verdi’s Rigoletto.53 David Lawton shows how
the tonal structure of the scenes in Act III of Aida presents a microcosm of the entire
unified opera.54 McCreless observes that tonal structure is the primary source for
musically linked drama in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. With the tonal structure at its
base, Schenkerian methodology nicely uncovers Wagner’s musical/dramatic plan. The
presentation of the past is made through the diatonic system. Meanwhile, the future is
suggested by a fusion of the diatonic and chromatic systems (incidentally pointing to the
future of operatic composition as well).55 McCreless’s analytic graph in this article
convinces us that Schenker and Wager indeed share a common music language with a
hierarchical tonal understructure.
Outside of this volume, there are some other operatic studies that provide
inceptive analytic ideas. Lawton analyzes bass motion to explore the expressive
association between tonal structure and drama.56 Parker and Brown apply Lawton’s
model of tonal motion to analyze the recurring themes in Verdi’s Otello. Their analysis
explores returning thematic material to reveal how the various tonal events illuminate the
While the aforementioned scholars present research that seeks an association
between tonal coherence and dramatic 19th century opera, Warren Darcy provides a
different view of the opera of the period. In his book, Wagner’s Das Rheingold, Darcy

In the following, I only discuss selected essays from this book. For a broader overview, see Warren
Darcy‘s review of Analyzing Opera: Verdi and Wagner, by Carolyn Abbate and Roger Park, Music Theory
Spectrum 13/2 (Autumn 1991): 260-64.
Roger Park, “Motives and Recurring Themes in Aida,” Analyzing Opera: Verdi and Wagner, ed.
Carolyn Abbate and Roger Park (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1989), 222-38.
Martin Chusid, “The Tonality of Rigoletto,” in ibid., 241-61.
David Lawton, “ Tonal Systems in Aida, Act III,” in ibid., 262-75.
Patrick McCreless, “Schenker and the Norns,” in ibid., 276-97.
David Lawton, “On the ‘Bacio” Theme in “Otello,”’ 19th-Century Music 1/3 (Mar. 1978): 211-20.
Roger Parker and Matthew Brown, ‘“Ancora un bacio”: Three Scenes from Verdi’s “Otello,”’ 19th-
Century Music 9/1 (Summer 1985): 50-62.

focuses on Wagner’s compositional process, examining the composer’s sketches. He then
applies various strategies, such as pseudo-Schenkerian analysis and an examination of
orchestrational hierarchies to facilitate his discussion. He achieves his primary goal of
understanding how the compositional process affects analysis, but overall, the approach
has a flexibility that sometimes seems facile. Of course, this is a common feature of
operatic analysis, in general, as it is often characterized by unexplained shifts in
methodology. As Darcy states:

Schenkerian model is more applicable to Wagner’s texted dramatic music than

has generally been recognized….However, the Schenkerian model is by no means
the only analytical weapon needed to stalk the structural complexities of
Wagnerian opera. Wagner clearly used other methods of tonal organization when
his dramatic purposes demanded them, and it is here that the concepts of
expressive, associative, and directional tonality…can be very helpful.58

Darcy thus invites a number of theoretical methodologies, listing Schenkerian theory as

one analytic tool among many others. This theoretic flexibility invites McCreless to make
the following comment:

The question of whether Schenkerian analysis is applicable to a given tonal

music, then, or whether that tonal music is appropriate for Schenkerian analysis,
collapses into the political question of how one wants to engage the music in the
first place….With respect to Wagner’s music, Schenkerian theory is always
available if we want to use it. What underlies our choice to use it is simply a
matter of desire: Do we want to know what Schenkerian analysis can tell us?59

In considering McCreless’s comment, one question rises regarding the rigor of any
Schenkerian analysis of opera: what can Schenkerian theory tell us beyond that which
belongs to the hierarchic internal structure and tonal coherence of the music alone, and is
that sufficient? This limitation of Schenkerian theory is the pitfall that Darcy wants to
avoid. By using theoretical concepts “mechanically or in a wholesale manner,” he
believes he can escape the limitations of internal musical hierarchy. Although his work

Warren Darcy, Wagner’s Das Rheingold (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), 55. Also see his
“Creatio ex nihilo: The Genesis, Structure, and Meaning of the Rheingold Prelude,” 19th-Century Music
13/2 (Autumn 1989): 79-100.
Patrick McCreless, “Reviewed Work(s): Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Studies in Musical Genesis and
Structure by Warren Darcy,” 19th-Century Music 18/3 (Spring 1995): 290.

produces a number of worthwhile interpretations, he fails to provide a solid theoretical
To be fair, the pitfall identified here is one that most theorists are not able to
escape in this stage of operatic analysis. This is due to the fact that most Schenkerian
studies attempt to prove the overall tonal coherence of operatic works. Indeed, most
recent analyses of the operas of Wagner, Verdi and their contemporaries have
Schenkerian theory as their foundation (even if the authors might not admit to this
viewpoint). One example can be found in David Lawton’s analysis of Verdi’s Aida, Act
III. 61 In his essay, Lawton intends to define the degree of tonal coherence in this act (and
he uses a tonal hierarchic tool, based on a notion of harmonic cycles and interruptions.62
Lawton’s approach does indeed evidence the tonal structure of the act. Yet, the question
remains. If Verdi is already perceived as a tonal composer, do we need to use a tonal tool
to show a tonal piece is writing through tonal coherence? This question certainly recalls
the previous statement made by McCreless: “Do we want to know what Schenkerian
analysis can tell us?” 63 What else can we learn from these analytical claims?
As the rigorous application of Schenkerian analysis leads toward one specific
result, which typically disagrees with any dramatic sentiment, most of the resulting
dramatic interpretations remain on the surface, or, alternatively, the music/drama
association may be far-fetched.64 While conservative music theory scholars might dislike
Darcy’s loose theoretical approach, scholars of opera might be dissatisfied with the
outcome of the musical/dramatic interpretation that results from the rigorous application
of Schenkerian principles in those sections where he deems it appropriate. The strengths
and weakness of these two opposite situations subsequently led scholars to seek ways to
neutralize and improve on both ends. The process of their discoveries alongside with the
outcomes will be discussed next: the extensions of Schenkerian theory.

Darcy (1993), 55.
David Lawton, “ Tonal Systems in Aida, Act III,” Analyzing Opera: Verdi and Wagner, ed. Carolyn
Abbate and Roger Park (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 262-75.
Ibid., 270.
Patrick McCreless, “Reviewed Work(s): Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Studies in Musical Genesis and
Structure by Warren Darcy,” 19th-Century Music 18/3 (Spring 1995): 290.
That said, these approaches lay the foundation for approaches to opera that are, on the one hand flexible,
and on the other hand consistent in the rigor of application and in the dramatic interpretations that they
produce. This is what I hope to achieve in my own work.

(2). The Extension of Schenkerian Theory and New Linear Approaches to Opera

The argument about what Schenkerian theory tells us beyond tonal hierarchy can
be traced along four lines. The conservative Schenkerians pursues a better understanding
of tonal coherence. Matthew Brown’s Explaining Tonality: Schenkerian Theory and
Beyond, which is a follow-up to his 1989 Ph.D. dissertation, focuses on this aspect of
musical unity.65 Conversely, the anti-Schenkerians make claims for the expressive
implications that go beyond tonal coherence. Joseph Kerman makes a strong, if
somewhat misguided, point when he accuses Schenkerian theory of generalizing all
musical pieces into one formula and making no distinction among the pieces.66 This
generalizing feature of Schenkerian theory is what limits its usefulness for opera, given
the diversity of possible dramatic narratives and the desirability of demonstrating a
music-dramatic connection.
Leo Treitler falls into Kerman’s line of thinking. He states that Schenkerian
theory fails to provide for any historical relationship to tonal structure and he suggests
that an “extra-systematic” approach would provide better contextualized results.67
Standing in the neutral position, Patrick McCreless suggests a way to soften Schenker’s
uni-directional rigor so as to incorporate Treitler’s approach.68 The results of his modified
approach include a tonal analysis of Schubert’s “Pause,” which plays a central role in
relation to the entirety of the song cycle, Die Schöne Müllerin. McCreless’s work is
convincing. It represents a successful attempt at connecting the internal structures

Matthew Brown, “A Rational Reconstruction of Schenkerian Theory,” (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University,
1989). Also, Brown’s Explaining Tonality: Schenkerian Theory and Beyond (Rochester: University of
Rochester Press, 2005). For a book review, please see Mark Anson-Cartwright, Review of Explaining
Tonality: Schenkerian Theory and Beyond, by Matthew Brown, The Journal of Schenkerian Studies 2, 2006
See Joseph Kerman, Contemplating Music (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985), 60-112. Also,
see Edward T. Cone, “Beyond Analysis,” Perspectives of New Music 5 (1967): 33-51; David Lewin
discusses the distinction between theory and analysis in great detail; see Lewin’s “Behind the Beyond,”
Perspectives of New Music 7 (1969): 50-60. Cone’s and Lewin’s work do not directly refer to Schenkerian
theory. Yet, they demonstrate radical thinking about the roles of theorists and analysts at that time. Also, a
good review of Kerman’s Contemplating Music is in Michael Cherlin, “Why we got into analysis and what
to get out of it,” Theory & Practice 11 (1986): 53-74.
See Leo Treitler, ‘“To Worship That Celestial Sound” Motives for Analysis,”’ The Journal of
Musicology 1/2 (Apr. 1982): 153-70.
See Patrick McCreless, “Schenker and Chromatic Tonicization: A Reappraisal,” in Schenker Studies, ed.
by Hedi Sigel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 125-45.

uncovered by Schenkerian analysis and their relations both to the drama and to the cycle
as a whole.
While many scholars have taken Schenkerian theory to be the definitive method
for tonal analysis, Kofi Agawu distinctly argues that Schenkerian theory is the
“ethnotheory” discipline for German and Austrian music.69 His statement suggests that an
attempt to study non-Germanic music through this fundamentally German theoretic lens
might be called into question. It is for this reason, that I adopt a very loose linear
approach in my graphs, one that is based on Schenkerian notions of hierarchy, but is
exceptionally flexible in its construct of both surface and background harmonic and
melodic events.
Some theorists, whose primary interest is not Schenkerian theory and who are yet
inspired by this discourse, then take the Schenkerian model of internal hierarchy as a
model for other approaches to musical coherence. The initial example comes from Milton
Babbitt, and I will discuss his view in relation to two points. First, on the adoption of one
theoretical methodology over another, Babbitt has distinctively stated that,

any theory is a choice from an infinite number of possible theories, and the choice
is determined by what can be termed a criterion of significance in the selection,
first, of primitives, whatever the linguistic form of these primitives. Whether this
significance be expressed in terms of predictive power, explanatory scope,
simplicity, or some other criterion, the decision is not easily made or ever surely
made, …70

Babbitt sees the adoption of any theory as a result of choices made by the analyst,
depending on situational need. Yet, the decision can never be easy. In addition, he sees in
Schenkerian theory the underpinnings of transformational linguistics, which ultimately
leads to new and profitable approaches to harmonic succession:

The Schenkerian theory of tonal music, in its structure of nested transformations

so strikingly similar to transformational grammars in linguistics, provides rules of

See Kofi Agawu, Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Position (New York:
Routledge, 2003), 182.
Milton Babbitt, “The Structure and Function of Musical Theory,” in The Collected Essays of Milton
Babbitt, ed Stephen Dembski, Andrew Mead, and Joseph N. Straus (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
2003), 194. David Lewin has similar ideas as Babbitt. See Lewin’s “Behind the Beyond,” Perspectives of
New Music 7 (1969): 50-60.

transformation in proceeding synthetically through the levels of a composition
from “kernel” to the foreground of the composition, or analytically, in reverse.
Since many of the transformational rules are level-invariant, parallelism of
transformation often plays an explanatory role in the context of the theory (and,
apparently, an implicitly normative one in Schenker’s own writing).71

David Lewin agrees with Babbitt when he approaches the hierarchic internal level of
music using K-nets.72 While there is no current work that employs k-nets in an analysis of
opera, other transformational approaches have been examined in relation to opera, all
based foundationally on Babbitt’s (and, ultimately Schenker’s) notion of a hierarchical
grammar of music. Some research of this type will be discussed in the following sections:

1). Neo-Riemannian vs. Schenkerian Theory

In his dissertation on Wagner’s Parsifal, Scott Baker claims that neither neo-
Riemannian nor Schenkerian theory can provide a satisfactory analysis in and of itself.
This is due to the fact that Neo-Riemannian theory offers a detailed understanding of the
parsimonious voice-leading relationships (with assumed octave equivalence) between
successive chords but lacks the tonal hierarchical structure. Schenkerian theory gives
information about tonal coherence, yet is unable to express this parsimonious
relationship. Combining these two theories allows scholars to perceive Wagner’s “linear
chromatic maze” fully, as Schenkerian theory provides an understanding of the “musical
forest” while Neo-Riemannian theory can describe “specific sections of trees.”73
Steve Rings also integrates these two theories to present a “transformational
model of tonal hearing.”74 According to Rings, the Neo-Riemannian aspects of Lewin’s
(and Richard Cohn’s)75 transformational approach offers a “prismatic” analytic strategy

Babbitt (2003), 199-200.
See David Lewin, “Klumpenhouwer Networks and Some Isographies that Involve Them,” Music Theory
Spectrum 12/1 (Spring 1990): 83-120.
See Scott Baker, “Neo-Riemannian Transformations and Prolongation Structures in Wagner’s Parsifal”
(Ph.D. diss., Florida State University, 2003), 155.
Steven Rings, “Tonality and Transformation” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2006), vii.
Rings’s work clings more to Lewin’s than Cohn’s direction. That is because Cohn’s work exclusively
applies to the tonal coherence among the chromatic pieces, defines the distance between half/whole steps
and in so doing, removes the tonal hierarchic structure. For instance, Cohn’s analysis on Schubert’s piano

to explain the multiple musical perspectives in both aesthesic and poetic structure.76 As a
result, it provides a phenomenologically oriented and highly rich understanding of local
kinetic gestures. Schenkerian theory presents an immanent structure to illustrate this
internal coherence on the larger-scale. Rings states:

…Transformation theory and Schenkerian theory gain their strengths through

their respective analytic and synthetic strategies. That is, transformation theory
thrives in the detailed exploration of phenomenologically rich local passages.
Without the ability to penetrate deeply into local musical phenomena, it loses its
explanatory power. Schenkerian theory, on the other hand gains its strength
through its ability to coordinate a great number of musical parameters and to
synthesize them into a single structure that is both unified and richly detailed. The
method can thus serve both as heuristic discovery procedure for exploring inter-
level relationships throughout the piece; a synoptic device for taking in large-
scale tonal outlines at a glance; and a powerful ear-training tool.77

As Rings and Baker point out, Neo-Riemannian and Schenkerian theories can coexist
with their own distinct, yet equally essential, analytic techniques. Their relationship does
not exclude one from the other; rather, they interact in a “complementary” fashion.78 In
his recent article in the Journal of Schenkerian Studies 2, Rings explains this
complementary relation further:

The most productive way to understand the relationship between Schenkerian and
transformational discourses is thus not through assimilation into a single method
through competition, but through dialogue. When the two methods are brought
into dialogue, a rich picture of the music in question can emerge, as we observe
the ways in which the respective analytical discourses interact and diverge.79

sonata, D. 960 studies the voice leading among the hextaonic pole. This makes the detail of the functional
harmonic motion less important in the discussion. See Richard L. Cohn, “as Wonderful as Star Clusters:
Instruments for Gazing at Tonality in Schubert,” 19th-Century Music 22/3 (Spring, 1999): 213-32. Yet,
Rings takes the path of the complementary theoretic tools to explain the tonal unity and the local
As described in GIS (Generalized Interval Systems), aesthesics interprets “the receptive act of hearing
music.” Poetics takes “the creative act of making music” into a transformational perspective. Rings (2006),
Ibid., 30
Rings states “Schenkerian readings and transformational approaches are not mutually exclusive, but
potentially complementary.” Rings (2006), 198.
Steven Rings, “Perspectives on Tonality and Transformation in Schubert’s Impromptu in Eb, D. 899, no.
2,” Journal of Schenkerian Studies 2, 2006 forthcoming.

This complementary relation brings forth the “transformational model of tonal hearing.”
Along with this model comes the development of a formalist-“oriented network.” This
network defines the way people perceive “direct and indirect, harmonic, linear and
syntactic” tonal intention.80
Rings’s work is essential as it provides an explicit way to open analytic spaces
from a single methodology to a combined one. This notion has critical ramifications for
operatic analysis, although operatic analysis is not Rings’s primary analytical target in his
dissertation. His model suggests a broad-based yet locally rich model for analysis, and
this combination has the potential to address the music/dramatic connections in opera.

2). Stanislavsky System vs. Schenkerian Theory

Edward Latham combines the Stanislavsky system of actor preparation and

Forte’s motivic-linear analysis (which is derived from Schenkerian theory) to
comprehend the drama and music for operas written in the twentieth century. The
Stanislavsky system suggests a hierarchy of goals and aims for the characters in a
narrative and aims to be applicable to all types of theater. Latham takes what he sees as a
system that is roughly proportional to the Schenkerian one and adopts it for his study.81
The hierarchy of objectives and goals are essentially divided into three levels (mirroring
the basic Schenkerian paradigm): “Superobjective (the character’s goal for the play),
Main Object (the character’s goal for each scene), and Object (the character’s goal for
each line).”82 These three objectives organically relate to each other in the hierarchy. The
linking of the two systems makes sense, as both the Stanislavsky system and Schenkerian
theory share a similar internal design and focus on a large swath of repertoire.83 The
connection between the two, however, is somewhat less rigorous than one might like,
with convenient pairings sometimes suggesting an ad hoc approach. Again, this is not
uncommon in the operatic literature (see the discussion of Darcy, above). While a

Rings (2006), 66.
Latham (2000), 12.
Ibid., 15.
Ibid., 27-31.

majority of operatic analysis tends to focus on musical expression, Latham distinctively
regards opera as both drama and music in a fundamentally linked manner and presents
their equal balance through his analysis. This unique aspect of his study has important
relevance for my own work on Puccini.

3). Other Associative Models

Elizabeth L. Smith employs pseudo-Schenkerian theory and integrates a number

of popular analytic methods to understand characters’ psychologies in three operas based
on Carlo Menotti’s libretti. Her research focuses on how three different composers
represent the characters from Menotti’s libretti, and she analyzes both music narrative
and operatic narrative (as a combined whole) to interpret the works. This analytic
flexibility presents a rich association between music and drama. 84
Matthew Shaftel borrows from semiology to compare the sonata form type
(culturally defined archetype) with the token (specific example) of the first-act trio from
Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, interpreting the scene in terms of its social/musical
content.85 In so doing, he expands the repertoire of typical sonata theory to include the
operatic genre, ultimately interpreting its formal idiosyncrasies in terms of the dramatic
action and the sociological influence of Mozart’s time. The interpretation follows a
rigorous interdisciplinary model that includes four levels of analysis adapted from Irwin
Panofsky’s influential iconological investigation of visual art. In Shaftel’s operatic
model, the primary level explores the internal structure of the drama (plot) and the music;
the second defines the denotative meaning in drama and music and their immediate
cultural implications. The third level is based on the results of the previous two and
explores the larger connotative sense of the drama and music. The fourth level integrates

Elizabeth L. Smith, “Musical Narrative in Three American One-Act Operas with Libretti by Carlo
Menotti: A Hand of Bridge, The Telephone, and Introductions and Good-Byes” (Ph. D. diss., Florida State
University, 2005).
“Sonata Form, Dramatic Subtext, and Musical Irony in the Trio from Le Nozze di Figaro.” In Keys to the
Drama: Nine Perspectives on Sonata Forms, edited by Gordon Sly. (London: Ashgate Press, 2007). A
related essay appears as "Form, Sign, and Singing: Integrating Sign Systems in an Interdisciplinary
Approach to Opera," Semiotics 2007 (forthcoming).

all previous dramatic and musical discussions to provide an integrated musical/dramatic
Shaftel’s analysis presents a clear analytic model for understanding culturally
contingent meanings and dramatic implications as they relate to the musical structure. He
also provides an innovative way to understand the interaction between music and drama
as it goes beyond one-to-one correspondence (a primary shortcoming of earlier operatic
studies). While the problem pertaining to the relationship of the music and the drama has
been widely discussed,86 his work demonstrates a useful analytic direction outside of the
Schenker norm. In particular, through his semiotic approach, not only is the interaction
between music and drama well examined, but also social influence can be subtly brought
into the discussion.87

2. An Analytic Methodology for Puccini

All of the analytic techniques from the previous discussion present good models
for additional research, and have, in some fashion, informed the current project. As
mentioned previously, however, my research builds most directly upon the work of
previous Puccini scholars, particularly that of Davis, Atlas, and Greenwald, to provide a
suitable analytic methodology. I take a discussion pertaining to notion of tonal field and
tonal space by Carl Schachter as my inceptive concern. Schachter states that,

To a large extent the tonal actions over time are what create the local color. The
actions, of course, will constantly modify the milieu, but a core of perceived
stability will abide through these changes.88

Schachter’s primary goal is to describe the way in which the tonic triad outlines the tonal
field to open up tonal space for other triads to act in the foreground and background. Yet,
this concept leaves room for complementary techniques (here, I borrow the word

See previous discussion of Kerman and Treitler.
Davis also discusses the semiotic approach to operatic analysis. See my literature review, where his
work is discussed in great detail.
Carl Schachter, “The Triad as Place and Action,” Unfoldings: Essays in Schenkerian Theory and
Analysis, ed. Joseph N. Straus (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 162.

“complementary” from Rings). In particular, the tonal field applies to Puccini as a
fundamentally tonal composer, as I have argued (and will demonstrate in the analytical
section of this dissertation). Meanwhile, local color is created through Puccini’s
exploration of harmonic dualism (with the subdominant taking on a role equivalent to the
dominant) and through the unfolding narrative of the women characters’ arias.
Combining a Schenkerian linear approach, dualism, and an examination of the drama
through the filter of gender, my primary analytical focus is linear motion as it relates to
dualist harmonic function and gendered dramatic events. The theoretical details as they
relate to Puccini will be discussed in the following section.

(1). Schenkerian Theory and Puccini

Scrutinizing works by Schenker and Puccini, I find that they share more common
ground pertaining to internal tonal structure than do Schenker and Wagner.89 Christen
describes Puccini as follows [my translation]:

Puccini thus restricts himself to the diatonic tradition, yet enriches this harmonic
realm in a characteristic manner. From about 1870, the triad remains the basis of
design in the aria and romanza, while the traditional seventh chord restricts itself
to designated functions, namely the D (dominant) and the S (subdominant):
through the addition of the “characteristic dissonance” the triad becomes the
seventh chord.90

The seventh chord is mentioned in a specific statement by Schenker:

It is the fifth that forms the boundary of any given chord in the foreground, and
never the seventh. Even where the seventh is placed above the fifth in the

It is true that Schenker has little interest in opera and in Wagner. Yet, the point that I wish to argue is
that in terms of the understanding of the role of harmony in tonal works, Schenkerian theory shares more
common ground with Italian tonal operas than with the Germanic approach of Wagner’s operas.
Puccini beschränkt sich also auf die Diatonik, doch bereichert er innerhalb dieses Rahmens die harmonik
in charakteristischer weise. Bis etwa 1870 wurden in Arien und Romanzen vorwiegend Dreikläng
verwendet, während die Vierklänge der Tradition gemäß auf bestimmte Funktionen beschränkt blieben,
nämlich auf die D und die S: durch Hinzufügen der “charakteristischen Dissonanz” werden die Dreiklänge
zu Vierklängen. Norbert Christen, Giacomo Puccini: analyt. Unters. d. Melodik, Harmonik u.
Instrumentation (Hamburg: Verlag der Musikalienhndlung, 1978), 91.

foreground—that it is, in cases where conventional harmony speaks of a
seventh—the seventh must be considered only a passing tone…91

The above statements from Christen and Schenker show that, in addition to the tonal
common ground, Puccini and Schenker treat the seventh as an added non-functional tone
in the diatonic system. Thus, the fundamental tonal stance they share provides the
justification to explore a Schenkerian-inspired analysis of Puccini, although, in fact,
many of the current tonal analytic methodologies are derived or influenced by Schenker
in some fashion.92

(2). Stein and Harrison as a model for Puccini’s use of harmony

As I have argued that the subdominant plays a more essential position in Puccini’s
music than in the conventional tonal language, I adopt and adapt dualist notions from
Harrison and Stein to complement Schenkerian theory and to demonstrate a deeper
understanding of Puccini’s “local color.”93 The essential discussion of dualism in late-
Romantic music is found in two books: Deborah J. Stein’s Hugo Wolf’s Lieder and
Extensions of Tonality, and Daniel Harrison’s Harmonic Function in Chromatic Music: A
Renewed Dualist Theory and an Account of Its Precedents.
Stein develops an approach to the tonally expansive harmonic language of the late
nineteenth century, with an analytical emphasis on Wolf’s lieder. The analysis adopts a
progressive pseudo-Schenkerian method for examining tonal strategies. Stein describes
tonal expansion in four categories: The Plagal Domain, Third Relations, Directional
Tonality, and a combination of extended-tonal techniques.
The plagal domain is considered to enrich more traditional harmonic progression,
substituting for the tonic–dominant axis. Third relations apply to relationships within a

Heinrich Schenker, Free Composition, trans. and ed. Ernst Osterns (New York: Longman, 1979), 63.
For a deeper discussion of tonal analytic skills derived from Schenker, see Giorgio Sanguinetti,
“Dramatic Functions of Tonal Field,” in Essays from the Third International Schenker Symposium, ed.
Allen Cadwallader (New York: Olms, 2006), 81-102.
In a somewhat preliminary study, Matthew Shaftel combines Schenkerian theory with Stein and
Harrison’s work on the dualism of harmonic function in his study on Webern’s early songs. See Matthew
Shaftel, “Anton Webern’s Early Songs: Motive, Harmony, and Influence” (Ph. D. diss., Yale University,

tonic-dominant axis by either mediating through direct (bVI) or chained (III) approaches
to the dominant from the tonic. Directional tonality is applied to pieces that open and
close in different keys. All of these domains will play some role in my Puccini study.94
Harrison’s work on tonal expansion differs from Stein’s since it focuses
exclusively on a dualist approach to scale-degree function. Based on work by Hugo
Riemann, his theory sees the tonic as an axis between the opposite related pillars of the
dominant and subdominant. This balanced perspective supports the notion of a
subdominant substitute for the dominant. The tonic and polar-related subdominant and
dominant represent three primary chords. Other chords then substitute for these three
pillars, connecting to the primary chords through momentary subdominant or dominant
“discharge.” This loosens the sense of traditional tonal hierarchy and gives flexibility to
the analysis of functional harmonic progression. As a result, it promises that tonal
procedure can correspond to what Harrison quotes from Reger: “any chord can follow
another chord.”95
Moreover, these dualist approaches share some similar notions of harmonic
succession with neo-Riemannian theory in that the analytic tool’s aim is to explicate
music whose content is based on chordal procedure and whose musical style falls in a
fundamentally “tonal and yet post-tonal practice.”96 However it differs from the neo-
Riemannian parsimonious approach in that Harrison’s clear focus on the function of
harmonic progression makes his tool cling more closely to the tonal tradition, where we
find the majority of Puccini’s music.97

Deborah J. Stein, Hugo Wolf’s Lieder and Extensions of Tonality (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press,
Daniel Harrison, Harmonic Function in Chromatic Music: A Renewed Dualist Theory and an Account of
Its Precedents (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), 1.
This idea comes from Richard Cohn, who wishes to explain music that goes beyond Schenker’s purview
and yet retains tonal underpinnings. Cohn quoted from Rothstein’s “triadic but post-tonal practice” for his
definition of music that operates in the Neo-Riemannian parsimonious system. For details, see Richard
Cohn, “Introduction to Neo-Riemannian Theory: A Survey and a Historical Perspective, “ Journal of Music
Theory 42/2 (1998): 168.
One needs to be aware that a clear hierarchy of harmonic function still exists in Puccini. Certain
moments may express relatively weak harmonic progressions, but the hierarchy never disappears entirely.
What Puccini demonstrates is a particular skill for making that hierarchy seems ambiguous. Thus, it is
necessary to clarify that the adoption of these two theorists’ work is for the purpose of explaining hierarchic

Both Stein and Harrison provide useful tools for examining the tonal expansion of
the late Romantic period. As Puccini adheres to the tonal boundaries while still
expanding the vocabulary within those boundaries, their approaches will help to
illuminate Puccini’s harmonic language. Further, both Stein and Harrison devote many
pages to the investigation of the subdominant domain. Their work resonates particularly
with the previous discussion of Atlas’s linking of Puccini’s dramatic subtexts with the
IV-I harmonic progression. Ultimately, Stein and Harrison provide a reasonable
expansion to Schenkerian theory that will play an essential role in my study.

(3). Catherine Clément

As stated, this dissertation aims to better understand Puccini’s female protagonists

though an analysis of their musical styles. The dramatic model for this comes from
Catherine Clément’s Opera, or the Undoing of Women. In this book, Clément applies
feminist theory to discuss various female roles in opera. The majority of her discussion is
guided by her personal experience as a female audience member. Clément herself is a
philosopher and cultural critic, thus her work can be called literary criticism on operatic
subjects, not music analysis.98 This fact has been clearly mentioned by Susan McClary in
the foreword she wrote for the English translation of Clément’s book.99 Yet, even if the
discussion stands on a literary basis, Clément’s prose reveals a musical rhythm and
presents the musical structure through a literary lens. McClary has pointed out:

In her review of Clément’s book, Katherine Bergeron has claimed that Clément retells the story of
female protagonists but mutes the music. See Katherine Bergeron, review of Opera, or One Woman’s
Undoing, by Catherine Clèment, Cambridge Opera Journal 2/1 (Mar., 1990). 93-98. The same viewpoint
has also been addressed in a review by Paul Robinson. See Paul Robinson, “It’s Not Over Until the
Soprano Dies.” The New York Times,
(accessed September 16, 2007). In my view, although some (but relatively few) scholars have attempted to
give equal weight to both drama and music in their analyses, the reality is that the selectivity of the analysis
is determined as much by the analyst’s academic background as anything. Clément, in my opinion,
demonstrates a first-rate incorporation of music into what is essentially a critical interpretation of plot and
libretto. For a discussion of how a scholar’s background is inevitably reflected in his/her research, see Scott
Burnham, “‘Theorists and “The Music Itself,”’ The Journal of Musicology 15/3 (Summer 1997), 316-29.
Susan McClary, “The Undoing of Opera: Toward a Feminist Criticism of Music,” Opera, or the
Undoing of Women, by Catherine Clément, trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1988), x.

They struggle for a long time, for several hours of music, an infinitely long time,
in the labyrinth of plots, stories, myths, leading them, although it is already late,
to the supreme outcome where everyone knew they would have to end up” (p.
59). Eventually, in other words, a tonal piece must establish closure, must resolve
that slippery, fragrant chromaticism to the security of a rational tonic triad.100

This is to say, that Clément uses language to replace the musical notes and subtly reflects
musical analysis through linguistic usage. As opera is a work of art that combines both
music and drama, Clément leaves room for musical analysis (through a music theoretical
lens) to complement her literary work.
In the following chapter, these theoretical and analytical models will be combined
and applied to the music of some of Puccini’s female protagonists, with a primary focus
on their arias. Ultimately, this will take the form of a dualist informed linear approach to
music, as it interacts with gender and the dramatic events of the operas. Each chapter will
be organized into three parts, with an emphasis on the leading female. The first part
discusses the historical background, the story, and the overall structure of the entire
opera. The second section includes the counterpart to the dramatic synopsis, what I will
call a musical synopsis. Like a dramatic synopsis, its purpose is to summarize important
musical/analytic events as succinctly as possible. This is essentially reductive in design,
and, as such, leaves out all but those musical moments that are critical in the
dramatic/analytic flow of the opera, as it pertains to the female protagonists. The musical
synopses employ musical notation accompanied by brief analytical commentaries in
order to portray how various local harmonic and melodic motions focus the dramatic
motion of the opera. Thus, as readers will be able to see, dotted barlines in the synopses
indicate musical links between non-adjacent moments in the opera, while the double bars
indicate new sections (typically many measures apart). The links and analytical
commentary are provided in succinct text descriptions above the music. The musical
synopses focus particularly on the female characters’ inner sentiments and interactions
with other characters. My intention here is to provide a technique to describe musical
narrative and to illustrate the way in which Puccini subtly links musical and dramatic
ideas throughout the operas.

Ibid., xiii.

Readers who are familiar with the drama/background of each opera (first section),
and my general analytic approach to the music of the entire opera (second section), will
have the appropriate contextualization to read the third section of each chapter. This third
section focuses on the female protagonists’ primary arias to demonstrate how the
structure reflects inner psychology/and drama within the story as a whole. In these
sections, I use linear graphing techniques inspired by Schenkerian approaches to music,
but, adapted to the necessities of Puccini’s idiomatic harmony and counterpoint. For
example, some analytic graphs illustrate parallel motion between outer voices in order to
associate dramatic highpoints with one of Puccini’s idiosyncratic musical signatures.
Several scholars have linked Puccini’s frequent use of parallel motion with his desire to
highlight special dramatic moments.101 My analysis in this project further supports this
notion. Two additional anomalies that frequently finds their way into the graphs are
Puccini’s penchant for second-inversion triads, particularly on the tonic, and his frequent
use of the minor dominant. This weakening of traditional tonal functions, as I will
conclude later in the dissertation, are important innovations, allowing space for an
expanded use of the subdominant, as well as for “exotic” harmonic structures drawn from
non-western inspirations.

See Grout and Williams (2003), 492 and Ashbrook (1968), 63.



La bohème

1. Introduction

La bohème constitutes Puccini’s initial attempt at writing a verismo opera1 in

which a tragic romance unfolds through a drastically changing flow of time, both realistic
and unrealistic. Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica worked together on the libretto, which
was based on Henri Mürger’s novel Scènes de la vie de bohème. These two librettists
went on to work with Puccini on Tosca and Madama Butterfly. The opera had its world
premiere on February 1, 1896. The initial critiques were essentially cool, but after several
revisions, the opera was warmly applauded.2 For more than a century, it has been
performed on all of the world’s premier operatic stages; indeed, it has remained one of
the most popular productions worldwide. Many scholars consider La bohème to be
Puccini’s first mature opera, acting as a culminating point in his early career.3 In addition
to the verismo focus on the lives of lower-class characters, Puccini and his librettists
bring to life the streets of Paris through décor, music, and drama, demonstrating what

The term “verismo” comes from the French literary movement of the late nineteenth century, and relates
to the naturalism and realism of “true” life. It characteristically depicts the experiences of members of the
lower classes. By treating daily life seriously, verismatic drama imparts reality to readers. These aesthetics
of the period were adopted by other artistic forms, such as opera, which sought to bring this new reality to
the stage. The verismo movement in literature and later in theater and opera, places characters from the
lower social class at the center of the plot, concentrating on the characters’ developing passions which, in
most cases, leads to tragedy (often through violence). See (accessed October 17,
2007). Also, for a brief discussion of Puccini’s musical veristi, see Carl Dahlhaus, Nineteenth-Century
Music, trans. J. Bradford Robinson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 351-55.
For details regarding the opera’s initial reception and its critiques, see Ashbrook (1968), 52-53. Also,
Arthur Groos and Roger Parker, Giacomo Puccini: La bohème (New York: Cambridge University Press,
1986), 129-41.
See Greenwald (1991), 211-12; Grout & Williams (2003), 490.

Italian critics call “ambientismo.”4 Thus, La bohème demonstrates Puccini’s skill in
incorporating authenticity into Italianate operas. As he continued to mature, Puccini
expanded these notions of “ambientismo” and “authenticity” (at least in his own eyes) to
the seeming exoticism of Asia; in La bohème we can already see the beginning of his
interest in cosmopolitan settings.5
While the libretto of La bohème explores the romance of two separate couples, it
centers on the tragedy of the leading protagonists (Mimì, the seamstress, and Rodolfo, the
poet). It is the juxtaposition of this tragedy with the light-hearted comedy of the
supporting protagonists’ relationship (Musetta, the singer, and Marcello, the painter) that
is one of the unique features of the opera. The two female protagonists, Mimì and
Musetta, present divergent personalities. Mimì is tender and shy, while Musetta is
passionate and extroverted. These opposing characters seem to lead their romances
towards opposite ends–separation in one case, and reunion in the other. In the end,
however, the stratification is muddied by the final scene where both couples reunite,
although, in the case of Mimì and Rodolof, only moments before her death.6
The following analysis of Mimì will be divided into two sections: story of La
bohème and Mimì’s musical and dramatic highlights with a summary of musical synopsis
with her character; and a close examination of Mimì’s first-act aria, “Mi chiamano
Mimì.” The former demonstrates Puccini’s musical portrayal of Mimì’s female character
and how it affects the opera’s overall design. The latter provides a detailed harmonic
analysis of Mimì’s aria as it emphasizes and interacts with the previous story line,
illustrating that her aria offers insight into her destiny. The detailed analysis also
highlights Puccini’s harmonic vocabulary as he uses it to represent Mimì. Analysis of
Musetta, who is a supporting female, will concentrate solely on her single aria, “Quando
me’n vo’ ” and is placed before Mimì’s aria.

The “ambientismo” quality of the opera is particularly strong in the Latin Quarter setting of the second
act. For details, see Kimbell (1991), 627.
Puccini’s operatic settings are both diverse and cosmopolitan, including settings in the United States (La
fanciulla del West), Japan (Madama Butterfly) and China (Turandot).
As my study focuses exclusively on the analysis of Puccini’s female characters, readers who are
interested in other relevant discussions of La bohème, such as a detailed discussion regarding the historical
background and synopsis, should see Groos and Parker (1986). For more chapters devoted to this opera, see
Carner (1958), 310-29; Ashbrook (1968), 48-66; Budden (2002), 131-80; and Phillips-Matz (2002), 80-

2. The Story of La bohème

The romance begins on Christmas Eve in Paris. Three members of the

“Bohemian” quartet, the painter Marcello, the philosopher Colline, and the musician
Schaunard, go out to celebrate Christmas at a restaurant. The poet Rodolfo stays in the
apartment to finish writing and will soon join his friends’ celebrations. A neighbor,
Mimì, who is rather pale and sickly, knocks on the door and asks for match as her candle
has gone out. Lighting her candle and worrying about her frail figure, Rodolfo persuades
her to stay. Mimì refuses and leaves but soon returns as she has lost her key. Both
candles are blown out, perhaps by Rodolfo, and the two search for the key in the dark,
falling suddenly in love during the interaction. Rodolfo and Mimì join the Bohemians’
Christmas celebration at Café Momus, where Musetta, Marcello’s former girl friend,
appears and attempts to regain Marcello’s attention. She sings to show her popularity
and to win back Marcello’s heart.
The third act focuses on the Parisian winter, wherein both couples
(Marcello/Musetta, Rodolfo/Mimì) have been driven apart by jealousy. In the fourth act,
Musetta finds Mimì in the street and brings her back to the apartment of Bohemians.
Everyone leaves Rodolfo and Mimì alone. The couple recalls their first day together, as
Mimì’s condition worsens. The others return, having summoned the doctor, but it is too
late; like the extinguished candle from her entrance, Mimì dies quietly and quickly.
Rodolfo runs to her body and calls her name into the dark.

3. Mimì—Musical and Dramatic Highlights

(1). Narrative Overall

As Clément states, there is no evil in La bohème, since the characters seem to be
the embodiment of youthful innocence.7 The innocence, however, appears to be at the
root of the tragedy of Mimì and Rodolfo, since their relationship exhibits the

See Clément (1988), 83-87.

characteristics of adolescent romance, filled with jealousy, miscommunication, and
passion. Mimì is ultimately aware that she will die, while Rodolfo is aware that he can
never keep her. Yet, neither is able to communicate seriously with the other, and neither
is able to find a way to protect their love. Both naturally accept and follow their fates
that lead them to tragedy. Their obedience to fate affects the overall musical design of
La bohème, wherein the music appears to flow narrativistically and teleologically
towards the end point, without major mid-point climaxes or a high point (the end of the
second act may fall outside of this structure, but it actually falls outside of the drama of
the opera as a whole). Ultimately the narrative of ephemeral love is broken naturally into
four acts: first sight, in love, break up, and death.

(2). The Shadow of Death

Mimì coughs throughout the opera, foreshadowing her severe illness and her
inability to survive the severe winter. Yet, when Rodolfo eagerly takes her hand, she is
irresistibly drawn to him. As an ephemeral life cannot promise a lasting relationship, a
rapidly arriving death turns out to be the inevitable end. From the beginning, the
romance is shadowed by death. This shadow sets up a repressive atmosphere that is
sustained through much of the opera, being both musically and dramatically embedded
in its structure.
The shadow of death is already evident in Act I. Mimì’s first sung pitch is A,

which later turns out to be the primary tone, 5^ in her aria “Mi chiamano Mimì,” where it
is sustained without a structural descent to the tonic. The long-term embellishment of a
single pitch highlights Mimì’s repressed shyness and her inability to improve her
situation.8 Their romance is then reflected in the vocal arrangement of the love duet “O
soave fanciulla.” Here Mimì and Rodolfo start in unison, sing distantly, and end in
unison, reflecting the three stages of their love. Of course the return to unison also
foreshadows Mimì’s inevitable death, for the reuniting of Mimì and Rodolfo is made
possible only by her severe illness. The shadow is omnipresent throughout Act III. In
addition to the grey setting and the impassioned vocals, Rodolfo’s states it clearly in his

See my analysis of Mimì’s aria.

“Marcello, finalmente!” : “I love her, but I’m afraid. Mimì is so sick!”9 At the end of Act
III, Mimì and Rodolfo sing in unison with a descending lamento figure as they make the
decision to separate in “Addio, dolce svegliare.” Strings double their melodic lines to
emphasize their lament.10 Here again, it is clear that the lovers are helpless within the
grasp of fate; they do not want to separate, but they seem to have no choice.11 The
shadow of death darkens, as it becomes clear that the end of the relationship is reluctant,
but inevitable.
In Act IV, Mimì dies surrounded by her Bohemian friends. Despite subdued
singing in the beginning of the act, in the aria “Sono andati?” her voice takes on new
passion, and it is at the peak of her singing that we understand her death to have arrived.
Mimì finally expresses her love to Rodolfo at the very moment that she must die, ending
her life on the pitch Ab, which, as shown in the music synopsis that follows, is derived
from Rodolfo’s aria. The adoption of his Ab portrays her strong desire to be with him, but
also shows the small transformation she has undergone since her opening A natural.
Rodolfo’s last pitch is G#, implying the leading tone to Mimì’s opening pitch A from her
aria and from their first sighting. The tragedy of Mimì’s death is deepened as it becomes
clear that they have a fervent desire for unison, but they will remain forever separated by
the enharmonicism of death.12
In the following, I present a narrative summary of Mimì’s music synopsis in order
to give an overview of her musical role within the opera.13 I identify the location of each

“Io l’amo, ma ho paura. Mimì è tanto malata!” Nico Castel, trans., The Complete Puccini Libretti (New
York: Leyerle, 1994), 1: 85. All of the translations of La bohème come from Castel.
Davis cites unison string accompaniment as a significant element of “Puccini’s Romantic style” (2003). I
discuss this point in chapter 1.
Mimì’s statement at the end of Act III clearly supports this “Sempre tua per la vita! Vorrei ch’eterno
durasse il verno! Ci lascerem alla stagion dei fior!” – “Always yours for (the) life! I would like winter to
last eternally! We’ll leave each other at the season of flowers!” Castel (1994), 1: 94-95.
The motion of a half step plays an essential role in the relationship between Mimì and Rodolfo. For
instance, in Act I when they first meet, Rodolfo’s aria, “Che gelida manina,” starts in Db major (and ends
in Ab major). Mimì’s aria is written in D major.
The idea of musical synopsis is inspired by Drabkin who states that “[Puccini’s] genius lay in working
out of ‘the little things’ in an opera…” see Willliam Drabkin, “The musical language of La bohéme,”
Giacomo Puccini La bohéme, ed. Arthur Groos and Roger Parker (New York: Cambridge University Press,
1986), 81. Also, thanks to my advisor, Prof. Matthew Shaftel, who mentioned that the music of La bohéme
seems to be made up of many little aria-like phrases strung together in various combinations throughout the
opera. As Ashbrook has pointed out, “the predominance of melody for Puccini is beyond question. As a
true Italian, his is primarily vocal melody. It is difficult to think of any prominent theme in the score that is
not at some point sung.” (1968), 56.

theme in terms of its act, rehearsal number, and measures past the rehearsal number (as
“Act X/ Rehearsal XX/ Measure XX”).14 For instance, a theme that is taken from the
first measure after rehearsal twenty-five in Act I, will be described as “I/25/1.”

This is the same as Roger Park’s system. Burton also uses the same system in her dissertation (1995).

Musical Synopsis – La bohème15

For a description of my Musical Synopsis, please see Chapter 1 (pp. 36-37).

Musetta: “Quando me’n vo’ ”

Musetta’s “Quando me’n vo’ ” takes place in the middle of Act II in the Latin
Quarter scene, where she sings to attract her ex-lover Marcello’s attention. This aria is
written in the song form ABA’, which contains a contrasting middle section (B). The A
and A’ sections stay in the home key, E major, and the B section is set off harmonically
and melodically as it stays in the subdominant harmonic region. The table below shows
each section’s detail.

Table 2.1: The overall structure of “Quando me’n vo’ ”

Sections A B A’
*Location/mm II/21/1-16 II/21/17-II/22-8 II/23/1-15
^^^ ^ ^^^
Urlinie 3-4-3 4 3-4-3
Ursatz I IV I
Harmonic Detail E: I-IV-V-I A: I-V-I E: I-IV-V-I
*Location indicates the Act number and Rehearsal number.

1. A section

The first A section contains two parallel periods, II/21/1-8 and II/21/9-16. These
two parallel periods are based on the I-IV-V-I harmonic progression. The initial I-IV-V-I
progression establishes the piece’s tonal area, E major, along with its prolongation of the

primary tone 3^ in order to portray Musetta walking on the street and enjoying men’s

affection for her. The 3^ is decorated by a neighbor 4^ that is supported by the subdominant
chord and is sung to the text “mia [mine]” to indicate “the beautiful Musetta.” This
illustrates that the subdominant chord represents the feminine beauty of Musetta. When
^ 4-
^ 3-
^ 2-
^ 1)
^ suggests the image from the text,
the tonic returns, an inner voice descent (5-
which says that people look at Musetta from head to toe (da capo a piè). The A section

^ 3^ structural neighbor, which is supported by a larger I-IV-V86––75-I

^ 4-
shows a large-scale 3- 4–3

harmonic progression. As described above, the tonic represents her confidence and the
subdominant represents feminine beauty.

Figure 2.1: Musetta: “Quando me’n vo’ ” (A section: II/21/1-16)16

2. B and A’ sections

The B Section tonicizes the subdominant, A major. Its structure is based on an

antecedent and consequent, II/21/17-24 and II/22/1-8, respectively. The lyric in the B
section emphasizes the notion that Musetta stirs men’s desire and that seeing men’s

Detailed discussion of my linear methodology can be found in the introductory chapter and chapter 1.

desire for her makes her happy. The modulation to the subdominant recalls the usage of
the subdominant chord in the A section, which signifies Musetta’s beauty. Here, this
notion, as well as the subdominant harmony, is expanded to coincide with Musetta’s
attractiveness to men. As Musetta is confident of her beauty and knows that men will
suffer from looking at her, the subdominant also represents the feminine strength found in
her beauty.

Figure 2.2: Musetta: “Quando me’n vo’ ” (B and A’ sections: II/21/17 to II/23/15)

The B section ends with a descending 5th sequence (A: V7/ii-ii-V-I). The I/A in
I/22/8 serves as the pivot chord (also functioning as IV/E) in a return to the home tonic.
The return is essentially the same as the initial A section, reconfirming the previous
message. In sum, the entire aria presents two primary harmonic realms: the tonic and
subdominant. The tonic realm tells of Musetta’s confidence and enjoyment of men’s
desire while the subdominant realm tells of her beauty. It is through the interrelation of
these two harmonic regions that the feminine character (confidence and beauty) of
Musetta is presented.

Mimì: “Mi chiamano Mimì”

The aria is sung in Rodolfo’s apartment on a cold Christmas Eve. Rodolfo’s

friends (the other Bohemian artists) have stepped out to join the Christmas celebration on
the streets of Paris. Rodolfo is alone to finish some writing. Mimì, a neighbor whom
Rodolfo has never met, interrupts him to ask for matches for her candle which has gone
out (a likely foreshadowing of Mimì’s death). Mimì, who is rather pale and sickly, enters
the room, and the concerned (and romantically interested) Rodolfo attempts to persuade
her to stay a while with him. Mimì declines and leaves after her candle is lit, but soon she
returns because she has lost her key. They search together for the key and their love is
kindled (like the flame of Mimì’s candle and the ephemeral flames created by Rodolfo’s
play at the kitchen stove in the early part of the act). In this aria Mimì presents a brief and
rather unusual autobiography, in that she really has little to tell; she doesn’t even know
why she is called Mimì. It is thus possible to interpret Mimì as a sort of place-holder —
not a true character, like the men in the opera, but a representative of the feminine object
of affection. This will be discussed in greater detail later in the dissertation.

1. Formal Structure – Urlinie presents the sectional division

The overall structure of this aria (see the table below) can be divided into seven
sections “A-B-A-C-Sequence-B-Coda.” 17

Table 2.2: The overall structure of “Mi chiamano Mimì”

Sections A B A C* Sequence B Coda

Location/mm I/35/1-14 I/36/1-11 I/36/12-16 I/37/1-18 I/38/1-11 I/38/11-21 I/38/22-23
^ ^ ^^ ^ ^^^ ^ ^ ^^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^^^ ^
Urlinie 5-b6-#4-5 5-#4-6-5 5-b6-#4-5 5- -6-(#4)- 5 5-#4-6-5 5
Pitches A-Bb-G#-A A-G#-B-A A-Bb-G#-A A- -B- (G#)-A A-G#-B-A A
Harmony V I6/4-vi-V7-I V V IV-V I6/4-vi-V7-I I
Primary Subject Mimì Spring Mimì Life Dream Spring/Winter Mimì
* Section C and the following sequential section act as inserted interpolations in-between the A and B

An examination of the above table shows that this aria is basically a large-scale dominant

prolongation that supports the Kopfton 5^ throughout the structural background and
middleground. Meanwhile, in the foreground of the sectional divisions, the primary tone

5^ traverses up or down to its diatonic or chromatic neighbor (except in section C which

maintains the dominant exclusively). The local double neighbors define the sectional
boundaries, especially since nearly every section follows along this same basic motivic

Because the Kopfton 5^ is retained in the background and also controls the local
^ b6,
^ 6,
^ #4,
^ 5),
^ it suggests two
voice leading motion through the local double-neighbors (5,
separate, but related, dramatic implications. First, recalling the earlier discussion of
Mimì, I have stated that her entrance is sung on the central pitch A, accompanied by
^ It is
coughs from her illness. A reappears in her aria and becomes the Kopfton 5.
sustained in the background as a reminder of her illness, acting as what I have referred to

Carner calls this aria a “free rondo” (A-B-A-C-D-B). See Carner (1958), 320. I find the notion of a
rondo (however free) to be difficult to justify, and take the “C-D” as a single interpolation of the C idea and
a large sequential passage: “C-Sequence.”

as the shadow of her death. Meanwhile, in the foreground the chromatic and diatonic
double neighbor demonstrates the suppressive force of fate; no matter how hard the

protagonist tries to go up or down, she must remain close to the Kopfton 5^ and must

return to 5^ in each section. She has no way to escape from the shadow of death, either in
the foreground or the background. This is shown as a basic contour graphic over time in
Figure 2.3.

Foreground Trajectory: Repressive—b6^ and #4,

^ Dream 6^ and Death 5^

Background Axis Death - 5^

Figure 2.3: The axis along with the narrative trajectory towards death

2. Harmonic ambiguity in the sectional divisions

The harmonic structure makes the sectional delimitations vague. Sections are

often connected through a pedal point or a chord in a 64 position. I discuss each section in

detail in the following. First, the A section ends on a dominant in root position in

I/35/14. The 5^ above the dominant becomes the tonic associate in the beginning of the B

section.18 According to Harrison, “[H]aving the associate in the lowest voice creates the
possibility for it to be heard as the base of another function, making the chord
functionally ambiguous.”19 The dominant and tonic functional ambiguity here reduces
^ yet
the power of the tonic chord. Thus, sections A and B remain connected through the 5,
in a harmonically unclear manner.
Moreover, the B section ends with a perfect authentic cadence. Melodically,

Mimì skips from 5^ to 1^ in I/36/10-11. Lyrically, she is asking “Lei m’intende?” — “[Do]
you understand me?”20 The contour paints her question and also makes it clear that her
aria does not end at this point. The second violin doubles the voice for the leap to tonic -
^ and holds this 1^ over the subsequent two measures. The tonic pitch ties over the
boundary of sections A and B, creating a pedal sonority that smoothly connects the B and
A sections.

Example 2.1: I/36/10-13 – End of B section and beginning of the 2nd A section

Harrison calls a bass note underneath a second-inversion triad an “associate.” For details, see Harrison
(1994), 55-57.
Ibid., 58.
Castel (1994), 1:37.

The subsequent C section and the sequential passage that follows seem to focus

on the extremes of the dualist path21 – dominant, subdominant sequence, and return to

dominant. The sequential pattern that is interpolated between the two dominant passages

creates a dreamy interlude. Indeed, it is distinct from the remainder of this aria as it

presents a departure from reality and an interruption of the repression created by the

shadow of death.

The final B section also concludes on a perfect authentic cadence. Unlike the

previous B section, which ends with skip up from 5^ - 1,

^ here the motion of 5^ - 1^ is made

through a descending skip. The downward motion makes for a stronger cadence to
conclude the aria, but without any convincing structural descent (to be discussed below).
The following recitative acts as a sort of codetta, although the drama has clearly moved

onto something new, and it is based on similar descending motion, 5^ - 1-

^ 5^ - 3^ - 5^ - 1,

reconfirming (and even strengthening) the cadence.

Example 2.2: I/38/20-23 – End of 2nd B section and coda

The notion of “dualism” as described by Harrison focuses on the Hegelian opposition between the
dominant and subdominant regions with tonic holding the center position. See the methodology section in
See Chapter I for further discussion; also for further discussion on harmonic dualism, see Harrison (1994),
34-38; for a historic account of dualism, see 215-322 (chapters 5-7 in his book).

Ultimately, the sectional divisions of the aria do not display strong harmonic
divisions, although the structural linear motion makes a distinctive double neighbor
figure to separate each section. The highly connected nature of the sections contributes to
the smooth and narrative-focused structure of La bohème as a whole. In addition, the
smooth flow recalls Mimì’s non-resistant character, supporting her characterization by
the aria.

3. The Structural ^
5 and Its Double-Neighbor Path

(1). A section “^

Figure 2.4: Mimì: “Mi chiamano Mimì” (A section: I/35/1-14)

Mimì’s obedience to fate is shown in the opening of her aria in which the primary

tone 5^ only travels parsimoniously to b6^ and #4^ and returns to 5^ in I/35/5.22 From the

harmonic perspective (see my graph), the V7/iii supports b6^ in I/35/2. This applied
dominant does not resolve properly, however, since the bass down by step to a V4/3 of V

which supports the #4^ in I/35/4. Since both b6^ and #4^ are supported by weak harmonic

chords, they actually reinforce the strength of the 5^ and its supporting dominant. As
mentioned previously, we can see how Mimì is dramatically, melodically, and

structurally repressed with the ominous 5^ controlling all motion.

Furthermore, Mimì sings (more than once) that she is called Mimì but her name is
Lucia.23 The name “Mimì” is supported by the ephemeral V7 of iii that never resolves.
The name “Lucia,” however is supported by the much stronger dominant. Yet, no one
calls her Lucia. As the name Mimì never sees proper resolution or contextualization in
the home key and Lucia can never be used, it becomes clear that neither Mimì nor Lucia
exist in a complete and substantial person; indeed, she is a transient image, corresponding
to what Clément states: “Mimì’s fate is written in Rodolfo’s words. She is poetry: already
no longer a woman; she will never be one.”24 Clément is referring specifically to Act II,
where Rodolfo introduces his Bohemian group to Mimì and says that “Mimì is the
poetry.” The lyric in Act II, clarifies that Mimì represents a combination of the unrealistic
imagination and realistic image. However, as is clear in my foregoing analysis, this image
has already been demonstrated in the harmonic structure of her aria, and it simply
achieves further validation from Rodolfo in Act II.
A dominant pedal maintains the dominant background while foreground

harmonies (I-iii6-I64-viiø7-ii) support local melodic motions in I/35/6-10. While the pedal

^ the unusual sequence of harmonies above the pedal weakens the

strongly supports 5,
dominant function and its need to resolve. Thus, the large-scale harmonic rhythm is much

Ashbrook also mentions that Puccini favors melodies that “surround” a particular pitch. See Ashbrook
(1968), 54.
“Si, mi chiamano Mimì, ma ilmio nome è Lucia,” — “Yes, me they call Mimì, but my name is Lucia.”
Castel (1994), 1: 36.
Clément (1988), 85.

slower than that of the foreground, essentially accentuating the listener’s ability to hear
the larger hierarchies; the balance of the musical flow between the sustained background

5^ for Puccini, wherein the melody seems to be controlled within a smooth narrative
trajectory that never deviates too far from the central axis of the sustained harmony
and/or pitch. In Figure 2.5, I have essentially reproduced the Figure 2.3 in order to
graphically demonstrate this juxtaposition of the sustained harmony with continuous
melodic and harmonic motion. 25

*Narrative Trajectory

* Axis (v and 5)

Figure 2.5: The sustained axis vs. continuous voice leading motion

The use of pedal point in Puccini has been discussed at length. Christen states that pedal point presents
one of Puccini’s principal harmonic techniques, ultimately reducing the effect of harmonic resolutions
(1978), 103. Ashbrook states, “Perhaps his [Puccini’s] favorite harmonic device is the drawing out of pedal
points. At the beginning of Act 3, the cellos have a pedal point that lasts for 114 measures. Against it, at
one point, the piccolo sustains an inverted pedal point” (1968), 63. I see Puccini’s pedal point as a way to
juxtapose “sustained and continuous melodic motions.” Here, his narrative and musical trajectories cling to
the axis of fate.

(2). B section “^

Figure 2.6: Mimì: “Mi chiamano Mimì” (B section: I/36/1-11)

Several scholars agree that Puccini’s frequent use of parallel motion is associated with moments of
special meaning. Grout and Williams mention that “Parallel duplication of the melodic line at the fifth is
used to good purpose in the introduction to the third act of La bohéme to suggest the bleakness of a cold
winter dawn; parallel triads are employed in the introduction to the second act of the same opera, for
depicting the lively, crowded street scene” (2003), 492. Ashbrook has also stated, “Much attention has been
called to his [Puccini’s] use of parallel fifths at the opening of Act 3” (1968), 63.

The B section describes dreams and springtime. The middleground melodic
^ 6-#
^ 4-
^ 5^ →”becomes “5-#
^ 4-^ 6-
motion here reverses that from the previous section (A) “5-b

5^ ←.” Along with this reversal, it replaces the lowered submediant with the natural

^ 6).
^ Thus the repressed b6^ that Mimì sings in the earlier A section here
submediant (b6-
becomes the sweet dreams suggested by natural 6.

The primary tone 5^ returns from the end of the previous A section and is

supported by a weak I64. As stated previously, the 64 motion smoothly links sections A and

B to create a continuous path, which is extended when the I64 is followed by a series of

passing chords in second inversion (see my graph). The only root-position chord within

this passing motion is vi. The submediant supports a local upper-neighbor motion 5^ - 6^ -

5^ in the melody from I/36/1 to I/36/3. The text here describes sweet magic and the
neighbor motion of “sweet magic” was embedded earlier in I/36/1 where the bass line

supports I64 – ii64 – I64 (5^ - 6^ - 5).

^ The transfer of 5^ - 6^ - 5^ from the bass to the melody

(I/36/1-3) takes what is initially a sub-surface notion, and brings it to out. On the one

hand, the support of the “sweet magic” by the 64 triads produces a smooth, dream-like

atmosphere (outside of the normal realm of harmonic function). On the other hand, as the
harmonic function is ambiguous, it is clear that the dream has no potential to become

The motion from primary tone 5^ to its chromatic lower neighbor #4^ (I/36/4-5) is

supported by the following progression “vi-iii64 – V64 – I6 – vii.” This #4^ differs from the

#4^ in the A section in two ways. First, its tendency to resolve is strengthened by the

minor vii support. Second, as the text is “primavera—springtime” an unresolved #4^

creates a tension that is juxtaposed with the image of springtime. Proper resolution and

harmonic syntax would result in the #4^ resolving to 5^ supported by V64 (I have implied

this in the graph). This would provide a smooth connection from the vii, through the

(V64), to the following vi chord. The fact that this resolution is not manifest in the music

itself, colors our impression of spring; spring will be Mimì’s final season.

The arrival of 6^ (supported by vi) in I/36/6, enhances the image of the dream that
was earlier manifest in the “sweet magic.” The text here is: “che parlano di sognie
dichimere” — “they speak to me of dreams and of illusions.”27 This particular neighbor
^ 6^ -5,
^ appears four times in the B section, starting in the bass (as discussed
motion, 5-
above), and moving into the upper voice. The word “sweet” returns just as the

middleground returns to 5^ in I/36/9. Example 2.3 shows how the “sweet dream” motive
manifests itself both in the middle and foregrounds of the B section.

^ 6-
^ 5^
Example 2.3: The “sweet magic” motion of 5-

Castel (1994), 1: 37.

Section B closes with a return to 5^ of the Urlinie. Although the B section ends on

a PAC with 1^ in the soprano, the Urlinie never descends from 5^ to 2^ (even with
reasonable harmonic support here: iii6-ii5-V7).28 Thus, the arrival on tonic D sounds
empty and unprepared. Not only is Mimì completely controlled by fate (as discussed at
length above, but as the libretto states: “cosec he han nome poesia” — “things that have
(the) name poetry,”29 she is truly a poetic creation of sorts (rather than a genuine woman

character). There is no way for the primary tone 5^ to truly descend to the realistic tonic.

(3). A section “^

When the initial five measures from section A returns (I/35/1-5 = I/36/12-16),
Mimì no longer identifies herself as Lucia, but sings “Mi chiamano Mimì: il perchè non
so” — “They call me Mimì but I don’t know why.”30 The text reconfirms Mimì’s
^ 6-#
^ 4-
^ 5),
ambiguous identity. The linear motion returns from the earlier section (5-b
recalling the notion of a Mimì who is obedient to fate, and one who has returned from her

28 ^ ^
Greenwald views the ending of this aria as convincing because of the 5 descending to 1. She does not
address the lack of descent. See, Greenwald (1991), 286.

(4). C section and sequence “^
6- #^
4- ^

Figure 2.7: Mimì: “Mi chiamano Mimì” (C section and sequence: I/37/1 to I/38/11)

The C section describes Mimì’s ordinary life within a parallel-period structure
and more typical harmonic vocabulary - I, iii and V. These three chords firmly support

the primary tone 5^ throughout. The arrival of IV (supporting 6)

^ in the subsequent section

brings fresh air and a new “dreamy” sonority to the aria. Also, the large-scale V-IV-V
motion in this section gives greater weight to the subdominant (in nearly a dualist sense).
Although a typical graph (as I have shown here) would describe it as a background
neighbor to V, it seems truly disconnected from V, as if IV presents the dream outside of
V’s reality. The text here describes Mimì looking out of the window and waiting for
springtime (love) to come. Perhaps the IV is the love that is juxtaposed against death (V).

The appearances of 6^ in both sections B and C suggest similar meanings; the sweet
magic, and Mimì’s dream of love. The natural submediant, as mentioned earlier, is
^ as shown in the table below. It is worthwhile
clearly juxtaposed with the “realism” of b6,

to note that the support for b6^ does not come from the home key and this helps us to
situate Mimì more firmly in the realm of dreams, than in reality.

Table 2.3: Comparing the 6^ and Mimì (“Mi chiamano Mimì”)

Section A B A C-Sequence
Pitch b6^ 6^ b6^ 6^
Harmony V7/iii vi V7/iii IV
Text Mimì - Reality Dream Mimì - Reality Dream

(5). B section and Coda “^


The B section from I/36/1-11 returns in I/38/11-21. Here the vi chord supports 6^
in I/38/18 when Mimì sings “Ma i fior ch’io faccio” — “But the flowers that I make.”
^ replaces vi
This text returns immediately in I/38/19-20 where the dominant (supporting 5)
^ The repeated text over a harmonic shift from vi to V gives new meaning
(supporting 6).
to her statement, which becomes clearer when Mimì concludes on the tonic chord,

singing “non hanno odore!” — “don’t have (a) fragrance!” The flower she makes has no
fragrance! As stated previously, the vi and V present dream and death, respectively. They
are placed here in direct juxtaposition to support the identical text: flower, clearly a
metaphor for Mimì, herself. Not only can the fragrance of “dreams” give way to death
for the character we know as “Mimì,” but there can never be a true and complete Mimì;
she will always be constructed poetry, an embroidered flower with no fragrance.
The coda presents a recitative passage wherein Mimì explains that she is afraid
that her boring life will reduce Rodolfo’s interest in her. This text recalls her previous
words – a flower with no fragrance. Again, the arrival of the tonic triad and its support of

the primary tone 5^ foreshadow her inevitable death.

Example 2.4: The ending as “death” in 5^

4. Conclusion

As is made clear above, the aria is based on a large dominant prolongation,

recalling the persistent “shadow of death” that is only pushed aside during the dream-like

passages that support the natural submediant. The “sustaining” of the Kopfton 5^ in the
background (see the graph below), reminds us that Mimì only exists to die.

Figure 2.8: Mimì: “Mi chiamano Mimì” (Background)

^ b6^ are contrasted with the
Likewise, the chromatic double neighbor motions - #4,

diatonic neighbor, 6^ in the foreground and comment additionally upon the drama.

(1). Both #4^ and b6^ chromatically relate to the 5.

^ They are harmonized by either

an applied dominant or a diminished-vii triad (V7/iii, V4/3 of V, vii, V6/5 of iii). These
secondary and diminished chords decorate the V while still ultimately maintaining the

Kopfton 5^ to portray the faint and ill Mimì.

(2) The 6^ acts as a diatonic neighbor to 5,

^ suggesting, through its vi and IV

harmonization an unrealistic dream of love without sickness and death. This is not, of
course, the real Mimì. In particular, the IV portrays the sequential dreamy passage that
stands out from the rest of the aria. This IV (the P5 down from the tonic) represents the
dualistic opposition of V with tonic as the center.31 Moreover, as the vi and IV present
equivalent dramatic meanings, while the V and iii along with their applied chords
represent reality, the four chords demonstrate the dualist function shown below.

Example 2.5: Harmonic dualist relation 32

The subdominant side of the tonic has a long history of association with the cantus mollus, typically
setting dramatic events that fall outside of the essential teleology of the narration. See, for example,
Monteverdi’s Orfeo.
The “reality” section of the graph includes all of the applied chords to iii and V. I have shown only the
most essential chords without incorporating all the applied chords in detail. Also, the iii supports a long 5 in
C section.

^ #4,
In sum, the mixture of the IV, vi, iii and V in the foreground that support - 6,
^ and 5^ (respectively) portrays a relatively complete picture of the protagonist Mimì.

The subdominant harmonic region with its support of 6^ presents that unrealistic dream,
^ b6^ and Kopfton 5)
while the dominant region (and its applied chords supporting - #4,
presents the reality of death.
We can therefore understand Mimì’s unpreventable trajectory towards death
through the mirror images of harmonic dualism in her aria. Indeed, the seed of death is
embedded since her first entrance in the opera, centered on A. It is reinforced and
^ of her aria. When the opera concludes with Rodolfo’s
becomes the Kopfton (pitch A - 5)
final pitch – G#, the unresolved leading tone – it tells the tragedy of the entire opera with
Mimì as the generic image of a versimo character. Her existence on the stage carries a
single purpose: to sow a catastrophic path, and to show that ephemeral love cannot

outlive the winter. Indeed, it ends even before spring arrives, as the Kopfton 5^ is never
able to meet with the tonic and as the subdominant (the unrealistic) must be subsumed by
the harsh reality of the dominant.




1. Style

Tosca follows La bohème presenting, in Puccini’s oeuvre, new heart-rending

melodies supported by a more ambiguous, but still fundamentally tonal harmonic
structure.1 Here the music weds the drama to the revolutionary expression of an innocent
couple’s desperate love. It vividly expresses the brutality and passion growing out of each
of the actions that build relentlessly toward catastrophe. Some scholars take these brutally
realistic moments as a sign that Tosca is another of Puccini’s “verismo operas,”2 a
continuing verismo project he embarked on after La bohème. Others believe Tosca to be
a romantic melodrama. Both interpretations are correct to a certain extent, and this leaves
room for the following discussion.
Although verismo opera3 takes a facet from the realistic life of the lower class,
Tosca describes the story of the diva and has little to do with such verismo operas as La

Burton has studied this opera from both a tonal and atonal harmonic perspective. Her study centers on the
heavy use of whole-tone and chromatic scales in many musical portions of Tosca. Taken from a structural
perspective, the tonal underpinnings of Tosca can seem to be rather vague (see my literature review in
Chapter 1). Certainly Puccini knew of and was influenced by the modern trends of his period. Yet, I believe
Tosca fundamentally hangs on a tonal background with clear tonal direction interrupted periodically by
chromatic and whole-tone interpolations.
Dahlhaus suggests that naturalism at the end of the nineteenth century incorporated the coarse elements of
lower class life, and thus the brutal aspects of Tosca and Butterfly demonstrate Puccini’s “musical veristi.”
See Dahlhaus (1989), 353-55. Excluding the fundamental realism of brutality, Sanson states verismo
implies surplus sensation, particularly as it applies to operas such as Tosca (,
accessed February 2, 2008). Grout and Palisca suggest that Tosca falls into the verismo category because of
its both its realistic libretto and the musical writing that nurtures the action. See Grout and Palisca (1996),
Verismo presents “true-life realism, fierce passions, violence, and death . . . verismo category tends to be
in one act so that a singleness of mood and situation can be presented without interruption” (Grout &
Williams 2003, 489, ft. 38; see also my footnote 1 in chapter 2. Scholars classify Cavalleria Rusticana by
Pietro Mascagni and I Pagliacci by Ruggiero Leoncavallo as the two typical examples of Italian verismo

boheme. Because the origins of the female lead are humble—she is a goatherdess whose
musical talent is developed by Benedictine nuns4—there is still a distant connection to
the earlier verismo opera. On the other hand, music in verismo opera usually is
exceptionally and sensationally lyrical, with few breaks or separate “numbers.” Kimbell
describes this type of lyricism as giving “the impression of raw, naked passion, and
hovers on the borderline between music and histrionics.”5 Many scholars believe
Cavaradossi’s third-act aria “E lucevan le stele” contains veristic elements.6 Thus, from a
musical perspective, Tosca does not veer too far away from the earlier verismo
Not surprisingly, given that Tosca immediately followed La bohème, there are
some musical passages in Tosca that echo the earlier opera. Common to both operas, for
instance, are progressions of second-inversion triads, pedal points, predominant emphases
(unlike the commonly used IV in La bohème, here VI receives the most emphasis) and a
conjunct melody sung by the couple to express their mutual love. Yet, Tosca attains its
uniqueness with greater emphasis on the musical effects of the whole tone scale,
chromaticism, augmented chords, and rapid rhythmic passages sung in a narrow range.
These are largely reserved for the violent scenes, which are excluded from the plot of La
Grout and Williams have declared that “The decline of verismo and the effort to
combine some of its features with the neo-romantic or exotic type of opera found in

opera. The most famous musical triumph in this category is Bizet’s Carmen from the French. See Grout &
Williams (2003), 488-89; Paul Henry Lang, The Experience of Opera: An Informal Introduction to
Operatic History and Literature (New York: W.W. Norton, 1971), 167.
See Budden (2002), 182.
Kimbell (1991), 626.
Ashbrook takes a literary perspective in his suggestion that Tosca is a type of romantic melodrama.
However, the vocal style of Tosca is, in a way, closer to verismo opera than to romantic melodrama. Carner
(1958) suggests that “music has a way of covering up what might be defects in a spoken drama” (342) and
that “Tosca is musical drama (not music-drama) par excellence. One is almost tempted to lay the stress on
the noun were it not that the work in the last analysis lives through its music” (345-46.) Carner furthermore
points out that Cavaradossi’s aria “E lucevan le stele” is an example of the veristic style (351-52). Carner
also provides a passage from Tosca and Pagliacci, respectively, to compare and demonstrate the veristic
elements. See Carner (1985), 103-104. Budden makes a similar point, remarking on the verismo influences
on Cavaradossi’s aria. See Budden (2002), 219. Cooper briefly suggests that Italian veristi shows up in the
characters’ heart-rending music, citing the same act III aria as the other scholars. See Martin Cooper,
“Stage Works: 1890-1918,” 153-64, in The Modern Age 1890-1960, Ed. J. A. Westrup, Gerald Abraham,
Anselm Hughes, Egon Wellesz, and Martin Cooper (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.) There has
not been any documentation showing that Puccini specifically wanted to explore the verismo style in
Tosca; thus, these scholars are employing an interpretative categorization of style.

Puccini, Giordano, and others is one symptom of a new spirit in Italian musical life.”7
These insights are important in defining the verismo qualities of operas such as Puccini’s
La bohème, Tosca, and Butterfly. Literally speaking, only La bohème, which depicts
lower class life, matches the verismo category among these three operas. The latter two
show moments of verismo inspiration8 but also demonstrate Puccini’s attempts to
incorporate new features into his compositions (in the words of Grout & Williams, they
are “neo-romantic and exotic”). Tosca indeed demonstrates Puccini’s shift in style from
verismo to neo-romanticism9 (under Verdi’s influence).10 His later work, Madama
Butterfly, demonstrates his shift towards exoticism by taking a Far East subject as his
central focus.11
These three operas show the stylistic evolution of a composer shifting from
verismo to neo-romanticism, then to exoticism. Here, we see Puccini as a composer who
constantly sought to progress by exploring new elements in his work. That sense of
progression and discovery is one facet, among many others, that keeps the work of
Puccini distinctive and fresh to modern audiences. 12

Grout & Williams (2003), 603.
This idea comes from Kimbell’s “verismo-inspired operas” (1991), 626.
Carner suggests a relatively similar point by saying “Tosca was Puccini’s first major attempt to break
away from the sentimental tragèdie larmoyante of his two preceding operas and press forward in the
direction of something stronger and harder of emotional fibre, something larger-than-life and with a touch
of the heroic.” See, Mosco Carner, Giacomo Puccini: Tosca, (New York: Cambridge University Press,
1985), 91-92.
Some of the brutal passages are emphasized by strong dynamics, wide ranging leaps, and rapid
ascending scales. An example can be found in II/42-43. This passage seems to me to show the influence of
Verdi (in particular, the opening of Otello) on Puccini. Verdi had once expressed his interest in the libretto
of Tosca and apologized that he was too old to write this opera. Puccini’s desire to compose music for
Tosca might have been heightened after learning of Verdi’s enthusiasm for the libretto. See Ashbrook,
(1968), 68-69. The comparison of Tosca with Otello has been discussed by Kerman, who suggests that it is
pointless to place Tosca in competition with Verdi’s Otello and does not provide much discussion of
Puccini’s distinct writing skills. See Joseph Kerman, Opera as Drama (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956),
In 1890 Puccini informed his brother that he would write an opera about Buddha after Manon Lescaut.
For some reason, Puccini never followed through with his plan. See Budden (2002), 92; 184. Clearly,
though, Puccini had interest in a Far East subject prior to the composition of Madama Butterfly. Yet,
Madama Butterfly shows Puccini’s complete shift into an exotic style.
Andrew Davis shows how Puccini’s operas demonstrate modern innovations in formal structure. See his
paper “Turandot and the Modern Puccini.” published in Spanish as "Turandot y el Puccini moderno," trans.
Anouska Antunez. Yearbook of the ABAO-OLBE (Bilbao: Asociación Bilbaina de Amigos de la Ópera,
2007), 256-61.

2. The Story of Tosca

The libretto originates from the play La Tosca written by French writer Victorien
Sardou (1831-1908), which Puccini and librettists Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica
adapted for the opera stage.13 The premiere was held in Rome, where the story is set, at
the Teatro Costanzi, on January 14, 1900. The initial critical reception was mixed. Yet,
its later success at La Scala (Milan), Covent Garden (London) and the Metropolitan
Opera (New York) established its reputation. Like many other Puccini’s operas, Tosca
continues to play in theaters worldwide.14
The story takes place amongst the political conflict in eighteenth century Rome
between the Royalists and the Republicans, who were under the influence of the French
Revolution and Napoleon.15 The male lead, Mario Cavaradossi, and his revolutionary
partner, Cesare Angelotti, are the Republicans who fight the Royalists. The Royalist,
Vitellio Scarpia, is chief of the secret police. Tosca, the diva, shares a mutual love with
Cavaradossi and is unaware of the political goings on. Yet Scarpia craves Tosca and
threatens to endanger the couple’s relationship. He stirs up Tosca’s suspicions and arrests
Cavaradossi as a revolutionary. The political environment, combined with love, suspicion
and hatred, builds a chain of dramatic events. Forging a fateful undercurrent is the
inevitable trajectory toward each character’s death. Four corpses are arranged in
chronological order: Cesare Angelotti commits suicide before Spoletta arrests him;
Scarpia is stabbed by Tosca during an attempt to rape her; Cavaradossi is executed, and
Tosca, after realizing that Scarpia had lied (he promises Tosca to release Cavaradossi
after conducting a fake execution), leaps to her death from the top of the Castle

Carner and Burton provide analysis of Sardou’s play and the opera’s libretto. See Carner (1958), 330-45;
Burton (1995), 36-79.
Regardless of audiences’ interest in Tosca, it has remained controversial among critics and academics
over the past century. For a critical discussion, see Carner (1985), 64-76. See also my footnote 10 in this
15 (accessed February 2, 2008).
For a complete Tosca synopsis, discussion of the diva Tosca from both dramatic and performing
perspectives, an introduction to the life of Puccini and the Tosca librettists (Sardou, Illica and Giacosa),
please see Douglas Fisher, "Tosca," Lyric Season Companion: 2004/2005 (Chicago: Lyric Opera of
Chicago, 2004), 63-73. Thank you to Prof. Fisher for sharing his research on Tosca. For other relevant

3. Tosca: Musical and Dramatic Highlights

(1). Dramatic Plot—the Arch Form

Unlike La bohème, where the lower class is reflected through poetic imagery,
Tosca is a melodrama. It portrays the story of lovers caught up in revolutionary events
through a non-stop chain of dramatic events.17 Puccini and his librettists divided the three
acts into a large-scale arch form, as described in the following musical synopsis.
Act I builds up the initial tension through an introduction of each character’s
personality and his or her relationship to the others. These relationships are shown
through their interactions and from their musical motifs.18 For instance, Cavaradossi
interacts with Tosca in their initial love scene. They sing a conjunct melody that reveals
that they are already in love (Mia gelosa! I/37). The love motif (I/37/13-15)19 returns
often, as in Cavaradossi’s “E lucevan le stele,” when the theme refers to the couple and
their love.
Act II is the most brutal in the opera, where the lives of all the characters become
interwoven. The three main characters often play out their conflicts on stage. Tensions
accumulate and grow through more and more violent interactions until finally the opera
approaches its intense climax, which is the moment Cavaradossi praises the triumph of
Napoleon over the Royalists (II/42). At that moment, his death becomes certain, as does
Tosca’s.20 The dramatic tension is sustained, then lessens. When Tosca stabs Scarpia at
the end of Act II, in the opera’s most brutal scene, the tension immediately dissipates.
Death replaces it.

resources, see Julian Budden, Puccini and His Operas, edited by Stanley Sadie, (New York: St. Martin’s
Press, 2000), 36-43. For more details on the historical background, Puccini’s writing process, and a brief
analytical discussion, see Carner (1958), 330-60; Ashbrook (1968), 66-95; Budden (2002), 181- 222;
Phillips-Matz (2002), 106-122. In her dissertation, Burton (1995) provides insight into this opera’s
historical background, text, and drama, while providing a thorough analytical examination.
Carner takes this point too. See Carner (1958), 333.
Carner provides a complete list of leitmotifs in Tosca. See Carner (1985), 22-45; 91-116. Parker also
discusses the motifs in Act I. See Roger Parker, “Analysis: Act I in perspective.” This article is one of the
collected essays in Carner (1985), 117-48.
The first three notes of this love theme appear when Tosca enters the church (I/22/11-13, flute).
Clément states that this moment represents Cavaradossi’s death. I agree with her from the dramatic
perspective. Yet from a musical perspective, I believe Puccini has already given a hint of this in Act One
when Cavaradossi tells Angelotti to save his life. See Clément (1988), 39 and my musical synopsis.

Act III is about the lovers’ jubilant reunion. Yet, jubilation lies under the cloud of
death, which lends this act a melancholic atmosphere. When death carries the couple
away in the end, the lovers find their real judgment before God. The timing of the final
scene is the moment before the Roman dawn. Perhaps the implication is that the dawn
will wash away the blood and bitterness, leaving the stage with a final, calm peace.

(2). The Deception Motion and Religious Faith21

1). Love and Devotion

Clément states that Tosca is the most straightforward heroine among the female
leads in Puccini’s operas. “She [Tosca] will make opera within opera from the death of
others.”22 But Tosca never intends to do so. In life she is obsessed with Cavaradossi.
Clément makes the same point when she writes: “All she [Tosca] wants is Mario, the
signifier of her impatience. She spends the entire opera calling him. . . . She calls him
from everywhere.”23 Gobbi also suggests that Tosca gives her heart to Cavaradossi with
complete innocence.24 Other than that, Tosca cares only for the Madonna.25
Tosca’s entrance music makes it clear that her character is highly religious. In
I/22 (“Mario! Mario! Mario! – Son qui!”), right before her initial entrance, she calls
Mario from outside in E and F#. The E comes from the home key of the scene, C major.
Yet the F# is distantly related to C major, and shows her nervousness. Cavaradossi hastily

I take the word “deception” from Carner and Budden who discuss the two-note “deception motif.” See
Carner (1985), 40; Budden (2002), 217.
Clément (1988), 38.
Ibid., 40.
Tito Gobbi suggests that, “She [Tosca] is madly in love with Mario Cavaradossi but, completely
absorbed in her own happy life….Tosca goes through life thoughtlessly happy with her love and her
success.” See, Titto Gobbi, “Interpretation: some reflections.” Giacomo Puccini: Tosca (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1985), 83.
There are two works that discuss Puccini’s religious beliefs. One comes from John Louis Digaetani, who
states that Puccini asked his librettists to emphasize Tosca’s religious faith. Yet the fact that the faithful
Tosca does not get a response from God, may indicate Puccini’s suspicion of religion. I see this scene in a
different light, but will discuss my response to Digaetani later in this chapter. The other is Dante del
Fiorentino, a priest and Puccini’s friend. He suggests that the sacristan and the altar boy theme come from
Puccini’s childhood experience. Overall, Fiorentino’s book puts emphasis on the author’s own belief in the
religious side of Puccini (even if Puccini was never a churchgoer). See John Louis Digaetani, “Puccini’s
Tosca and the Necessity of Agnosticism.” The Opera Quarterly 2 (1984): 76-84. Dante Del Fiorentino,
Immortal Bohemian: An Intimate Memoir of Giacomo Puccini (New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1952).

replies to her in D#, enharmonically relating to the Eb borrowed from the parallel minor,
but written outside of the C major system. That does not satisfy Tosca (she is still locked
out of the church) and her nervousness increases. She then sings Eb, which shows she is
trying to bring the enharmonic D# (Cavaradossi’s pitch) back to the diatonic borrowing.
The minor coloring reflects her sadness at being kept out by Cavaradossi. Ultimately, the
Eb connects to Bb and these two notes repeat three times suggesting a shift to the relative
major. When Cavaradossi replies to her again, it is now using Tosca’s Eb, But rather than
going to Bb, this Eb goes to Ab instead, at the same time transposing the key to Ab
through the use of the customary implied V-I (Eb-Ab). Cavaradossi may feel a need to
moderate Tosca’s anxiety through the establishment of the new key, particularly one on
the subdominant side.

2). Appearance of the Madonna Tune

Once the door is finally unlocked, Tosca enters angrily to the accompaniment of
the Madonna tune (I/25), which washes away the previous anxiety and suggests her
religious devotion.26 Still, Tosca suspiciously looks for a rival in love. Cavaradossi
pledges his love in this Ab key and her anxiety fades. Through the accompaniment of the
Madonna tune played by the orchestra, she offers the Madonna flowers to show her
sincere faith (I/26). Her entrance music in I/22 - I/26, clearly shows her character as a
jealous lover and religious devotee. Indeed, these scenes provide the initial establishment
of her personality that will certainly affect the dramatic happenings to follow.

Schuller calls this tune “Devotion.” See Burton (1995), 124.

Example 3.1: The abbreviation of Tosca’s entrance scene and Madonna tune 27

3). The Unaware Diva in the Palace

The story is set in the historic conflict between Republicans and Royalists; yet
Tosca is unaware of her political environment. Cavaradossi speaks of her naïveté in his
recitative duet with Angelotti in I/40 (“È buona la mia Tosca”). Musically, the scene
pertains to Tosca’s cantata performance in the palace (II/13). Here Tosca sings an upbeat,
celebratory song offstage; her invisible singing contrasts with the brutal action onstage,
where Scarpia has just arrested Cavaradossi and is interrogating him on the whereabouts
of Angelotti. The keys in which the on-stage and off-stage sounds are written quite

For more detail, see my musical synopsis.

different. Tosca sings her cantata outside of Scarpia’s chamber in the key of a minor,
while the music that takes place inside (with Scarpia and Cavaradossi) is written in e
minor. This bitonality presents two simultaneous, yet contrasting worlds. However, as the
two keys relate by the interval of a perfect 5th (only one sharp apart), the dissonance is
minimized. Budden offers a convincing explanation of this scene’s bitonality:

there is no direct clash, since F sharp (x), on which the motif insists, has a place in
the ascending scales of both keys; but the double perspective is subtly calculated
to reflect the situation: piety behind the scenes, brutality before our eyes.28

Budden’s description points to two connected worlds, linked by the F#. On the other
hand, the two keys act as a metaphor for the conflict between two opposing parties—
Republican and Royalist, the two contrasting personalities of the male leads—
Cavaradossi and Scarpia. Tosca (f#) connects both male leads as they demand her love.
A closer musical examination of the pitch material of the two tonal areas reveals
additional support for the notion of two contrasting worlds. Tosca’s cantata is written

using the melodic minor–a. Thus, it contains the raised 6^ - F#. The brutality of the torture
chamber is written in e natural minor, whose structure has no leading tone and no raised
^ instead using a natural C.29 Both F# and C often occur simultaneously in this scene in
order to emphasize the contrast between the on-stage and off-stage musics. This tritone
keeps the two opposed musical worlds (invisible cantata singing and visible inquiry)

Budden (2002), 212.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
1 2 3 4 5 6* 7
am (melodic) a b c d e f# g#
em (natural) e f# g a b c d

* The 6 in a melodic minor and e natural minor is pitches f# and c, respectively. This is the tritone
relationship that reflects the opposing worlds. The 7 (g# and d) in both key systems is also tritone related,
but the g# merely appears when it takes a functional leading-tone role. Otherwise, Puccini uses g natural.
^ ^
Thus, the 7 (g# and d) does not play as significant a role as 6 (f# and c) in this cantata performance.
Moreover, the cantata imitates a Renaissance style and thus presents a mixture of the dorian mode and
minor key structure. (The cantata ends with V/am - i/am - i/d. The progression from V/am – i/am shows the
minor structure while the last motion to D shows the Dorian mode.) Another example of this tritone
conflict is shown in Tosca’s entrance at the palace in II/15/5. See the musical synopsis for score

parallel, but never touching; further supporting the dual perspective (as in Budden “piety
behind the scenes, brutality before our eyes”) presented in the drama.
This scene also presents a poignant irony. Tosca sings to praise the Lord and
celebrate the Royalist’s triumph over Napoleon, while her lover is under arrest for being
a Republican. The musical irony is suggested by the juxtaposition of the diegetic, yet
invisible with the exegetic, yet visualized music of the onstage drama. 30 This irony
(from both dramatic and musical perspectives) exposes the innocent character of Tosca;
she knows nothing. Even as she becomes involved with the events around her—the
revolution or Scarpia’s manipulations—she is never completely aware of her
surroundings. Tosca is a diva who is cocooned in a happy life surrounded by love,
religion and art.

4). Religious Faith

As mentioned previously, the brutality in Act II is rendered through increasingly
violent interactions among the three main characters. Clément describes this act as

This is the role of her life as a prima donna. A period of torture, a period of calm.
A period of torture, and the open doors let the men’s voices through, Mario
screaming in pain, Scarpia in question. A period of calm, the doors close.31

Each period of torture leads to greater brutality and challenges Tosca, who is so used to
living on her own stage. Each period of torture is accompanied by a specific motif, as
shown in example 3.2.

Both diegetic and exegetic are film music terms. Diegetic music refers to music that acts as actual
“music” to the characters on screen (or on stage). According to the Grove Music Dictionary, it pertains to
that “music contained within the action (known variously as diegetic…[)]” see
(accessed March 3, 2008). Diegetic music can be both visible and invisible, as long as the characters are
aware of its existence as music. Exegetic (or nondiegetic) music is neither visible nor invisible music. It
falls outside of the character’s consciousness and yet it amplifies the mood and the background. For further
details, see (accessed March 3, 2008).
See Clément (1988), 40.

Example 3.2: Where is Angelotti? (II/36) – suffer motif 32

Tosca Arch m7 leap

Oct. down

Example 3.2 shows the initial suffering motif in Act II, when Scarpia questions Tosca on
Angelotti’s whereabouts. Not wanting to reply to Scarpia, Tosca screams. The ascending
and descending stepwise motion creates an arch form in the initial five notes, and its
following minor-seventh leap up and octave-leap down emphasizes her lack of control.
This arch shape recalls a familiar tune that takes place earlier in Tosca’s entrance, the
Madonna tune. Indeed, both openings share an identical contour and intervallic
relationship, see example 3.3.

Example 3.3: Madonna and the suffer motifs

Contour: <0 1 2 1 0> <0 1 2 10> <0 1 2 10>

This similarity shows that Tosca’s scream closely relates to her religious faith in
that the Madonna tune is embedded in the structure of her suffering. She does not merely
scream to reflect the unendurable violence, but she also asks for salvation from the
Madonna during the torture. The suffering tune appears four times in Act II, during each

Schuller calls this tune “Anguish.” See Burton (1995), 127.

period of torture. It starts from Scarpia’s questioning (ex. 3.2); then again before
Cavaradossi is dragged back into the torture chamber; when Scarpia initially shows his
lust for Tosca’s body; and, finally, when Tosca screams for help before she sinks to pray
to the Madonna in her “Vissi d’arte.” Thus, the appearance of the suffer motif builds a
path towards the Madonna where Tosca’s prayer in “Vissi d’arte” presents the tune in a
new light.

Example 3.4: Suffering towards Madonna

II/44 – Suffer (Mario! Have piety!) II/48 – Suffer (Scarpia’s lust)

Climax in full orchestra

II/50 – Suffer (Cry for help before prayer) II/52 – Vissi d’’arte (Why does this happen to me?)



As shown in examples 3.2 and 3.4, we see that the suffering tune is systemized to
appear in the alternation of Tosca and the orchestra. First in II/36, Tosca sings the
suffering tune to express that she cannot stand the torment any longer. Then it appears in
II/44. Prior to II/44, the scene reaches a climax when Cavaradossi alludes to Napoleon’s
triumph over the Royalists. Scarpia thus sentences Cavaradossi to death. Here (II/44) the

full orchestra plays the suffering tune in loud dynamics that emphasize the expression of
Tosca’s pain, and she screams in octave leaps to express her will to go with Cavaradossi.
Next in II/48, after she realizes Scarpia’s lust for her, Tosca virtually screams the
suffering tune to state that she would rather die than go to bed with Scarpia. In II/50, the
orchestra plays the tune to express Tosca’s pain when she screams in octave leaps and
asks for help before Scarpia’s attempt to rape her. Yet, realizing she must make a
decision to either go to bed with Scarpia or condemn Cavaradossi to death, Tosca sinks,
emotionally exhausted, into a posture of prayer. In II/52 “Vissi d’arte,” she prays to
understand why these events have come upon her.

5). The Deceptive Motion and Religious Faith

“Vissi d’arte” shows the closest relationship between the diva and the Madonna.33
In this aria, the orchestra plays the Madonna tune as the melodic counterpart to
accompany the recitative-like melody. This relationship presents a conversational
dialogue between Tosca and the Madonna. Tosca repeats her inquiry and ends the aria in
a question (“Perchè Signor, perchè me ne rimuneri così?” — “Why Lord, why do you
repay me thus?”).34 Musically, it ends on a perfect authentic cadence, presenting an odd
dichotomy: the music is forcing the drama to closure, although none is in sight. It is
paradoxical, and the scene thus becomes ambiguous as music and drama still seek ways
to accord with each other. This paradox approaches its most controversial passage in

II/53/4-9. Here the submediant seventh replaces the tonic to support a 5^ - 1^ melodic
motion.35 The replacement with the submediant emphasizes the unrestful and unresolved
atmosphere. Tosca is asking Scarpia ”Vedi…” — “Look…”36 and pleading for his mercy.
Yet, Scarpia cannot be compassionate, for he has long desired Tosca and had schemed to

In Act III Tosca tells Cavaradossi that “Invan, pazza d’orror, alla Madonna mi volsi e ai Santi…” — “In
vain, mad with horror, to the Madonna I turned and to the Saints.” Please see my later aria analysis for
details regarding her acting out of reality. This, and all the Tosca translations come from Castel. Nico
Castel, trans., The Complete Puccini Libretti (Geneseo, N.Y.: Leyerle, 1994), 1: 175.
Ibid., 164.
Indeed the usage of submediant to support this kind of question can be traced back to Mozart’s Le Nozze
di Figaro, where, in the duet between Susanna and the Count, “Curdel! Perchè finora,” the submediant
supports the Count’s question “why do you make me suffer?” Thanks to my advisor, Prof. Shaftel, who
generously shared his research on Figaro.
Castel (1994), 1:165.

possess her. The unresolved tones show that both parties cannot come to a satisfactory
agreement. When Scarpia speaks again in II/54, he shifts from eb minor to its relative
major – Gb. The shifting to the major key shows his dominance, but this is obviously not
what Tosca wants. Spoletta interrupts their bargaining and brings them the news
pertaining to the death of Angelotti. And this shocks Tosca. Worrying that Cavaradossi
will be the next victim, Tosca unwillingly accepts Scarpia when he promises to release
Cavaradossi after faking his execution. Spoletta leaves to prepare for Cavaradossi’s mock
execution. Triumphantly, Scarpia sings of his achievement—“Tosca, finalmente” —
“Tosca finally”37 on pitch Eb of eb minor. This is the moment that Tosca finally gains
dominance, as he sings in the key of her prayer aria – eb minor. Indeed, she has been
waiting for this moment since her prayer, and, in each of her tortured screams, she has
been roaring for the Madonna’s mercy and for this moment to come. Now she becomes
the stage actress/diva and departs from reality. She takes the knife and ultimately
performs an opera within the opera. Stabbing Scarpia with intense hatred, she screams
(II/61) “E ucciso da una donna!…Guardami! Son Tosca!” — “And killed by a
woman!...Look at me! I’m Tosca!”38 Musically, winds and strings play the pedal point
Ab (II/61/11-II/62/1), which recalls the Madonna tune (I/25), whose key is Ab. Together
winds and strings resonate with each other to create an Ab harmony that seems to bring
time to a halt as the diva “performs” onstage. It is the diva that stabs the villain, not Floria
Tosca, the lover and devoted woman, who never does harm to anyone.
The most vivid performance starts from the Ab harmony and ends at the moment
after the death of Scapia when the diva unsympathetically says to his corpse “È morto. Or
gli perdono!” — “He’s dead. Now I forgive him!”39 The key changes to f# minor and the
music sustains f# minor towards the end of Act II, as the orchestra plays the following
death tune.40

Ibid., 169.
Ibid., 170.
Carner calls this the “murder” tune. See Carner (1985), 40.

Table 3.1: The path towards acting out of reality (Tosca)

Key eb – Eb Gb eb* f#
Protagonist Four Tosca Scarpia Scarpia Diva – Tosca
Scene torture Pray Dominance Rape Scarpia dies
Location periods II/51-53 (aria) II/54 II/60 II/63-65
*Tosca gets her dominance here.

Example 3.5: Death tune (II/63)

While the orchestra remains in f#, Tosca sings her final words in C major,
recalling the earlier tritone that separated the cantata from reality, and the cruel divide
between life and death. Here she takes a final look at Scarpia’s corpse and says, “E avanti
a lui tremava tutta Roma!” — “And before him trembled all Rome!”41 Her recitative
takes place on a repeating C# while the cello accompanies her with C#. The repeating
notes show her heartlessness and appropriately recall the previous scene where Spoletta
mutters a Latin prayer: II/38 “Judex ergo cum sedebit, quid quid latet apparebit, nil
inultum remanebit.” — “There, when the judge will sit, whatever is hidden will be
apparent and will remain so forever.”42

Castel (1994), 1:170.
Ibid., 155.

Example 3.6: Spoletta and Tosca

The reminiscence of the Latin passage delivers religious strength to the diva after she
kills Scarpia, and this religious strength authorizes her actions. It also implies that when
the diva is performing on stage that whoever gives her pain will be punished. Scarpia, the
chair of the secret police in Roma, has power to torture those only in his realm, but not
“on the stage.” In the realm of the diva’s stage, all must follow the synopsis created by
her will.

Musical Synopsis – Tosca43

For a description of my Musical Synopsis, please see Chapter 1 (pp. 36-37).

Tosca: “Vissi d’arte”

This aria is distinctive for two reasons. First, it is the diva’s (Tosca) only aria.
Musically, it differs from the previous screams and hatred scenes. Here, the tender tones
accord with Tosca’s prayer to the Madonna. Secondly, the aria takes place after Scarpia
has tormented her under threat of Cavaradossi’s death. Tosca is physically exhausted and
is soon to be mentally out of control. This is the turning point. Scarpia waits for her
commitment, knowing Tosca has no other option but to succumb to him. Cavaradossi has
only one hour to live. Tosca must find a solution, otherwise, her lover will die—or worse,
if Scarpia does not keep his promise after possessing her body, she will lose her life along
with Cavaradossi. Desperately, she sinks in prayer, asking the Madonna why she has
brought her to this ordeal, and she pleads for salvation.
The aria starts with a sorrowful eb-minor introduction and shifts to the major
mode when the Madonna tune joins Tosca’s singing, implying that the Madonna is
listening to Tosca. The aria ends in Eb major. The modal shift from eb to Eb coincides
with the retrograde relationship in the ending keys of Acts I and III. The first ends on Eb
major, where the chorus and Scarpia sing the Te Deum and Scarpia specifies his desire to
possess Tosca. The latter ends on eb minor, where Tosca leaps from the parapet and the
musical fragment from Cavaradossi’s “E lucevan le stele ” accompanies her into eternity.

Table 3.2: Key relationship between aria and Acts I & III (Tosca)

“Vissi d'arte” Acts’ Ending

Location Start End Act I Act III
Key eb Eb Eb eb
Drama Pious Character Dialogue with Madonna Scarpia’s Oath Death

1. Structure of “Vissi d’arte”

The aria takes place from II/51/1-II/53/1. Its formal structure portrays a simple
^ ^ ^
plan: “Introduction — A — A’.” Each section contains an identical motion of 5 - 6 - 5
that takes place in the local Urlinie and bass (see below.) The libretto of the introduction

establishes Tosca’s pious character. The other two sections pertain to her plea to the
Madonna for understanding and salvation.

Table 3.3: The overall structure of “Vissi d’arte”

Section Introduction A A'

Location II/51 II/52 II/52 II/53
Measure 1-13 1-12 13-21 1
Key Eb Eb Eb
^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
Urlinie 5-6-5 5-6-5 5-6-5

Ursatz (v-VI-v) –V I- (V-vi-V) –I -iii-V I-(V-vi-V) -ii7-V64--53- I

2. Sectional Detail

(1). Introduction
The opening provides valuable insight into Tosca’s character as she sings “Vissi
d’arte, vissi d’amore. ” — “I live for art, I live for love.”44 This description accords with
previous discussions pertaining to Tosca’s life surrounded by art and love.45 The lyric
furthermore expresses her innocence and good intentions, for she never does harm to
others and is sympathetic and charitable to the poor. Building upon the libretto’s
description of her character, the music emphasizes her piety through a melodic minor
octave descent, which suggests her sorrow over unjust treatment. The musical grief
contrasts with the innocence that is described in the lyric, ultimately expressing a deep
regret for what has been lost.

Example 3.7: Minor octave descent

Vissi d’arte, vissi d’armore.

Castel (1994), 1: 164.
See the discussion on ‘the Unaware Diva in the Palace’ earlier in Chapter 3.

The minor descent reflects that Tosca is desperate with exhaustion, while the lack
of a leading tone illuminates that she has nowhere to go. She sinks to her knees to
dedicate her song to the Madonna. The harmonic structure in this introduction is based
upon two parallel phrases supported by the progression i6 – v – VI – V in both II/51/1-7
and II/51/8-13, respectively. See Figure 3.1. 46

Figure 3.1: Tosca: “Vissi d’arte” (Introduction: II/51/1-13)47

For Lyric, see Castel (1994), 1:164
Detailed discussion of my linear methodology can be found in the introductory chapter and chapter 1.

There is no tonic establishment here. Rather, the harmonic motion focuses on the
minor v as it traverses to the VI and then returns to a more normative major dominant.

The v supports a local motivic 5^ - 6^ - 5,

^ where the 6^ plays a strictly foreground role. The

first 5^ is used to set the words art and love; through the usage of identical scale degrees,
both are presented as equally significance in the life of Tosca. Also the semitonal
neighbor relationship recalls the long-established sigh, or grief, motive, and in each of its
many occurrences in the aria, it recalls the sadness that weighs upon Tosca.

Once the melody travels through the 5^ - 6^ - 5,

^ the motive shifts to the bass, where

the harmony depicts a larger-scale v-VI-V, further emphasizing how Tosca’s character
not only lives for art and love but also her grief that the situation has changed.
^ in the bass takes a different functional role from the
Harmonically speaking, the VI (6)

neighbor 6^ in the melody, connecting the minor v and the actual dominant V. Although
functionally, the minor v lacks the leading tone and thus requires no resolution, the
motion of v-VI produces an ascending chromatic step (Bb-Cb) that implies a deceptive
and fundamentally incomplete motion. In the lyrics, the v-VI sets “non feci mai” — “I
never harmed a living soul.”48 Like the deceptive motion, this lyric is inconclusive and
also requests more explanation to complete its meaning.

(2). The Madonna Tune

The motivic and structural 5^ - 6^ - 5^ in both melody and bass shares some
similarities with the Madonna tune (I/25). See Figure 3.2.


Figure 3.2: Madonna tune (I/25/1-8)

The analytic graph in figure 3.2 shows that the Madonna tune contains the same

melodic 5^ - 6^ - 5^ and the stepwise descent to 1^ that follows. This descent is supported by
an underlying harmonic progression of V7-vi – ( V ) – V7 – I. The motion of 5^ - 6^ - 5,

along with the middleground harmonic structure V7— vi –V7, accords with the structure
of the introduction of Tosca’s aria. As suggested earlier, this aria presents Tosca’s
privileged moment of conversation with the Madonna. Here, the similar structure implies

that each of her 5^ - 6^ - 5^ motions (in both melody and harmony) reflects an approach to
the Madonna. In addition, through her minor mode sorrow and description of her worthy
character in the introduction, Tosca gains the Madonna’s attention and invites the
Madonna to join her next melody.

(3). A section49

Figure 3.3: Tosca: “Vissi d’arte” (A section: II/52/1-12)

The A section starts on II/52/1. Here the Madonna tune plays a complementary
part to the melody. Thus, together with Tosca’s melody, they are engaging in a
conversation. It starts with a statement in mm. 1-8 (II/52) and moves to a question in mm.
9-12 (II/52). The initial statement includes the Madonna tune from figure 3.2, which is


^ ^ ^ ^ ^
superimposed over Tosca’s 5- 4-3-2-1 descent. Tosca’s lyric expresses her sincere faith,

while the 5^ - 6^ - 5^ (with the abbreviated Madonna melody) suggests that the Madonna is

tenderly listening to Tosca. Harmonically, Tosca’s motion from 2^ - 1^ is supported by the

V7-vi. This motion takes on an essential function as compared to the introduction where
the VI is followed by an immediate arrival on V. Here, as the vi supports Tosca’s initial
approach to 1, it functions as a true deceptive cadence. Indeed the deceptive vi, along
with its support of 1, portrays the functional conclusion in Tosca from both musical and
dramatic perspectives. Musically, the cadence of the deceptive ending vividly illustrates
Tosca’s current difficulty as her problems are indeed irresolvable. Moreover, this
inconclusive cadence demonstrates her inability to gain a perfect solution by herself.
Even the V – V7 – I that follows the vi only supports a tonic prolongation of Tosca 7^ - 1,

but is functionally used to emphasize the motion of the Madonna’s descent to reach 1^
^ ^ ^
(from 3- 2 to 1). From another perspective, the final approach to 1^ in m. 8 (II/52) from
both the Madonna and Tosca shows that only the Madonna can assist Tosca in reaching
The passage in II/52/9-12 supports Tosca’s questioning of the Madonna. Here, the

motion of 5^ - 6^ - 5^ is supported by a harmonic progression wherein iii moves to an

extended V. The ending on the dominant musically reflects Tosca’s question as to why

the Madonna would repays her thus, while the motion of 5^ - 6^ - 5^ is the symbol of the
Madonna to whom she is speaking. At the same time, as this inquiry appears right after
the description of Tosca’s worthy character, it implies not only Tosca’s faith but also her
pleading for salvation through this faith.

(4). A’ section50

Figure 3.4: Tosca: “Vissi d’arte” (A’ section: II/52/13 to II/53/1)

The structure of the A’ section is almost identical to that of the A section except

the V7 in m. 19 (II/52) resolves to a I6 instead of I. Here the melodic motion of 5^ - 6^ - 5^

(supported by I-V7) restates Tosca’s worthy character for she has dedicated jewels and
songs to her religion. The V7 moves on to the vi in mm. 18-19 (II/52), creating another
deceptive cadence, but this time the deceptive cadence carries a different lyric message:
“perchè” – “why.” The appearance of the question along with the deceptive cadence


confirms the earlier suggestion that this 1^ (in a middle voice) is the most finality that
Tosca herself can muster both musically and dramatically (see the earlier discussion on
the A section.) The vi goes on to V7 – I6 in mm. 19-20 (II/52) which supports her plea:
“Signor” – “Lord,” which is accompanied by an ascending minor 6th leap. Yet, as the
tonic chord arrives only in its first inversion, the dominant does not get its proper

resolution. The 2^ from the Madonna tune is now overtaken by Tosca’s 5,

while the

Madonna’s 2^ disappears into the inner voice. Now, both 5^ and 1^ belong to Tosca and this
suggests that the Madonna tune is gone; Tosca is talking only to herself.

The 1^ with its inverted tonic support cannot conclude the phrase. It thus moves on
to a predominant ii7 in II/52/21, where Tosca sighs. Then she asks her question for the
last time, returning to the earlier suffering tune to emphasize her pain: “perchè rimuneri

cosi?” — “Why repay me thus?”51 The aria ends on 1^ with a perfect authentic cadence.
This cadence again conflicts with the dramatic question, ultimately suggesting that no
true closure is possible at this point. The real conclusion, from a lyric standpoint, takes
place earlier in the inconclusive deceptive cadence when the Madonna tune was still with
her. Thus, the perfect authentic cadence in II/53/I presents merely a forced resolution to
show Tosca’s urgency and strong desire to get out of her current difficulty. Indeed, this
forced musical resolution creates an apparent contradiction with the drama, and that
makes the situation even more uncertain. Moreover, as this contradiction takes place after
the Madonna is gone, it demonstrates Tosca’s inability to resolve the problem.

5. The Embedded Structure and the Upcoming Catastrophe

Scarpia, who watches Tosca’s entire prayer, speaks out now on Bb under a
supporting Eb chord. See example 3.8.

Ibid., 165.

Example 3.8: The continuing of Tonic motion – II/53 52

Tosca replies to him on Eb. Their conversation stays on the tonic chord Eb. The
use of the Eb chord here demonstrates a continuous motion from the end of Tosca’s aria
and places more emphasis on the unresolved issue. Certainly, the Eb chord restates the
urgency pertaining to the musical desire for resolution and the dramatic refusal of
resolution. The conflict between musical desire and dramatic refusal continues while the
mode shifts from major (Eb) to its parallel minor (eb) in II/53/4.

Example 3.9: The deceptive motion and religious faith – II/53 53


The libretto in II/53 shows Tosca’s pleading with Scarpia. Yet, the music
describes this situation in a more sophisticated way. Here within this eb-minor section,

each of Tosca’s phrases ends with a P5 leap down. This leap expresses a motion of 5^ - 1^
and shows a strong desire for resolution and, perhaps, a request for salvation from the

Madonna. Yet, the 5^ - 1^ is supported by the VI65 chord which substitutes for I by

presenting 1^ (Eb) in the bass. Functionally, VI65 contains similar components to I, but its

agent discharges as in a deceptive motion, recalling Tosca’s deceptive cadences. Both the

5^ - 1^ and the deceptive motion link her religious faith to the deceptive motion.
Ultimately, this despair and lack of finality lays the way for the upcoming
“performance,” the “acting out” of an unrealistic solution.
In II/54, Scarpia speaks in Gb major to show his dominance. From now on, the eb
minor is gone and it returns only shortly to II/60 in the moment prior to Tosca’s stabbing
of Scarpia. The eb minor in II/60 assists the diva in asserting her dominance over Scarpia
as she prepares to “play her role.” (See previous discussion in “The deceptive motion and
religious faith”). Yet, there is no resolution in this short eb minor passage; after the
completion of Tosca’s aria, the key of eb is never capable of obtaining proper closure.
The final return of eb minor occurs in III/41, which is the moment prior to Tosca’s leap
from the Castle Sant’Angelo parapet. Here the eb minor is approached by its minor v7
chord,54 which supports Tosca’s “O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!” — “Oh Scarpia, before
God!”55 (see example 3.10). The strings accompany Tosca with the musical fragment
from Cavaradossi’s “E lucevan le stele.” Recalling her lover, indeed, Tosca’s suicide
scene shares an identical harmonic progression (v7-i) with Cavaradossi’s aria (see
examples 3.10 and 3.11).

This v7 is missing its agent and thus sounds incomplete. Although it can be considered as an implied
major dominant, its minor manifestation seems to appropriately weaken its arrival. This viewpoint also
accords with the drama, as the protagonists can never find satisfactory solutions, but end their lives in
Ibid., 184.

Example 3.10: Launch from the parapet – III/40/12-III/41/2

Example 3.11: Cavaradossi: “E lucevan le stele” – III/12/2-3

The lack of a leading tone on v in Tosca’s leap and Cavaradossi’s aria recalls the
minor v from the introduction of Tosca’s aria, “Vissi d’arte.” Yet, in her aria, the v moves
on to the VI –the deceptive resolution— but here it finally achieves closure to tonic. The
minor v in these three scenes (Tosca and Cavaradossi’s arias, as well as the end of the
opera) foreshadows the protagonists’ fates and acts as a symbol shared by the star-
crossed lovers. Its lack of leading-tone resolution mirrors the highly imperfect ends of
Tosca and Cavaradossi’s lives together.

6. Conclusion

As suggested earlier, Tosca’s character emerges musically in her entrance to the

church in Act I, where her interaction with Cavaradossi shows her to be a suspicious
lover full of religious faith. Furthermore, her only aria, “Vissi d’arte,” portrays her
character through a libretto and supporting music that emphasizes her world of love, art,
sincere faith, and good intentions. In addition, the Madonna tune that accompanies her
aria leads one to believe that Tosca is truly innocent and sincere. The perfect authentic
cadence, along with the dramatic question, poses a fundamental contradiction, and yet
also shows that Tosca is incapable of escaping her own fate, for she is never able to
approach the perfect authentic cadence without asking for the Madonna’s help. Her
repeated deceptive motions reveal that she lives in her own world where she is isolated
from most of reality. As Tito Gobbi states: “she [Tosca] is madly in love with Mario
Cavaradossi but completely absorbed in her own happy life.”56
Tosca’s lack of awareness certainly has to do with her pure personality and
sincere faith. But, it is also related to Cavaradossi, who maintains her innocence by never
disturbing her unrealistic world. This is particularly evident from the fact that
Cavaradossi keeps knowledge of the revolution and Angelotti from Tosca in Act I. It is
obvious that this couple shares a mutual love. Yet, Cavaradossi knows Tosca better than
Tosca knows him. She loves him, but aside from suspecting a (non-existent) love rival,
she is never aware of aspects of his life, at least the revolutionary part. Cavaradossi loves
her but keeps his activities secret from her (with good intentions). This relationship is
subtly shown through the harmonic structure of their arias.
When Tosca can only reach the deceptive cadence (vi) in her “Vissi d’arte,” it
becomes clear that the deceptive cadence is at the edge of her realm of reality (in her
world). She cannot go any farther towards reaching a true authentic cadence (the one that
represents closure in the world of reality). Puccini treats Cavaradossi quite differently,
however. In his “E lucevan le stele,” the VI is a predominant chord, not the goal of a
deceptive cadence. His aria includes a long predominant prolongation (II/11-II/13) and,

See Titto Gobbi, “Interpretation: some reflections.” Giacomo Puccini: Tosca (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1985), 83. Also, please see footnote 23 for further detail.

while some of the predominants veer towards implied dominant chords (like VII or V/III)
or even to a local V, these dominant-related chords are part of a larger sequence that
ultimately extends the predominant prolongation from a higher structural perspective. In

one case, they move to a passing 64 chord, thus delaying resolution, as absolute resolution

is avoided in his aria. Indeed, the avoidance of absolute resolution shows that he is a
more sophisticated character than Tosca. In addition, the basic motive in his aria is the P4

leap up that suggests a motion from 5^ to 1,

particularly as it occurs at the end of each
phrase. Yet none of these is supported by a deceptive cadence.57 Thus, each ascending

leap from 5^ to 1^ implies dominant to tonic motion, literally mirroring Tosca’s leaps from

5^ down to 1^ (in II/53). The harmonies in Cavaradossi’s aria never support tonic closure,
except, perhaps, from the weak minor v to I (see example 3.11). On the other hand, he
seems to be both inventive and subtle in his approaches towards resolution.58 Indeed, as a
revolutionary, his political faction comes out on top. Thus, from the harmonic
perspective, Cavaradossi seems to be able to manipulate the tonic, and is clearly in
control of the couple’s relationship, not Tosca.59
Cavaradossi’s progressions and phrases are far more lengthy than Tosca’s. Her
progressions and phrases are foreshortened by the arrival at the deceptive motions. Even
her range is cut short by these deceptive arrivals, and she can never achieve an entire
octave. Cavaradossi’s much more extensive range includes the command of an entire
octave, from tonic to tonic. Thus, his music can contain and go beyond hers. This
supports what has been made clear in other ways throughout the opera: their relationship
is not built on balanced and mutual ground. Cavaradossi occupies Tosca’s whole life
while Tosca does not own the entirety of Cavaradossi’s. To be more precise, Tosca is
excluded from a part of Cavaradossi’s life while he is almost the whole of hers.


This passage (III/12/10-11) might be seen to include deceptive motion, yet, since it is part of a larger
sequential pattern (III/12/10-13), there is no sense of “avoided closure” here.
The exception is the ending of his aria, which includes a strong V-I to show how much he loves life.
That is also apparent in Tosca’s entrance in Act I. She always needs Cavaradossi to comfort her and he
lets her believe that he cares only for her.

Example 3.12: Tosca and Cavaradossi

Tosca is only able to approach 6.

^ ^
Cavaradossi controls the length of an octave from 1 to 1.

* b minor is enharmonically related to eb minor as vi.

As previously mentioned, both arias use the minor v (or incomplete v). The minor
v goes to the (implied) deceptive motion in Tosca but towards tonic closure in
Cavaradossi. When Tosca launches herself into eternity at the end of the opera,
Cavaradossi’s tune and its harmonic progression of minor v - i accompanies Tosca. This
not only suggests that she dies with Cavaradossi, but that Tosca finally enters
Cavaradossi’s world through the aid of the v – i motion. After she becomes aware of the
real world, she is finally able to enter into the complete world of Cavaradossi, sharing
with him in his fate, and taking on an equal relationship with him before God.60

In response to the comments on Puccini’s religious life made by John Louis Digaetani, who states that
the faithful Tosca does not get a response from God (ft. 10), it is worthwhile to note that Tosca ultimately
achieves the Madonna’s plan for her, as she finally is able to properly enter into Cavaradossi’s world and to
claim an equal fate.



Madama Butterfly

1. Introduction - the exotic view in Puccini’s time

Madama Butterfly represents Puccini’s final operatic exploration of the Far East
(although he was to turn to central Asia in Turandot). It was completed four years after
the debut of Tosca. Yet here, unlike in Tosca, the inspiration from Verismo fades.
Instead, this opera engages the exotic in an effort to bring Eastern culture into the
Western musical world (particularly the Italian musical tradition). Certainly, Puccini is
not the first operatic composer who incorporated exotic elements into his operatic
composition. Indeed, the use of exotic elements in both operatic music and drama can be
traced back to the earliest operas, coming to fruition in such works as Handel’s
Belshazzar, where the exotic code is musically portrayed through the Eastern despot;1
Mozart’s Die Entführung, where the music recalls the tropes associated with Near
Eastern Islamic culture; Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine, which pertains to the love story
between a non-European girl and a Westerner,2 and Verdi’s Aida, whose protagonist is an
Egyptian princess.3 These composers, and many others unmentioned here, provide vivid
examples of how composers may engage the exotic through music and drama. It may
seem that Puccini, like many of his contemporaries, inherited the model for musical

This example comes from a talk given by Ralph P. Locke’s at the AMS/SMT 2006 Annual Meeting,
where he discussed the extension of musical exoticism from the first paradigm (music that sounds foreign
or highly unusual) to the second paradigm (musical codes that vividly depict exotic scenes and characters
from drama). “Musical Exoticism: Toward a Second Paradigm,” presented at American Musicological
Society and Society of Music Theory Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA 2006.
This opera deals with a similar subject to Madama Butterfly.
Edward Said explores notions of Post-Colonialism in the exotic perspectives of Verdi’s Aida. See Edward
W. Said “The Imperial Spectacle (Aida),” Grand Street 6/2 (1987): 82-104.

exoticism from his predecessors. Puccini’s exotic perspective is quite different than that
of his predecessors, however. The geographic domain of exoticism expanded during the
spread of colonialism in Western society. In the eighteenth century, Near Eastern
countries such as Turkey, or Middle Eastern nations such as Egypt, were the main locus
of exoticist fantasy for Westerners. In the late nineteenth century, the sites of interest
shifted to the Far East. The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867 introduced aesthetic
works from Japan and China that impressed Europeans.4 In Japan, intercultural
exchanges between West and East were also taking place. During the period of the Meiji
Restoration (1868-1912), the image of the West was synonymous with notions of the
New World Order in which Japan was encouraged to play a part. The introduction of
western music to Japan at the time resulted in a surprising westernization of Japanese
music.5 Thus, from a cosmopolitan perspective, the late nineteenth century saw the initial
establishment of a new kind of intercultural transmission6 between the West and the Far
East (to Japan first and later to China and Korea).
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly represents one of the most successful productions
(among many others) to explore this aesthetic trend from the perspective of modern
cosmopolitanism. Puccini introduced his Western audiences to Japanese culture and
music through a distinctly western lens. Yet, as the westernization of music in the Far
East was taking place, Madama Butterfly represented and introduced the Italian operatic
tradition to Far Eastern audiences. Moreover, Japanese folk tunes and melodies that were
inspired by Puccini’s imagined Japan are spread throughout the opera. They coexist with
the Western tonal language and, in so doing, recall French Impressionism. Ultimately the
exoticist aspects of Madama Butterly successfully present the concepts of the “other” and

See Budden (2002), 229. The 1889 and 1990 Exposition Universelle introduced composers such as
Debussy to Balinese, Javanese, Chinese and Japanese music.
See Yayoi Uno Everett and Frederick Lau, eds. Locating East Asia in Western Art Music (Middletown,
CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004), xvi. This book is a collection of essays that center on the
intercultural fusion of postwar Eastern and Western music. Also see Robert C. Provine, Yosihiko
Tokumaru, and J. Wawrence Wistzleben, eds. “East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea,” The Garland
Encyclopedia of World Music, vol. 7 (New York: Garland Pub., 2002), 533-65.
In the thirteenth century, Marco Polo and his The Travels of Marco Polo presented the earliest known
cultural exchange between the West and Far East. In the seventeenth century, Western missionaries came to
the Far East to advocate Western culture and music for missionary purposes. These are examples of early
cultural transmissions that represent only the interests of a small group in discovering and exploring the
less familiar side of the world. The major intercultural transmissions between West and Far East took place
in the late nineteenth century.

the “foreigner” to its audiences of various nationalities (including Italian, Japanese, and
American.) Puccini’s ability to engage and bring these new Eastern-inspired ideas to
traditional Italian opera allowed him to show his contemporaries that it was possible for
the Italian musical language to incorporate worldwide subjects into its grand tradition.7 In
another way, as the “global village” becomes a household notion (enabled by the
development of internet communication), operas such as Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and
Turandot establish a model of cultural fusion for others to follow. Puccini’s works
present a successful paradigm for bridging the gaps between Far Eastern and Western

2. The Story of Madama Butterfly

The story originates from John Luther Long, an American lawyer and writer. It
was published in 1898 and adapted into a play of the same title by David Belasco. Long
claims the story was taken from a true historical event. Yet, many of the scenes are
modeled on Pierre Loti’s novel, Madame Chrysanthème (1887), that covered the same
subject.8 The story takes place in Nagasaki, Japan, and depicts a love affair between an
American naval lieutenant, B. F. Pinkerton, and a Japanese geisha, Butterfly (Cho-Cho-
San).9 Pinkerton, the male lead, desires a temporary matrimonial arrangement in Japan.
Through a Japanese marriage broker, Goro, he weds the geisha, Butterfly, and believes
that in spite of the validity of this foreign marriage, Japanese law gives him the liberty to
abandon the spousal relationship at any time. Thus, he plans to marry an American girl as

Puccini’s initial inspiration for Madama Butterfly came from his visit to London, where he attended the
opening night performance of Tosca as well as David Belasco’s play Madam Butterfly. Puccini himself
knew no English but was fascinated by the visual stimulus of Belasco’s play. Returning to Italy, he
requested permission to use the story and collaborated with his librettists Illica and Giacosa to adapt the
play for the opera stage. Perhaps it can be said that Puccini’s response to the visual images of Belasco’s
play inspired his creation of the opera. His subsequent production of The Girl of the Golden West (La
fanciulla del West) also came from a Belasco-inspired theatrical production. Yet, it was also Puccini’s
interest in diverse topics that led to his writing Madama Butterfly and Turandot. See Phillips-Matz (2002),
Loti’s novel is based on his experience in Japan where he saw foreigners temporarily married to Japanese
and the matrimonial relationship expired by the time the husbands left the country. See Carner (1958), 261-
63. See also Budden (2002), 229; Phillips-Matz (2002), 124.
Cho-Cho means Butterfly in Japanese. See Budden (2002), 230.

a “real” wife upon his return to his own country. Butterfly, the female lead, believes their
wedding oath is valid by American law in spite of the fact that the ceremony takes place
in Japan. She is never aware of Pinkerton’s motivation. Later, according to plan,
Pinkerton leaves Butterfly. Yet, before he leaves, he promises her that he will return by
the time the robins build their nests. Butterfly holds onto his words and constantly
watches for spring, when the robins nest. Three years pass and the robins still do not
bring Pinkerton back. Butterfly remains faithful to Pinkerton and doubts the seasons,
believing that robins build their nests in Japan differently than in America and that is the
reason for the delay in Pinkerton’s homecoming.
During this time, Goro, the marriage broker, suggests that Butterfly should make
another marriage arrangement. The American consul Sharpless, a friend of Pinkerton’s,
encourages her to accept a proposal from Prince Yamadori. Butterfly rejects all these
proposals. She bears a son by Pinkerton and pleads with Sharpless to bring Pinkerton
back to Japan. But when Pinkerton returns, he comes with his American wife, Kate.
When Pinkerton arrives at the home, it is to take his son with him. Realizing her
American dream will never be fulfilled, Butterfly allows her son to give up his Japanese
identity honorably by committing hara-kiri.
The premiere took place on 17 February 1904 at La Scala. The audience’s
reaction resulted in a historic fiasco.10 Most of the critiques were extremely harsh.11 Yet,
like many of Puccini’s operas, Madama Butterfly was soon transformed into a triumph.
As with all his operas, Puccini revised Madama Butterfly several times, each time
improving its reception. It is now the fourth revision that is typically performed.12
Madama Butterfly is currently one of the primary pillars of the operatic repertoire. It is so
iconic that the Broadway musical Miss Saigon was directly derived from Puccini’s

For a detailed description of the audience’s reception to the opera at its La Scala opening, see Ashbrook
(1968), 95-110. Other relevant resources can also be found in Budden (2002), 223-43; Philips-Matz (2002),
For details pertaining to the initial dreadful reception and its later success, see Mosco Carner. Madam
Butterfly: A Guide to the Opera. (London: Breslich & Foss, 1979), 10-21. Phillips-Matz (2002), 143-45;
For detailed descriptions of musical materials added to or dropped from each revision, see Carner
(1979), 68-86; Budden (2002), 223-273; Ashbrook (1968), 110-24. Also, some of Puccini’s letters to
Toscanini discuss changes of scenes. See Phillips-Matz (2002), 151-55.

work,13 and Madama Butterfly is still one of the most frequently produced operas on
stages around the world.14

3. Style – Mixing the Diatonic with the Exotic

(1). Yin and Yang

The musical style of Madama Butterfly differs from previous operas in that it
incorporates Japanese Yin and Yang scales (and their saturation with perfect 5ths)15 to
produce the atmospheric effects of Puccini’s envisioning of Japan. These Yin and Yang
scales are listed in the following.16

See Phillips-Matz (2002), 124. The musical Miss Saigon won the 1991 Tony Award and is still
performed in theaters worldwide. See (accessed
March 19, 2008).
It was one of the most frequently produced operas in North America in 2006-2007, see (accessed March 19, 2008).
While these are common Japanese scales, I drew them directly from Ichikawa Toshiharu. Ying and Yang
Scales. Music for Junior High School Students 1 (Tokyo: Kyoiku Geijutsu Shuppan, 2001), 74. Also, the
Japanese Yang scale is identical to the so-called Pentatonic scale in Chinese music. I use Yang instead of
pentatonic here to specify the Japanese system.
In order to show the components of Yin and Yang scales and their relationship to diatonicism, I apply set
class labels and their super/sub-set relations as an ancillary analytic tool here. Obviously, only a few SC are
actually involved in the discussion (listed below). This small excursion into set class demonstrates the link
between Japanese scales, the Western diatonic scale, and French Impressionistic sonorities; it thus helps to
demonstrate how these sonorities coexist side by side and are interrelated in the musical structure. The SC
name and the interval vectors for the most frequently appearing collections are listed below. Notice: (1).
The collection represented in the Yin scale contains two interval-class 1s (m2) and 1 interval-class 6
(A4/D5); (2). The Yang scale contains no interval-class 1 (m2) and no interval-class 6 (A4/D5); (3). A
comparison of the interval vectors of the Yin and Yang scales shows that Yin includes more dissonant
intervals than Yang. (4). The Yang scale’s SC 5-35 is complement related to the diatonic collection SC 7-
35; (5). The Yang scale SC 5-35 is a subset of the extended Yang scale, which is saturated with 5ths (SC 6-
32); (6). These three SCs—5-35, 6-32 and 7-35—show strong diatonic characteristics and are closely
related. (7). As Yang is closely related to the diatonic and Yin is quite unique, it can be said that Yin
represents Japan more distinctly than does Yang.
Also, when discussing the French impressionists, one must refer to Debussy who was a major
influence for most composers around Puccini’s time. Michael Safflee uses an Impressionist model to
discuss the exotic harmony in Puccini’s La fanciulla del West and Turandot. See Michael Saffle, “Exotic
Harmony in La fanciulla del West and Turandot,” ed., Jürgen Maehder, 119-30. Proceedings of the Prima
Convegna Internazionale sull’opera di Giacomo Puccini in Torre del Lago, Italy. Pisa: Giardini, 1983.
Debussy’s “La fille aux cheveux de lin” includes the frequent interaction of SC’s 5-35, 6-32 and 7-35.
Thus, it is clear that these three set classes are also indicative of Debussy’s impressionistic style. Perhaps
Puccini received inspiration from Debussy and applied these sonorities into his own compositions.

Location Scale/triad SC Interval Vector

Yin scale 5-20 (01568) 211231
Yang scale 5-35 (02479) 032140
Extended Yin (saturated with 5ths) 6-Z25 (013568) 233241
Japan Extended Yang (saturated with 5ths) 6-32 (024579) 143250

Example 4.1: Yin scale saturated with 5ths

Example 4.2: Yang scale and its extended version (saturated with 5ths)

(2). Exotic Melodies

Puccini uses the American National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” to link
Pinkerton to America. Other melodies used for Pinkerton and Sharpless are based on
western diatonic writing. Meanwhile, Butterfly and instances of local Japanese color are
mostly associated with the Japanese National Anthem and Japanese folk-tunes that are set
with Yin and Yang scales. A majority of the Japanese folk-tunes that Puccini adopted are
listed in example 4.3. Scrutinizing the structure of these Japanese folk-tunes, it is
apparent that they are derived from the Yin and Yang systems. 17

Western Diatonic scale 7-35 (013568T) 254361

Aug. triad 3-12 (048) 000300
French Whole tone scale 6-35 (02468T) 060603
Impressionist Octatonic scale 8-28 (0134679T) 448444
For more on atonal theory, see Joseph N. Straus, Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory, 2nd Ed. (New Jersey:
Prentice Hall, 2000).
Japanese folk-tunes No. 1 – 8 derive from Keizo Horiuchi’s study. See his Madama Butterfly (Tokyo:
Ongaku-no-tomosha, 1979), 10-11. No. 9 is taken from Carner (1936), 52. Each tune cited here shows the

Example 4.3: Japanese folk-tunes

portion that Puccini uses for the opera but not the entire length of the piece. Besides, within these nine
tunes, No. 1-8 show the actual Japanese Yin/Yang system. No. 9 is an exception as it contains a 4.
Although the 4 here acts as a non-functional passing tone, its existence invalidates the Yang system. Thus,
No. 9 excludes SC description, but it should be known that it relates to a Yang scale. Moreover, the three
songs that are based on the Yin scale (No. 1, 3, and 4) mostly take place in Act I, where Pinkerton is in
Japan. The emphasis on Yin structure in Act I distinguishes the national identities of America and Japan in
the two lead characters. This is due to the fact that from a SC perspective the Yin scale is quite distinct
from the diatonic system. The Yang structure folk tunes often take place in Act II, Parts I and II, in which
Pinkerton is absent (he appears in Act II, part II only). The Yang scale is much closer to the diatonic scale
and thus represents Butterfly’s “American” influenced after the departure of Pinkerton.

Example 4.3 - Continued

(3). Impressionist Harmony and Other Unconventional Harmonic Configurations

From the harmonic perspective, a Western diatonic treatment serves as the
fundamental support for the “exotic” sounds of the Japanese folk-tunes and Puccini’s
manufactured “Japanese” melodies. The tonal language is not limited to typical

convention, however. Rather, it is modified to make room for French impressionist
harmonies to play a part. Certainly impressionist influences consistently appeared in
Puccini’s musical writing prior to Madama Butterfly; yet, the impressionist harmony
plays an even more significant role than in the earlier operas, and Puccini often uses it to
express dramatic meaning. For instance, the whole tonal collection depicts the highly
charged moment when uncle Bonzo angrily leaves Butterfly’s house with the chorus
echoing his departure (I/09/1).18 This tune mirrors the negative dynamic of the scene and
continues to hold that connotation when it recurs later.

Example 4.4: Whole tone collection 19

Moreover, the impressionist harmony combines with conventional diatonic

harmony to create a dreamy atmosphere as in the scene of Butterfly’s entrance (I/39). In
addition to incorporating impressionist elements, Puccini modifies the diatonic language
by adding extra notes to tonal triads in order to better reflect the dramatic needs of the
story. For instance, dominant often resolves to a tonic with an added sixth (henceforth,
I+6) to weaken the sense of closer and create an extra degree of voice-leading
smoothness.20 Act I, for instance, ends on a I+6, ultimately pointing towards Butterfly’s
eventual tragedy. As Carner states: “the curtain descending on a chord [I+6] sounds less
like a conclusion than a question to which the future will provide the answer.”21 Puccini
also uses the I+6 to close Act II, part 2. The inconclusive ending is reminiscent of the
tragedy found throughout the opera. It foreshadows Butterfly’s isolation from others and
builds to her death, although the hara-kiri suicide does not seem to be the conclusion of

See musical synopsis for details.
Budden calls it the “rejection” motif. See Budden (2002), 255.
This type of harmonic progression often occurs in Jazz to create a smooth connection and avoid an
absolute ending.
Carner (1979), 56.

her story. Instead, it represents a necessary step in her life. She realizes her Japanese
identity cannot be eliminated, but through her hands she can help her son to give it away.
Indeed, it is only her death that allows her son to relinquish his Japanese identity. On the
other hand, although Butterfly enters into the unknown, she seems to continue to live
through her, now thoroughly American, son.22

(4). The Coexistence of Japanese and Western Melodies

Japanese folksongs and Western diatonic melodies often coexist side by side to
portray the two distinct cultures. One such example is in II/33, when Butterfly describes
the difference between Japanese and American laws, while the audience hears alternating
tunes from both countries’ national anthems. On one hand, Puccini’s musical writing
subtly connects two distinct, but related melodies (diatonic and Japanese melodies). On
the other hand, since the two melodies never merge and are associated with distinct
national identities (western diatonicism and Japanese folk-tunes), the message is
conveyed that the two cultures are incapable of blending. This coexistence subtly
illustrates the relationship between the male and female leads. Butterfly is willing to give
up her Japanese identity to become an American (that is, the Yin and Yang melodies can
be supported by diatonicism). She fails because she does not realize that her Japanese
heritage is immutable. Unless she accepts her own identity and position in relation to the
American (so that Yin and Yang can fuse with diatonicism), she can only live in her
imaginary American world; she will be an outsider to both cultural groups. Yet, Butterfly
does not know this at the beginning of her relationship with Pinkerton. Blindly, she puts
all her hopes in him (the foreigner as represented by diatonicism) and believes he will
transform her Japanese identity and accept her without reservation. However, Pinkerton
is never aware of Butterfly’s intention. His tune is full of diatonicism and excludes the
Japanese scales, since Pinkerton’s acquaintance with Butterfly, and the Japanese culture
she represents, is merely a surface knowledge and, in any event, his relationship to her is
only valid during the period of their marriage contract. Indeed, according to the

The deaths of three female Puccini leads, from Mimì and Tosca to Butterfly, represent different thematic
meanings. Mimì dies with an octave descent that takes place before the opera ends. Her early death
signifies that she is somehow a feminine image that is projected by Rodolfo. Tosca dies with a v-i cadence,
and joins Cavaradossi with finality. Only Butterfly’s death is represented by the inconclusive I+6.

conventions for this type of marriage, Pinkerton is right to assume that Butterfly
understands that the matrimonial relationship will end by the time he returns to America.
He has no desire to be Butterfly’s rescuer or to play a part in Japanese society. The
coexistence of the two types of distinctive music makes this point clear.

4. The Inside Outsider

Carner has stated that for Butterfly “The catastrophe is the inevitable corollary of
the geisha’s character; because she is what she is, she cannot act otherwise than she
does.”23 Carner’s words leave room for discussion as, to a certain extent, the character of
the geisha is not a fixed entity. It is true that Butterfly’s resistance to her role as a geisha
causes a catastrophe, but Butterfly herself does not wish to be a geisha.24 She realizes this
and attempts to pursue a better life, demonstrating that Butterfly possesses a strength of
character that distinguishes her from Puccini’s other heroines.25 However, life does not
offer her better choices. At first, it is Butterfly who does not recognize her own identity,
and her desire to become a member of the “other” causes her initial injury. From that
point on, however, the unfolding of the tragedy is inevitable.26
Scrutinizing what life offers her, returning to being a geisha or accepting
Yamadori’s proposal will lead to predictable tragedies. Only Pinkerton, the idealized
symbol of the American, brings her hope (this also shows the exotic trend of the time in
that the “others,” such as Pinkerton, represent fanciful adventure and escape from an
undesired existence). In this regard, Butterfly’s choices are understandable; yet, she puts
her faith in the wrong person. Pinkerton certainly represents no better salvation than
Yamadori. His Western, easy-going manner is misinterpreted by Butterfly, because such

Carner (1958), 366.
The lyric in I/45 is “e abbiam fatto la ghescia per sostentarci. Vero?” — “and we worked as geishas to
support ourselves. True?” Castel (1994), 1:307.
For instance, Mimì has no distinct identity but represents a particular image of the feminine. Tosca lives
in naïve bliss and knows nothing beyond the borders of her world. Only Butterfly aggressively pursues her
desires and, failing in that pursuit, she dies.
Carner provides a good description of Butterfly’s tragedy by stating that “Butterfly has no real
antagonists: Pinkerton is no more than a catalyst to set the tragedy in motion, and the remaining characters
are satellites revolving round Butterfly’s planet—lay figures who serve only to intensify the tense,
quivering humanity of the little heroine” see Carner (1958), 366.

a manner is not customary in her native surroundings.27 She thus puts her full trust in
Pinkerton and believes he will repay her in an equal manner. It is ultimately her
realization of her mistake and her hope for a better life for her son that causes her to take
on another unknown—death. It thus becomes clear that the character of Butterfly will not
follow convention. This strength of character distinguishes her from other feminine
characters in Puccini (and elsewhere) and identifies her as the “inside outsider” of her
Butterfly is musically characterized in three stages (Blind Bride, Japanese
identity, and Death) vividly portraying her internal drama and showing her status as an
outsider from different perspectives. It starts with her status as a child-like bride at her
entrance in Act I. Contrasted with Pinkerton’s rationality and the Japanese surroundings,
Butterfly already appears to be an outsider at her wedding. “Un bel dì” (II.1/12) reveals
her to be unconsciously holding on to her inherent Japanese identity after three years of
marriage to her white husband. Here she becomes an outsider to her own true identity.
Finally, she cannot resist her own identity in life, but in killing herself, she not only is
able to abolish her Japanese identity, but also she releases her son to be an American:
“Tu? Piccolo Iddio!” (II.2/53). Ironically, she is most Japanese in the chosen method of
her suicide; she is, for once, an insider.

(1). The Out-of-Place Bride

The three sequential passages in Act I—Butterfly’s entrance, Pinkerton’s delight
after matrimony, and the couple’s duet in the yard vividly project the blindness that seeds
Butterfly’s catastrophe.

1). Butterfly’s entrance in I/39 – an out-of-place sequence

This entrance is a sequential passage sung by Butterfly and the chorus. The
harmonies demonstrate the Impressionist influence in the whole tone scale, which serves

See scenes I/111 and I/126 where Pinkerton soothes the sorrow caused by her family, and Butterfly tells
Pinkerton that she is attracted by his open manner. These scenes show how it is that Butterfly would
misunderstand Pinkerton. Even if her Japanese compatriots had warned her that Pinkerton was insincere,
his respectful behavior and his Western identity (the “other”) makes Butterfly trust him.

as the underlying collection here. The underlying bass is an ascending stepwise whole-
tone scale wherein each step supports a major triad.28 Between each major triad, Puccini
inserts an augmented triad to support semitonal voice leading in the inner voices. The
augmented triads act as a vertical link to the whole-tone scale in the bass, ultimately
producing a dream-like atmosphere reflecting Butterfly’s misguided naïveté.29 The
libretto adds to the dreamy atmosphere, with Butterfly describing herself as the happiest
girl in Japan.

Example 4.5: Butterfly’s dream-like entrance

2). Pinkerton’s matrimonial joy – a diatonic sequence

Pinkerton’s music also employs a sequence directly after the marriage (I/92/14-
24). It differs from Butterfly’s dreamy whole-tone music, but reflecting Pinkerton’s
rationalism in conventional diatonicism.

Puccini had attended the performance of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande at the Opéra Comique in Paris
in 1903. Puccini may have been influenced by Debussy’s use of tone color and harmony. He may have
consequently applied Debussy’s stylistic mannerisms to Madama Butterfly. See Ashbrook (1968), 122.
The SC of a French-augmented-sixth chord is (0246), which is also a highly symmetrical subset of the
whole-tone scale.

Example 4.6: Pinkerton’s diatonic sequence

This sequence occurs within two parallel melodic phrases that are related by a major 3rd.
Harmonically, each articulates a typical falling 5th pattern. The typical harmonic
treatment demonstrates that Pinkerton’s marriage will not disrupt his Western routine and

3). Butterfly and Pinkerton’s duet – a recurrence of Butterfly’s dream

Butterfly’s whole-tone sequence returns in I/134/1-8, where she takes over the
main melody to describe her ecstasy in looking at the sky, while Pinkerton ardently calls
her to join him. The scene is mostly sung by Butterfly, for the role of Pinkerton here is no
more than a catalyst to set her dream into motion. He excludes himself from Butterfly’s
ecstasy, only joining her at the end of the whole tone scale, in F. From that point, diatonic
harmony replaces the whole tone sonorities and both leads sing of their delight in being a
couple. The return of the diatonicism clarifies that Pinkerton never intends to become a
member of Butterfly’s impressionistic dream. He lets Butterfly touch upon his diatonic
world and yet remains outside of Butterfly’s. This musical juxtaposition of Butterfly’s

ecstasy with Pinkerton’s diatonic rationality signals the heroine’s initial departure from
reality, and it is this forced separation from the realities of Japanese identity that
constitutes the focus of the remainder of the opera.

Example 4.7: Butterfly and Pinkerton’s duet

(2). Considerations of identity

The tragedy unfolds in Act II. Here Butterfly believes herself to be American. She
calls herself “an American wife” and her house an “American home where Jesus is
adored.” Puccini’s music, however, demonstrates that she cannot completely reject her
Japanese identity. Her music in Act II is particularly noteworthy in this respect. In the
aria “Un bel dì” (II.1/12), the Yin and Yang scales subtly control the melodic structure.30
The Japanese folk tune, Suiryo-bushi (No.8), serves as the basis for “Che tua madre”
(II.1/55), revealing Butterfly’s inescapable Japanese identity. Even if Butterfly considers
herself to be American, she remains fundamentally Japanese. Indeed, she can never
achieve the wished-for American identity or even a fusion of Japanese and American’s
identities. Her American identity can be seen as pure fantasy, a dream conjured from
fervently Japanese wishes.
The only moment in which Butterfly makes a successful attempt at a Western
tune takes place in the “Tu? Piccolo Iddio!” (II.2/53) Here, she expresses her anguish
through b-harmonic minor with chromatic embellishments. This is the moment that she

See later aria analysis for details.

realizes that she cannot escape her Japanese identity in real life. Yet, she understands that
through her own death she can free her son of his Japanese identity. The opera ends with
the recurring Japanese folk tune (No.8) to accompany Butterfly’s suicide. In the deepest
of tragic ironies, the moment in which she finally kills her identity is also the moment in
which she is most identified as Japanese. The falling curtain goes beyond marking the
end of the opera to demonstrate how Butterfly and her son are no longer tied to a
Japanese identity, but are now free to enter into the unknown.

Musical Synopsis – Madama Butterfly31

For a description of my Musical Synopsis, please see Chapter 1 (pp. 36-37).

Butterfly: “Un bel dì”

As mentioned earlier, Butterfly is a uniquely tragic heroine who continuously

stands center stage as she follows her inevitable path toward catastrophe. From scene to
scene, she and her supporting characters participate in this slow but unflappable
trajectory. The causes are many, one of the major ones being her attempt to abandon her
inherent Japanese identity,32 shown by her acceptance of an intercultural marriage with
Pinkerton and her conversion to Christianity before the wedding ceremony. Butterfly is
faithful to Pinkerton and believes that by being his wife she will successfully transform
her Japanese identity into an American one. This does not, of course, coincide with
reality. Pinkerton never considers her to be a real American wife. Others still see past the
“Americanized” façade and recognize her as a Japanese woman; even before the wedding
they all predict Butterfly will soon be abandoned. The marriage only gives Butterfly an
excuse to isolate herself as she observes those who are peripheral to her dream. Her
strong desire to become a member of the “others” is incomprehensible to her fellow
Japanese.33 It is this longing for “other” status, however, that is the critical instigator of
her departure from reality. As Clément points out, from the moment of the wedding scene
it is clear that there is “some curse surrounding her.”34 The curse is the blindness that
keeps her in her hypothetical world.
Despite the intercultural marriage, Butterfly is never able to abandon her Japanese
identity, instead, she remains in an uncomfortable musical and dramatic limbo between
the Japanese world and her imagined America. The juxtapositions of Japanese identity
and the American fantasy are musically displayed in the structure of Butterfly’s aria “Un
bel dì.” The aria takes place at the beginning of Part I, Act II. At this moment, Pinkerton

There are some other factors that lead to Butterfly’s catastrophe, such as her anomalous faith in
Pinkerton. As Ashbrook has stated “...Butterfly’s tragedy is not just that she is Pinkerton’s victim; rather,
her faithfulness is an anomaly even in her own culture. Her attitude is incomprehensible to Goro and to
Yamadori” (1968), 117. From my perspective, Butterfly’s faithfulness to Pinkerton has to do with the fact
that she misunderstands Pinkerton’s Western motivations and misinterprets his intentions. She sees him as
the rescuer that will help her escape her Japanese identity. Unlike Goro and Yamadori, who understand
Pinkerton’s unfortunate motives, Butterfly blindly believes her marriage with Pinkerton is valid. She
remains faithful to her real husband and she instructs others to call her Madama Pinkerton.
It seems likely that her poor family and role as a geisha cause her desire to be a member of the “others,”
and hypothetical notion is in no way explored explicitly in the opera.
See Clément (1988), 45.

has been gone for three years and it does not appear that he will return. Suzuki worries
about their financial position, but Butterfly insists Pinkerton will return soon. The libretto
portrays Butterfly’s fantasy pertaining to her first meeting with Pinkerton after three
years apart.35 The music reveals the coexistence of Japanese and diatonic components
and displays that Butterfly’s imaginary American world has been created by a Japanese
fantasy. It clarifies that she has never given up her Japanese identity as she has wished.
This aria sheds light on Puccini’s craftsmanship in modifying Japanese musical style and
blending it with the Western diatonic. The distinctive Japanese sound intelligibly portrays
how Butterfly, after she has claimed herself to be Madama Pinkerton, retains her
Japanese character. She does not become an American after all.

1. Structure of “Un bel dì”

The formal structure of this aria follows a rondo-type scheme “A—Trans.—B—

Trans.—B’—A—C—A.” The A section starts in Gb, then moves to f minor in the B and
B’ sections, and returns to Gb in A-C-A. Within this key relationship, the fundamental
line depicts an unusual double neighbor motion where the tonic functions as a relatively

static primary tone that only shifts to the 1^ and 3^ of f minor (also indicated as 7^ and 2^ in

Gb major) and returns to the 1^ in Gb major. Sections in Gb major typically employ

diatonic melodies, while sections in f minor (also vii in Gb) cling to the Japanese Yin and
Yang system. On the deeper levels, this key relation portrays a motion of I-vii-I in Gb,
mirroring the relationship between the ”American” (diatonic) outer major sections
(beginning and ending) as they are somehow created by Butterfly’s Japanese fantasy. In
the meantime, the interior minor sections (the middle) show the world of Japan (with Yin
and Yang) that confirms Butterfly’s inherently Japanese character. This juxtaposition
metaphorically relates to Butterfly. She wears the title of wife of an American, lives in
what she calls an American house; yet, inside she still adheres to her Japanese character.
Because each section varies in the degree to which it explores the Japanese components,

For translations, see Castel (1994), 1:333-34.

the aria reveals that the Japanese lies behind all of the music, showing how Butterfly
employs Japanese fantasy to invent Pinkerton’s homecoming scene.

Table 4.1: The overall structure of “Un bel dì”

Sections A Trans. B Trans. B’ A C A

Location II.1/12 II.1/12 II.1/13 II.1/13 II.1/14 II.1/15 II.1/15 II.1/16
Measures 1-8 9-18 1-12 13-18 1-11 1-8 9-13 1-9
Key Gb Gb-f f f f Gb Gb Gb
^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^
Urlinie (Gb) 1 7 2 1 1 (Nature) 1
Ursatz I III-vii vii vii vii I VI I
Japanese Yang with Yang with Japanese Yang with
Component saturated 5th Yin Yang Yang Yang saturated 5th Interval saturated 5th

2. Sectional Detail

(1). A section

Figure 4.1: Butterfly: “Un bel dì” (A section: II.1/12/1-8)36

Detailed discussion of my linear methodology can be found in the introductory chapter and chapter 1.

From a deeper structural perspective, the initial eight measures (II.1/12/1-8)
firmly establish the Gb tonic key with the harmonies I-vi-V-V7-I. This well-constructed
progression affirms Butterfly’s belief that Pinkerton will return. This harmonic
progression supports a tonic octave descent in melody. This tonic octave descent subtly
paints the text that describes Butterfly standing on the top of the hill and looking down to
the Nagasaki harbor. From the sea edge, the rising smoke appears on the horizon. A ship
appears and is approaching the harbor. Slowly and gradually, the ship gets closer. It is
Pinkerton’s ship. He is back to Japan. Not only will the ship gradually progress closer,
but Butterfly’s “American” heart will slowly descend to greet her husband.

The octave descent includes a weak 4^, located in the bass (II.1/12/5), where the

local harmonic motion is a passing 64 moving to a viiø7. The placement of 4^ in the bass

opens a melodic space for the melody of the Yang scale (saturated with 5ths) to be

inserted into this diatonic realm. The coexistence of the weak 4^ and the Yang scale subtly
divides the realms of America and Japan, as located in the two respective registers. In one
way, they constrain themselves, staying in their own space and not interacting with each
other. In another way, the insertion of the Yang here reminds us of Butterfly’s inherent
Japanese character.37 The 5th-saturated Yang scale ends on m. 6 (II.1/12) announcing the
^ as supported by iii and i6. On a deeper structural level, this entire passage is
arrival of 3,
under the control of a V prolongation (see graphs). From the dualist perspective, ii, vii
and V all belong to the same functional motion. As the V is P5 related to the tonic (I), the
use of the dominant in the background to support the Yang scale sheds light on Puccini’s
craftsmanship in carefully collecting all sonorities that include a strong representation of
the P5 into a single group. In other words, this P5th-related harmonic treatment absorbs
the Yang while also keeping it distinct from the motion of V to I. Dramatically, the
sustained V portrays the ship in motion on the edge of the horizon, and when it resolves
into I, it completes the A section with the ship’s arrival.

Because the Yang scale is so closely related to the diatonic scale, its insertion here may show Butterfly’s
unconscious projection of her Japanese character (see footnote 13 for further discussion). Indeed, it can be
difficult to determine when the diatonic scales end and the Yang scale starts, since they carry so many
pitches in common. Here, the melodic motion portrays a strong Japanese character (the melody here closely
relates to the melody in the B’ section, Japanese realm) and the lyric implies a ship as it approaches Japan.

(2). Transition

Figure 4.2: Butterfly: “Un bel dì” (Transition: II.1/12/9-18)

In the transitional passage, the key shifts from Gb to f using Bb-minor (iii/Gb and
iv/f) as a pivot. The shifting of the keys coincides with the drama, which describes
Pinkerton in motion between the harbor and the house. The iv/f goes on to connect to the
tonic of f minor. Both iv and i support an identical melodic pattern and thus creates a
short falling 5th sequence. This sequential melody includes fragments from the Yin scale.
Indeed, the tune here recalls a familiar melody from the Japanese folk song, Oedo
Nihonbashi, (No. 4).

Example 4.8: Opening of the Oedo Nihonbashi

This appearance of the Japanese melody signals the entry into the Japanese realm. The
progression remains harmonically static after the f-minor tonic. It only moves to an

implied upper neighbor i- ii65 - i. The stationary quality subtly coincides with the meaning

of the text, which portrays Butterfly as static and unable to go down to see Pinkerton. She
says she would rather wait. Her melodic pattern on the words, “Io no” – “I no,” is made
by the Japanese melodic idea that Carner has defined to be “[Puccini’s] favorite Japanese
melodic pattern.”38 The primary component of this motive is the distinct tritone relation
that Carner interprets to be the “disabolus in musica,” which he claims appears frequently
in exotic writing.39 The tritone shows distance and thus seems to represent “others” (as
suggested by the exoticist trope) in music. In another way, however, the use of the tritone
here subtly reflects the Yin scale. As discussed earlier, the Yin and Yang scales differ
from each other in that the Yin includes the minor second and tritone intervals, while the
Yang does not. Also, the Yang is the abstract complement of the diatonic scale, while the
Yin is not. Thus, the Yin is more distinctly representative of the Japanese sound than the
Yang. The employment of the tritone from the Yin in this transition recalls this distinctly
Japanese scale, preparing audiences for the entrance of the Japanese realm that follows.
The drama coincides with the music, depicting Butterfly’s ritualistic Japanese character
(she won’t go to see Pinkerton, but waits for him to come to her).

Carner (1936), 53.
Ibid., 54.

(3). B section—Transition—B’ section

Figure 4.3: Butterfly: “Un bel dì” (B section—Transition—B’ section: II.1/13/1 to


The melody in the B section is largely based on the Yang scale “Ab-Bb-C-Eb-F”
as supported by the key of Db. The use of the Yang here shows how this section

represents the Japanese realm. Here, it is the tonic of F (which is 7^ in Gb major) that is
^ In
prolonged from II.1/13/1 to the B’ section in II.1/14/1 where the melody approaches 3.
the meantime, the bass shows a large-scale motion from i6 to i. The interaction of melody

and bass shows a large-scale voice exchange that links the B and B’ in a smooth manner.
Within the B section, a i-III-V harmonic motion confirms the key of f with the V
resolving to i in the following B’ section.

In the B section, melody arpeggiates up to 5^ of f minor, which is then prolonged

^ 4-
^ 6-
^ 5).
^ The harmonic progression underpinning this double
through double neighbors (5-

neighbor is i6 and a neighbor chord, iiø43. The static harmonic rhythm here corresponds to

the Butterfly’s waiting for Pinkerton. The two alternating chords recall a similar
harmonic treatment from Suzuki’s prayer scene (II.1/3), where she sings “E Izaghi ed
Izanami.” This tune derives from the Japanese folk tune “Takai yama kara” (No. 5), and

its accompaniment is also based on two alternating chords—i and ii43. There, they fall

above a tonic-dominant alternation in the bass.

Example 4.9: The adaptation of “Takai yama kara” into “E Izaghi ed Izanami”

The similar harmonic treatment not only reveals the B-section’s invocation of the
Japanese realm, but also implies the prayer from her Japanese gods—E Izaghi and
Izanami, who Suzuki has asked to let Butterfly weep no more. The implication is that
inside Butterfly lies her Japanese heritage. Even if she converted to Christianity before
the wedding, this heritage continues to shine forth. The two alternating chords are

followed by i64-iiø65- i. This time the harmony sets the story in motion and corresponds

with the text: “E... uscito dalla folla cittadina un uomo” — “And coming from the crowd
of the city, a man.” 40
The following transition also imitates the text, which portrays “un picciol punto
s’avvia per la collina.” — “a tiny dot starts up the hill” through the harmonic progression
i-iii-V.41 Puccini again employs the Yang scale here to show how the scene is supported
by Butterfly’s Japanese fantasy. The transition ends on V/f where the lyric refers to the
hilltop. This V then resolves to I in the B’ section where Butterfly asks “C hi sarà? Che
dirà?”—“Who can it be? What will he say?”42 The use of I to support a question is not
unusual in Puccini (see, for example, Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte”). Here the tonic represents a
static motion that maintains Butterfly’s ecstasy and demonstrates her Japanese character
in her attempt to hide her emotion.43 His arrival at the house finally closes the Japanese
realm before the music returns to the diatonic world. The B’ section ends in the pivot
chord, VI/f or the dominant to Gb.

Castel (1994), 1:334.
For a discussion of Japanese character, see Fred N. Kerlinger, “Behavior and Personality in Japan: A
Critique of Three Studies of Japanese Personality,” Social Forces 31/3 (Mar. 1953): 250-58.

(4). A—C –A sections

Figure 4.4: Butterfly: “Un bel dì” (A—C—A sections: II.1/15/1 to II.1/16/9)

1). Return of the A section

The A section recurs in the II.1/15/1-8 to signify a return to the diatonic world.
The text here pertains to Pinkerton’s arrival at the house and his calling out to Butterfly,
reminding us of the slow arrival by boat suggested in the first A section. The Yang scale
(II.1/15/4-6) again supports Butterfly’s Japanese identity, and supports the text “piccina
mogliettina, olezzo di verbena” — “tiny little wife, perfume of verbena.”44 She reflects
that “little wife” is the name Pinkerton reserved for her: “I nomi che mi dava al suo
venire” — “the name that he gave me when he came.”45 The memory, as confirmed by

Castel (1994), 1:334.

the V-I progression, concludes her fantasy of Pinkerton. It also ends Butterfly’s

2). C section
In the C section, the text reaffirms Butterfly’s faith in Pinkerton’s return. The
deeper harmonic structure shows a prolongation of the submediant chord, vi, which
underpins the Japanese components drawn from previous sections. First, this vi initiates
two alternating chords: iii-VI which ultimately arrive on V. The alternating chords recall
a similar motion in the B section, the Japanese realm, which also connects to Suzuki’s
prayer scene. Moreover, these two chords support Carner’s Japanese melodic idea, which
appeared earlier in the first transition (II.1/12). Secondly, the modal mixture of vi to VI
here allows the Gb to become G natural and produces a semitone upper-neighbor
prolongation, recalling the semitone component from the Yin scale. Overall, the entire C
section is based on Japanese components. The Japanese components do not fuse with
diatonicism, however. Instead, it displays Butterfly’s distinctly Japanese character.
^ The music seems to suggest
Butterfly’s final note is the third of the tonic triad, Bb (3).
that she is forcing Suzuki to believe her through an intensified engagement with the tonic
triad. Yet, the imperfect cadence allows the audience to view her statement with

3). A section
The A section recurs in totem (II.1/16/1-9), recalling the previous two A sections
and reaffirming Butterfly’s faithfulness to Pinkerton.

3. Aria Middleground and Background

As has been discussed throughout, Butterfly isolates herself from Japanese society
and believes she has successfully abolished her Japanese identity. Yet, her belief does not
coincide with reality. She ultimately maintains her Japanese identity, and it is through
this lens that she projects her dream of becoming American. The next graph presents a

middle-ground reduction of the entire aria to demonstrate how the diatonic and Japanese
realms (as expressed through folk tunes as well as the Yin and Yang scales) interact with
the tonal harmony. It shows how Puccini carefully incorporates the Japanese elements
into his tonal writing and keeps them distinct from the diatonic language.

Realm: Diatonic Japanese Diatonic

Lyric: Pinkerton Pinkerton is looking for Butterfly. Faithful to Pinkerton

Butterfly is motionless and won’t respond (in fun).

Figure 4.5: Butterfly: “Un bel dì” (Middleground reduction)

This graph summarizes the previous discussion, showing how the diatonic
treatment of Gb major represents Pinkerton, while the static harmonies in f minor
represent a Japanese identity. The usage of Gb major and its vii—f minor demonstrates
Puccini’s craft in carefully blending diatonic harmony with traditional Japanese musical
elements while yet keeping the Japanese style distinct. The harmonic structure also shows
that the Japanese elements carefully supported. The background graph below indicates
that the tonic double-neighbor harmonic motion supports both diatonic and Japanese

Figure 4.6: Butterfly: “Un bel dì” (Background)

In the bass double-neighbor motion, the essential notes represent the American
world. The unessential notes within the voice exchange underpin the Japanese world and

keep the harmonic rhythm static throughout the aria. As both vii6 and vii are indeed
neighbor notes to the tonic, the harmonic roles they play is less essential than that of
predominant or dominant chords. In addition, it is noteworthy that the only active
harmonic motion takes place in the transitions. All other sections preserve the static
“Japanese” sound.
As mentioned earlier, V can support the Yang scale smoothly. Here Puccini uses
the vii to substitute for V. As both vii and V share similar functions, they can discharge to
each other with little effort. Moreover, the modally mixed VI provides support for G
natural, in order to produce semitonal upper neighbor motion in the end. Indeed as both
vii and VI relate to the V and I respectively, the employment of these two chords here
avoids stark harmonic motion and retains dominant and tonic functions (without the
predominant chords such as ii or IV). This restricted harmonic motion supports the
Japanese scales, while still gently alluding to diatonic function.

4. Conclusion

The structure of “Un bel dì” shows Butterfly unconsciously holding on to her
Japanese identity but unable to give it up as she had wished. Her efforts merely cause her
to live in a Japanese rooted fantasy of an imaginary American world. Yet, while other
characters belong to either Japan or America, Butterfly is the only one who clings to both
sides and belongs to neither. This inability to belong to either culture explains why this
heroine is at the center of the opera, isolated from others and living in a world that she
has created.
The moment she finally realizes that she is still Japanese occurs in Part II, Act II
when she understands that Pinkerton will not take her to America. She suddenly transfers
all of her longing and hopefulness to her son and her Japanese inspired melody
disappears. In “Tu? Piccolo Iddio!” (II.2/53), she sings in the pure diatonic realm without
any Japanese fantasy.

Example 4.10: “Tu? Piccolo Iddio!” (II.2/53/14-22)

The opening large melodic leaps clearly suggest diatonicism.46 Also, this piece
follows a very traditional harmonic progressions “ii7-VI-V7-i.” The conventional
diatonic harmonic supports the b-hamonic minor melody to express Butterfly’s motherly
anguish. It ends on a complete diatonic cadence (V7 to I) as she releases her son from his
Japanese identity by taking her own life. Butterfly enters her ideal world with honor,
taking her Japanese identity with her.

Japanese folk music rarely contains a series of large leaps. Japanese folk songs tend to use smaller skips
and steps.



If you can and will do this, if only to give it some additional imagery and some ‘little Chinese’
touches. But I wanted something human, and when the heart speaks, whether in China or Holland,
it says only one thing, and the outcome is the same for everyone… (Giacomo Puccini, 1924.) 1


1. Prior to Turandot

La bohème (1896), Tosca (1900), and Madama Butterfly (1904) represent a

triumphal trilogy in the middle of Puccini’s career. They firmly established Puccini’s
privileged status on the Italian operatic stage. La fanciulla del West (1910) was Puccini’s
next production, and it is based on a Non-European subject, the American West.
While writing this opera, a scandal broke out that interrupted Puccini’s work and
caused a rift in his marriage. In 1903, Puccini had suffered an automobile accident and a
young woman, Doria Manfredi, came to work in his household as a servant. Puccini’s
wife Elvira was always jealous of his extramarital affairs, and made Doria a target of her
suspicions. In response to Elvira’s accusations, Doria asserted her innocence, but in 1909,
the beleaguered young woman committed suicide. Elvira was seen as being the primary
cause for Doria’s death. The case was settled out of court, but the incident greatly
depressed Puccini2 and delayed his work on La fanciulla del West. However, Puccini
recovered and completed his opera. The premiere was a great success. Anton Webern in

From Puccini’s letter to Renato Simoni, the librettist of Turandot. See Phillips-Matz (2002), 288.
Sybil Seligman came into Puccini’s life in 1903 during his trip to London and was Puccini’s mentor until
his death. For Puccini’s relationship with Sybil, see Budden (2002), 275-76. Vincent Seligman, Sybil’s son,
published Puccini’s letters to his mother, which reveal Puccini’s inner world to readers. In one letter to
Sybil, Puccini describes his feeling about the scandal. “My nights are horrible; I cry – and am in despair.
Always I have before my eyes the vision of the poor victim; I can’t get her out of my mind-it’s a continual
torment.” See Vincent Seligman, Puccini Among Friends, (London: Macmillan, 1938), 174.

his letter to Schoenberg commented, “I must say I enjoyed it very much.”3 It goes
without saying that Puccini had once again won the hearts of his audiences.
Life after the triumph of La fanciulla del West went smoothly until the death of
Giulio Ricordi in 1912. Puccini and his publisher Ricordi had built a firm relationship
throughout his career. Ricordi’s death signified not only the loss of a life-long mentor and
friend, but a farewell to an older generation and way of life. Certainly, this was a painful
time for Puccini.4
In 1914, World War I broke out and was fought primarily on the European
continent.5 Italy initially declared neutrality, but in 1915 joined the Allied (Entente)
Powers, initially comprised of Great Britain, France, and their subsidiaries. The United
State joined the Allied cause in 1917, and in 1918, the war ended with the defeat of the
Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire).
World War I changed the social order in many ways. Opera theaters in Italy,
England and other countries barely managed to survive.6 Puccini had established his
reputation by writing music on diverse nationalistic subjects and his operas were well
known in countries on both sides of the conflict; yet, during the war many Central Powers
countries banned his works.7 Puccini himself claimed neutrality, resting on his position as
an international composer. His neutrality earned the disfavor of supporters of either side.
Puccini’s neutrality became controversial when he did not sign the intellectual
declaration of the International Society of Artists condemning Germany’s invasion of
Belgium in 1915 and the German bombardment of Rheims (Italy was still neutral at that
time). Somewhat later, however, a group of Germans mistakenly accused him of signing
the declaration, after which Puccini reassured German audiences by expressing his

See Budden (2002), 331. Budden has also suggested that Schoenberg, Ravel and Stravinsky admired
Puccini. See ibid., 479.
He told Sybil of his sorrow : “Poor Signor Giulio Ricordi! You simply can’t imagine how grieved I am at
his death!” Seligman (1938), 217. See also Phillips-Matz (2002), 220-21.
WWI mostly involved European countries and took place in Europe. Meanwhile, in the Far East, Japan
joined the Allied Powers and forced a landing in China.
Seligman described that “Many of the big opera-houses followed the example of Covent Garden and
closed down altogether; others were situated in what had now become ‘hostile territory.’” See Seligman
(1938), 252.
Carner stated that “in 1914-18 war hostilities did not stop at the trenches but extended also to the sphere
of art, so that plays, operas and other compositions by ‘enemy’ artists, including even some of the great
masters of the past, were banned.” See Carner (1958), 196.

gratitude and denying that he had denounced Germany. The French attacked him for
making this pronouncement, even after Italy joined the Allied side.8
To a certain extent, Puccini’s neutral stance was understandable since his operas
had been widely performed outside of Italy and the settings of his operas included the
exotic extremes of West and East.9 In light of his interest in subjects related to diverse
nationalities, as well as his deep sentiment for verismic characters such as Mimì,
Puccini’s neutrality stemmed from his compassion for the human condition. This
compassion was not only directed at people in Italy but beyond to the world at large. It is
because of his sensitivity to the suffering of all human lives that he wanted to stay
neutral.10 In a letter to Sybil on February 11, 1915, he writes: “War is too horrible a thing
whatever the results, for whether it be victory or defeat human lives are sacrificed.”11
Fiorentino, a priest and friend of Puccini’s, further described what Puccini had said about
the war. “War…It’s the end of civilization, the worst imaginable calamity. What’s the use
of killing people?...No one can be right in a war.”12 It is thus evident that Puccini’s
neutrality derived from his sorrow for all suffering humans. This compassion towards
humanity is seen in all of Puccini’s verismo works.
The war finally ended on November 11, 1918 and postwar Italy was racked with
political unrest and economic inflation.13 William Berger describes Puccini’s state of
mind at the time:

The sense of disappointment in Trittico’s fortunes mirrored the malaise of Italy

after the war. Six-hundred thousand dead soldiers, many, many more maimed and
wounded, unemployment, Communist agitation, strikes…and for what? The
Trentino Valley? A slightly better-looking map of Italy? Puccini went into

For details, see Ashbrook (1968), 158-59; Budden (2002), 346-48; Phillips-Matz (2002), 236-43.
Also, events in his private life kept him neutral; he was having an affair with Baroness Josephine von
Stängel, a German national.
Ashbrook states “While on the one hand Puccini as both man and artist was Italian to the marrow and
proud of his italianità; on the other he was at home in the world at large, a habitué and a well-known figure
in London, Paris, New York, Berlin, and Vienna. There is another even more fundamental root to Puccini’s
orientation. For him, home was not Italy, but quite specifically Torre del Lago-his retreat where he could
compose and hunt and relax…” Ashbrook (1968), 158. See also Phillips-Matz (2002), 243.
See Seligman (1938), 259. See also Budden (2002), 346; Ashbrook (1968), 158-59; Philips-Matz
(2002), 233-56.
Dante del Fiorentino, Immortal Bohemian: An Intimate Memoir of Giacomo Puccini (New York:
Prentice-Hall, 1952), 159-60.
See Carner (1958), 204; Budden (2002), 419.

another depression.14

The war and its aftermath changed the world order that Puccini had known and
affected him greatly. Yet, the experience of war also consolidated his belief in pursuing a
humanity in his music that would cross geographic and cultural boundaries. This belief in
the positive power of human kind was expressed in his next operatic subject, Turandot,
his only postwar project and one that was unfinished at the time of his sudden death.15 In
Turandot, Puccini demonstrates his notions of humanity by setting scenes in a timeless
exotic/other space where only love can melt the heart of the icy princess Turandot.
Scrutinizing Puccini’s work from the middle to the end of his career—La bohème,
Tosca, Madama Butterfly, La fanciulla del West, Il trittico and Turandot—we are able to
trace his interest in subjects from varied regions of the world.16 At first, his culturally
diverse settings coincided with the aesthetic trends of the late Romanticism of his time.
But as the operatic works consistently shift towards greater cultural diversity, it becomes
clear that his aim was to invite all kinds of human life into his musical worlds, to a place
where the heart speaks a language that all can understand.

2. Il trittico

During World War I, Puccini had produced two operas. La rondine, which he
completed in 1916, was originally planned as a Viennese operetta, but developed into an
operatic work. The second work was Il trittico (1918), a trilogy that combined three one-
act operas set on different subjects (a tragedy, Il tabarro; a religious tragedy, Suor
Angelica; and a comedy, Gianni Schicchi). The idea of presenting a series of short operas
in one performance had come to Puccini as early as 1904, and he finally brought this idea

See William Berger, Puccini without Excuses (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 76. See also Carner
(1958), 204.
For details on Puccini’s sudden death and Alfano’s scoring, see Budden (2002), 417-73; Philips-Matz
(2002), 257-305.
In a letter Puccini wrote to Seligman, he said “Another reason for this is that I have in mind a subject,
full of emotion, in which the leading parts are those of two boys (they would be women in the Opera) - a
subject which I regard as being suited to the taste of every country, but particularly to that of the British
public.” See Seligman (1938), 278. In this letter, Puccini showed his interest in a subject that would fit
anywhere in the world.

to fruition during the war.17 Il trittico turned out to be Puccini’s last complete musical
thought since he never lived to finish Turandot. These three short operas reveal the
minutia of human lives. Beginning with an unfaithful love and elements of murder in Il
tabarro, continuing to the theme of religious salvation after the death of a beloved son in
Suor Angelica, the evening concludes with a dark comedy involving a wise elder and the
love of a young couple in Gianni Schicchi.18 The short operas avoid focusing on the more
typical heroines or heroes of earlier operatic tradition, as Puccini instead records his
observations of the daily lives of ordinary human beings.19
The anxiety of war is revealed in Il trittico through the presentation of death,
which appears in each of the small operas. The anxiety reaches its peak in Il tabarro, then
decreases gradually. The initial step of relieving anxiety comes from the Virgin Mary,
who brings religious strength for Angelica’s salvation.20 The death of Buoso Donati in
the opening of Gianni Schicchi suggests a foreshadowing, but the shadow of death is
soon replaced by wisdom and love.21 The interweaving of death, religion and love
constitutes the basic elements in most of Puccini’s operas. Yet, in his last work, the order
of these three elements—from death and religion to love (life)— metaphorically presents
the composer’s belief that religion enslaves sorrow and love brings life, which washes
away the shadow of death (sorrow). As Puccini composed Il trittico during wartime,

See Ashbrook (1968), 170-71. See also Leonardo Pinzauti, “Giacomo Puccini’s Trittico and the
Twentieth Century,” The Puccini Companion, ed. William Weaver and Simonetta Puccini (New York:
W.W. Norton, 1994), 228-43.
Carner states “the three episodes of the Trittico suggest the idea of a gradual rise from darkness to light.”
See Carner (1958), 403. From a broader perspective, Carner is right in his phrase, “from darkness to light.”
Yet, the salvation of Angelica by the Virgin Mary features light, while the death in the opening of Gianni
Schicchi reveals the darkness. Light concludes the night with the love that closes Schicchi. The overall
structure does not simply go from dark to light, however, but interweaves both. This interweaving of dark
and light seems important to understanding Puccini’s works for this period.
There is no heroine like Butterfly in Il trittico.
In Angelica’s aria “Senza Mamma” (Rh. 60-62), the submediant (vi) constantly replaces the tonic to
delay the resolution and to show the great sorrow of Angelica. The aria ends on iii/F (Rh. 62) where
Angelica asks her dead child to speak to her. The ending on iii is inconclusive and demonstrates the
inevitable forward march of time through suffering and pain.
In her aria “Oh! mio babbino caro” (Rh. 40), Lauretta pleads with her father (Gianni Schicchi) not to
separate her from Rinuccio. Puccini puts a deceptive cadence on her words “You know I love Rinuccio.”
The deceptive motion opens up the possibility that her dream may not come true. It is when Lauretta ends
her aria with a complete plagal cadence (I-IV-I) that she evokes religion to affirm her request. The
harmonic representation on these two female leads (Angelica and Lauretta) shows the emphasis on the
predominant motion to describe life after loss and to tell a young lover’s dream. Perhaps they also reveal
Puccini’s life during the war and his hope for an end to the war in the form of religious salvation.

perhaps this overall structure also implies his hope that peace and love would soon
replace war and death.
The interweaving of tragedy and comedy (death and love) in Il trittico also shows
Puccini’s favorite operatic prototype. For him, love comes with death and vice versa.22
They coexist side by side to produce the great sentiment of human life. In Puccini’s
operatic world, audiences no longer see grand dramatic openings such as in Verdi’s
Otello, or the epic love of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Neither example is true to
Puccini’s style. Or, to be more precise, neither expresses the style Puccini wanted to
present his audiences. What Puccini offers in his art is the intimacy of small moments. In
his last complete work, Il trittico, this intimacy is fully explored. Budden has stated that,

. . . as a manifestation of creative self-renewal over a wide area Il trittico is indeed

outstanding and goes far to justify the composer’s entitlement to the soubriquet
‘Verdi’s successor.’23

Indeed, Verdi and Puccini shared similar creative paths. Both Verdi and Puccini
consistently showed great feeling for humanity in different ways—the dramatically
sublime in Verdi and simple intimacy in Puccini. Yet, both presented the aesthetic trends
of their time and successfully earned the applause of their audiences. Both ended their
creative careers with comedy. For Verdi, Falstaff shows his ability to write on a comedic
subject. For Puccini, his skill in writing comedy was indicated earlier in the lost key
scene in La bohème. It was, however, purely coincidental that because of his sudden
death the comedic Gianni Schicchi was his last complete work. The works of both
composers have withstood the test of time and are still performed in theaters worldwide.
In looking at this aspect of history, we find that Verdi and Puccini worked in their
own ways to produce operas that coincided with the aesthetic trends of their time. Their
work is comprised of sensitive observations of the societies in which they lived.
Ultimately, they showed great humanity and presented artistic works capable of
enchanting audiences of their time and of the future. This undoubtedly signifies that the

For instance, Mimì dies with bohemians surrounding her. Tosca dies to follow Cavaradossi. Butterfly
dies to give her son a better life through a new identity and Liù died to show Calaf’s great love for
Budden (2002), 416.

names Puccini and Verdi stand side by side in opera history.

3. Turandot

. . . above all heighten the amorous passion of Turandot which she has smothered so long beneath
the ashes of her pride…All in all, I consider Turandot the most normal and human of all Gozzi’s
works. (Giacomo Puccini, 1920.)24

Turandot is the last opera Puccini worked on before his sudden death in 1924. He
had completed two-thirds of Act III (III/34), and Franco Alfano finished the rest so that
the premiere could be held in 1926. In 2003, Luciano Berio created another ending.25 Yet,
the most popular version remains Alfano’s.
Turandot came from Carlo Gozzi’s fable of the same name for his ‘fiabe teatrali,’
produced in Venice during the 1760s.26 Gozzi’s work, which has been translated into
German and influenced German Romanticism, was full of exoticism and magic.
Wagner’s Die Feen was inspired by Gozzi’s La donna serpente, but among all of Gozzi’s
works, Turandot was one of the most popular. Friedrich Schiller presented a German
translation to the Weimar court theatre in 1802.27 In Italy, Antonio Bazzini produced
Turandot in Milan in 1867. Ferruccio Busoni composed a Turandot-Suite in 1905 and
later reproduced it as an operatic work with German libretto, which was performed in
Zürich in 1917.28 Puccini himself began his composition of Turandot in 1919. This

This comes from a letter to Simoni. See, Budden (2002), 424.
For the discussion of Berio’s version, see Maehder in 羅基敏 and 梅樂亙 [Ki-Ming Lo and Jürgen
Maehder.] 杜蘭朵的蛻變. [The Stylistic Shift of Turandot.] (My Translation) 臺北市: 高談文化出版
[Taipei: Guo-Tan], 2004, 327-59.
Indeed Turandot originates from the Persian Tales Les mille et un jours [One Thousand and One Days]
published in 1710-1712. François Pètis de la Croix translated the Persian Tales into French and Alain Renè
Lesage adapted the stories and published them with the origin title. Alain Renè Lesage also took elements
from these tales for his theater collection, Le Thèâtre de la Foire ou l’Opèra Comique during 1721-37. One
story in the collection is called La Princesse de la Chine (1729), which describes a similar subject as
Turandot. See William Ashbrook and Harold Powers, Puccini’s Turandot: The End of the Great Tradition
(New Jersey: Princeton, 1991), 43-58. See also Lo and Maehder (2004), 22-23; Budden (2002), 424-25;
Carner (1958), 438-49.
See Budden (2002), 424.
Ibid., 425.

history of the productions of Turandot indicates the fascination this fable has had for
intellectuals and composers since its first appearance.29
Even in modern times, the fable still invites lively discussion. Two such examples
are found in literary study. Patricia Juliana Smith compares the story of Turandot to
Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and states that Turandot shows the repression of her
sexuality in a male-dominated society. Smith believes that the repression of Turandot
recalls the repressive relationship of Clarissa Dalloway and Sally Seton in Woolf’s
novel.30 David Nicholson takes the female protagonist’s viewpoint in the fairy-tale
archetype, comparing Turandot to the Sleeping Beauty in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. He states

the hedge of hawthorn surrounding the enchanted palace closes tightly on all the
princes who want to awaken the princess before the appointed time, holding them
in the thorns until they die miserable deaths. But when the right prince comes
along, the hawthorns blossom out and open wide to receive him.31

In other words, only the right prince who comes at the appointed time is meant to rescue
the princess.32 This formula also applies to Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, where Aeneas, in
expressin his love for Dido, finally melts her heart, but when he is forced to leave, Dido
cannot survive the broken heart.
From Puccini’s perspective, Turandot represents Gozzi’s most humane tale. As
the story comes from the realm of fable, or fairy tale, the original places the scenes of
China into a non-identified dynasty and produces a fantastic space, where the
geographical and cultural boundaries are ambiguous and, to a certain extent, surreal. This
exotic other (China) in the abstract space of others (fable) gave Puccini the flexibility to
build a non-specific musical fantasy focused on the other. In so doing, he brings to life

For a relevant resource pertaining to the interest of intellectuals in Turandot, see Jùrgen Maehder,
“Turandot and the Theatrical Aesthetics of the Twentieth Century,” The Puccini Companion, ed. William
Weaver and Simonetta Puccini (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994), 265-78.
Patricia Juliana Smith, “Gli Enigmi Sono Tre: The [D]evolution of Turandot, Lesbian Monster,” En
Travesti: Women, Gender Subversion, Opera, ed. Corinne E. Blackmer and Patricia Juliana Smith (New
York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 242-284.
David Nicholson, “Gozzi’s ‘Turandot: A Tragicomic Fairy Tale,’ ” Theatre Journal 31/4 (Dec., 1979):
Clément makes a similar point by stating that Calaf has the same blood as his Mongol ancestor who
raped Lo-u-Ling. Here he comes to repeat history. This time he will solve the riddle, devote himself to
Turandot and show her his great love. See Clément (1988), 101.

his vision of a great humanity (across geographic boundaries). The music of this opera
demonstrates the dense integration of Western tonal, French Impressionist, and Chinese
Pentatonic tunes. This combination ultimately evokes a fantasty of a non-specific exotic
other.33 As a result, the integration of diverse sonorities in Turandot represents Puccini’s
ultimate musical pursuit of his concept of humanity. This refelected in Budden’s
statement that:

Turandot, [Puccini’s] furthest venture into the contemporary scene,

accommodates elements that reach back to the world of his youth; which is
why…, with its perfect fusion of the heroic, exotic, grotesque, and sentimental, it
represents, even in its unfinished state, the sum of its composer’s creation.34

4. The Story of Turandot

The drama is set in ancient Peking, China, where a Chinese princess, Turandot,
poses three riddles to the princes who come to court her. Whoever successfully solves
these three riddles will marry her and whoever fails will be executed. Turandot’s beauty
attracts princes from around the world to take their fates into their own hands; twenty-six
princes have failed and been executed. This body count terrifies the people and, thus,
they call Turandot “icy” and “bloody.” One day in Peking, an unknown prince, who is
exiled from his kingdom, finds his blind father, Timur, the exiled emperor of Tartary, on
the street. Accompanying Timur is a slave-girl, Liù, who secretly loves the unknown
prince. A jubilant family reunion is enacted on one side of the street, while on the other
side the executioner prepares to execute the Prince of Persia, who has just failed his
attempt to solve the three riddles. Hearing of the fate of the Prince of Persia, the unknown
prince curses Turandot. Yet, when he sees Turandot, who appears at the execution, he is
fascinated by her beauty and desires to win her. Timur, Liù and three ministers (Ping,

Puccini also incorporates Western diatonic melodies, French Impressionist and Japanese melodies into
Madama Butterfly. Yet, the exotic components in Turandot are much more closely linked and densely
packed. This may be due to the fact that the fable origins gave Puccini more freedom to create his own
imaginary sound world.
See Budden (2002), 477-78.

Pang and Pong) try to talk him out of his decision, but the love-struck prince cannot hear
their words. All he wants is Turandot. Throwing caution to the wind, he strikes the gong.
In the palace courtyard, the Chinese Emperor Altoum, the unknown prince,
Timur, Liù, the three ministers, and others assemble. Emperor Altoum also tries to
dissuade the unknown prince from trying to solve the riddles, but his attempt is in vain.
Turandot appears and tells everyone that her ancestress, Lo-u-Ling, who was ravished by
a foreign enemy, lives on in her. So Turandot must take revenge on men for Lo-u-Ling
and that is the reason she executes the princes who woo her.
After describing the story of Lo-u-Ling, Turandot unexpectedly tries to dissuade
the unknown prince from trying to solve the riddles. The unknown prince rejects her plea.
Then the three riddles are given. The answers to the three riddles are Hope, Blood and
Turandot.35 The unknown prince conquers the trials. Frightened, Turandot wants to be
released from the marriage obligation. Seeing her terror, the unknown prince gives
Turandot one riddle to solve. If she can reveal the unknown prince’s name before dawn,
she will be released from her marriage obligation.
In the palace garden, three ministers offer the unknown prince jewelry and beauty
in exchange for his name. The unknown prince rejects these offerings. The crowds gather
again and guards bring in Timur and Liù, as someone has seen the unknown prince speak
to them. Turandot interrogates them. Liù steps forward and claims that only she knows
the name of the prince, but she would rather die than reveal it because of the great love
she has for him. Then she snatches a knife from a guard and stabs herself. Liù dies. (This
is the point at which Puccini left off.)
Now the unknown prince is alone with Turandot. He accuses her of cruelty, but
the icy Turandot melts when the unknown prince kisses her. She admits her love for him
begs him to leave. The unknown prince tells Turandot he is Calaf, the son of Timur. This
revelation shows his great love for her, as he is trusting her with his life. Jubilantly,
Turandot announces to Emperor Altoum, Timur, and all the others that the name of the
unknown prince is Love.
Puccini died on November 29, 1924, and Alfano, as previously stated, completed
the opera. The premiere of Turandot was held on April 25, 1926, and was conducted by

Different versions of Turandot contain different riddles and answers. Here, I use Puccini’s version.

Toscanini. On opening night, during Liù’s funeral cortège, Toscanini laid down his baton,
turned to the audience and told them that this was the point at which Puccini ended.36 In
subsequent performances, Puccini’s Turandot ended with Alfano’s version. The opera
has been popular since it made its first appearance. In 1998, Turandot was performed in
the Forbidden City, Beijing,37 under the direction of Chinese film director Zhang Yimou
and conducted by Zubin Mehta.38 This performance represented a major cultural
interrelationship between West and East; to a certain extent, it evidences that Turandot
has somehow bridged the East-West aesthetic. Insofar as Turandot is an Italian opera set
in a Chinese milieu, just as Madama Butterfly is an Italian opera set in a Japanese milieu,
these works are meant for audiences that fall far beyond the cultural divides of east and
west. Interestingly, since Puccini’s life ended at the point in Turandot in which Liù died,
he had coincidentally composed himself into his own operatic world. “Create something
for me that will set the world weeping,”39 he asked of Adami and Simoni. The juncture
between the two deaths, the creator’s and his creation’s, creates a fascination for endless
speculation among audiences and scholars; what is this great unfinished dream of

5. Chinese Musical Components in Turandot

The authentic Chinese music in Turandot is based on a pentatonic structure,40

which derives from two places. One comes from a music box (listed in example 5.1) 41

Adami described the event as follows “The artist [Puccini] was among us yesterday with the sadness of
his own tragedy. ’If I do not succeed in finishing the opera,’ he said one day, with a presentiment of his
approaching death, ’someone will come to the front of the stage and say, ‘Puccini composed as far as this,
then he died.’ The opera stopped yesterday at the point where Puccini had had to leave it. Thus Turandot
ran its course like a living symbol of the life of its creator: a brief story, interrupted by a pause which is of
eternity.” See Giuseppe Adami, ed. Letters of Giacomo Puccini, Ena Makin trans. (Philadelphia: J.B.
Lippincott Company, 1931), 255.
Bejing and Peking are, of course, the same city.
For performance critique, see Lo and Maehder (2004), 236-60.
Budden (2002), 422.
The Chinese pentatonic scale is the same as the Yang scale in Japan. Thus, it is complementary to the
diatonic scale. See my footnote 16 in chapter 4 for details.
This is described in Lo and Maehder (2004), 223-25. No. 1 was published in China in 1838. Before its
publication date, Sir John Barrow, who was once an English diplomat in China, had published this song in

owned by Baron Fassini Camossi, once a diplomat in China, the other is from J. A. Van
Aalst’s Chinese Music (1884), see example 5.2. 42

Example 5.1: The authentic tunes from the Chinese Music Box

his Travels in China in 1804. See 钱仁康 [Qian Ren Kang,] 学堂乐歌考源 [The Resource of School
Music.] (My translation) 上海音乐学院出版社 [Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press], 2001, 21-22;
張繼光 [Zhang Ji Guang,] 民歌(茉莉花)研究 [The Research of Folk Song Mo-Li-Hua.] (My
Translation) 文史哲 出版社 [Wen Shi Zhe Press] 2000, 5. In No. 2 and No. 3, the dotted lines indicate the
break of each musical phrase, despite the lack of a bar line. Carner wrote notes to No. 3, published in 1912,
explaining that it is the Chinese National Anthem. Lo indicates that this is an error, stating that the National
Anthem of China was published in 1915 and that the melody differs from that of No. 3. Also, in 1912, the
Republic of China was newly formed after the defeat of the Qing Dynasty; thus, at that point, the melody
could not have been the National Anthem of China. See Lo and Maehder (2004), 224.
For the purpose of facilitating later analysis, I have continued to use the numbering system from
example 1 in example 2. Thus, the songs listed in example 2 show my numbers 4-8. All the songs derive
from J. A. Van Aalas’s Chinese Music (New York: Paragon, 1966), 26-46 (No. 4 is on p. 26, No. 5 is on
pp. 24-28, No. 6 on p.44, No. 7 on pp. 44-45, No. 8 on 46). Also, no Puccini research has listed No. 8 as
used in Turandot. Yet, I find it relates closely to Calaf’s melody in III/35 after Liù’s cortège. I will discuss
this later.

Example 5.1 – Continued

Example 5.2: The authentic tunes from J. A. Van Aalst’s Chinese Music (1884)

Example 5.2 – Continued

Scrutinizing these authentic melodies, we discover that there are no m2 or A4

intervals in the pentatonic collection, as well as no leading-tone function in the pentatonic
melody. The diatonic tendencies that create conflict and resolution in the Western tonal
structure do not exist in the pentatonic structure. Tonal hierarchy does not really belong
to Chinese musical character. Yet, to a certain extent, the tonic (or dominant) can be
heard in a pentatonic melody simply as a function of syntax and placement.
These melodies show a typically Chinese wave-like contour.43 Generally, the
melody circles around one particular pitch for a time, then circles around a new pitch

John Hazedel Levis, Foundations of Chinese Musical Art (New York: Paragon, 1963), 11. Sometimes
the wave reaches a level point, shown by repeated notes in Chinese music.

until the piece finally ends. These encirclings present a vital characteristic of Chinese
music, which is to keep away from one specific tone, designating the character of that
tone through its relationship to others.44 For instance, in Mo-Li-Hua the initial two
measures show an encircling of the pitch D in which other pitches (B, E and G) are
emphasized in order to give D its own particular character.45 Moreover, the encircling
here shows the small – scale form of the melodic arch.46 The melodic arch sounds similar
to diatonic neighbor motion, but functionally they differ from one other. The melodic
arch in the pentatonic collection carries the function of creating smoothness and showing
the main tone’s character through the demonstration of its relationship with other tones.
The lists below are examples of the Chinese melodic arch form from Mo-Li-Hua and
other authentic tunes that Puccini used in Turandot.47

Example 5.3: Melodic arch form in the pentatonic system

Levis explains the origins of the Chinese encircling motions in early Chinese notation: “Chinese neumes,
on the contrary, consciously kept away from the idea of specific tones and continued merely to designate
movement. Upon this basis they developed into a science and art of musical composition, employing the
fundamental basis of movement, which is the first principle in music. The actual tones were designated by
other characters.” See ibid., 84.
From my perspective, the pitch D is specified through the intervallic relations of a m3 (B-D) and a M2
In (Chinese) folk music, the melodic phrase often creates arches. See the 杨瑞庆 [Yang Rui Qing,]
中国民歌旋律形态 [The Melodic Structure in Chinese Folk Song.] (My translation) 上海音乐学院出版社
[Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press], 2002, 9-10.
The dotted slurs indicate the arch (neighbor) motions. Chinese Song No. 5, “Hymn of Confucius,” is
excluded here. But one should note that the second system in both strophes one and two in “Hymn of
Confucius” contain many Chinese arch forms. This hymn was made around A.D. 1740s for ritual purposes.
It was often performed during ancient Chinese worship.

Chinese pentatonic songs contain dual tonic characters where 1^ and its P5-related
pitch (5) can flexibly replace each other to function as tonic. This replacement allows
identical pentatonic collections to function with two different scale degrees that are all
P5-related. The example below shows how the pentatonic collection can be presented in
two ways (C and G) when the pentatonic collection is applied to the diatonic system. 48

Example 5.4: Dual tonic characters in Chinese pentatonic scale

When the scale degrees are in the order of (5^ 6^ 1^ 2^ 3),

it seems to suggest an underlying

dominant to tonic motion. When the scale degrees are in the order of (1^ 2^ 4^ 5^ 6),
it seems to
suggest and underlying I-IV. The Chinese song Mo-Li-Hua in Turandot displays this dual

For a relevant reference, see 張繼光 [Zhang Ji Guang] (2000), 10-13. Zhang has also made the point
that, unlike in tonal music where tonic holds a more privileged position than the dominant, in Chinese
music (because of this dual tonic character), the tonic and dominant equally relate to each other. Thus,
when using the same pitches as in Example 4 into a diatonic F major, we get scale degrees ( 23567).

Pitches in the pentatonic collection are thus closely related to fifth-related key relations (F-C-G). Yet, as the
white note pentatonic in the context of F major does not contain the tonic, C and G can be seen as more
closely than F and C. However, the underlying ability of F-C-G to contain the collection allows a dualistic
perspective where subdominant and dominant are almost equally close to the tonic. In addition, in the
pentatonic system, both D-S and S-T are often used to create smooth harmonic motion. See 王小玲 [Wang
Xiao Ling.] 漢族調式及其和聲技法 [The Harmonic Skill in Chinese Mode Music.] (My translation)
上海音乐学院出版社 [Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press], 2006, 5.

tonal character. The song can be sung in both D and G major, 49 and the starting pitch D

can be both 6^ (in D major) and 3^ (in G major).

Example 5.5: Mo-Li-Hua in D

Example 5.6: Mo-Li-Hua in G

From the diatonic perspective, Mo-Li-Hua in D (beginning with 6) starts its harmonic
progression from the subdominant chord (IV). Mo-Li-Hua in G (beginning with 3) starts
its harmonic progression from the tonic chord (I). In summary, it is clear that P5 relations
are critical to the understanding of harmonic interactions with pentatonic melody and that
both I and IV are closely related to each other in the harmonization of Chinese pentatonic

See 張繼光 [Zhang Ji Guang] (2000), 11-13.
Puccini harmonizes the Mo-Li-Hua in Turandot as follows: I-bvii-I-iv-v7-I in Eb. Clearly, Puccini took
the initial pitch as 3.

6. The Integration of Pentatonic and Diatonic Melodies

Puccini used Chinese songs and pseudo-pentatonic melodies to illuminate the

Chinese milieu, and they are spread throughout the opera. Some of the authentic folk
songs become recurring figures that represent the Chinese characters, such as Mo-Li-Hua
(No.1), representing the princess in Turandot. The Imperial Hymn (No.3) indicates the
Chinese Emperor Altoum. The three ministers are the narrators who depict the Chinese
milieu and utilize the tunes from other Chinese songs.51 There is no particular Chinese
song to indicate the figures of Calaf, Timur and Liù, but some of their musical phrases
show borrowed fragments from Chinese songs.52 Example 5.7 shows the borrowing of
Liù’s melody in III/24, where she tells Turandot that her great love makes her able to
endure the pain of death. The pitches A-C-D-E recall a similar melodic fragment from the
Chinese song no.5 Hymn of Confucius.

Example 5.7: The borrowing of the Chinese melodic phrase in Liù (III/24)

The Chinese setting is also shown in their lyrics. In Act II, Pong sings “Io preparo le nozze! Le rosse
lanterne di festa!” – “I’ll prepare for the wedding! The red festive lanterns!” Pang sings “Ed io le esequie!
Le bianche lanterne di lutto!” – “And I for the funeral! The white funeral lanterns!” They describe the
Chinese custom in which red lanterns indicate a wedding while white lanterns indicate a funeral.
Translation of the lyrics comes from K. H. B. de Jaffa, trans. Turandot (G. Ricordi Co, 1926), 34-35.
Lo indicates that Puccini distinguishes characters from China through the employment of Chinese songs.
She states that the Chinese songs are employed for Chinese characters (such as Turandot, the Chinese
emperor and the three ministers) while no Chinese songs are used to depict the exotic characters (Calaf,
Timur and Liù). See Lo and Maehder (2004), 232-33. From the viewpoint of literal borrowing, she is right
in pointing out that the majority of Chinese songs are for the Chinese characters. From a less literal
borrowing viewpoint, however, I believe Puccini used small portions of Chinese songs for the exotic
characters. This can also be heard in Puccini’s employment of exotic tunes in Madama Butterfly where the
Japanese folk tunes do not always play throughout the entire section. Also, when symbolizing America,
Puccini used only the opening few notes of the American national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” to
imply the world of Pinkerton. It thus shows that Puccini flexibly used materials from exotic tunes for his
own dramatic purposes.

Puccini also put these four notes into the scene (I/24) where they accompany the priests’
procession to the execution of the Prince of Persia.53
Calaf uses the borrowed phrase from Chinese song no. 8. Example 5.8 shows this
borrowing from III/35, the beginning of the love duet after the death of Liù.

Example 5.8: The borrowing of the Chinese melodic phrase in Calaf (III/35)

Puccini only finished his composition up to III/34, and Alfano took over the rest of the
music. Yet, according to the sketch that Puccini left, he wrote this part of Calaf’s melody.
These two examples of borrowings in the music of Liù and Calaf indicate that, compared
to the Chinese characters, Turandot and the Emperor Altoum, fewer Chinese songs are
applied to the exotic characters (foreigners—Liù and Calaf in China) in this opera.
As the original tale was set in China, Puccini introduced a Chinese flavor to his
opera by also incorporating Chinese musical character into his diatonic writing. This is
introduced in three distinct fashions:
1) by applying the pentatonic collection to non borrowed melodic writing;
2) by using neighbor-tone motions to imitate the Chinese melodic arch form and
carefully restricting the intervallic relationship of the melody to the intervallic structure
of the pentatonic collection;
3) by keeping the melodic range narrow and avoiding large leaps.

See Lo and Maehder (2004), 228-29.

Blending these three elements, Puccini creates what I call “pseudo-pentatonic” melody.
The arias for Liù, Calaf and Turandot54 display this pseudo-pentatonic writing.

(1.) Calaf

Example 5.9: The neighbor motion from Calaf’s “Non piangere, Liù” (I/43) 55

The overall structure of this opening is based on the pentatonic collection, shown in
example 5.10.56

Example 5.10: The Pentatonic collection in Calaf’s “Non piangere, Liù” (I/43)

From the diatonic perspective, the initial seven measures display a middle-ground
neighbor prolongation. Yet, as the two lower-neighbors, Gb and Ab, belong to the

See the analysis of Turandot’s aria “In questa reggia.”
The dotted line indicates neighbor prolongations (mirroring the arch forms of Chinese melody).
56 ^
The Cb (4) in m. 9 can be considered as the biàn yìn in Chinese musical terms. The biàn yìn is a pitch
that can be used to color the pentatonic melody. Here, it decorates the neighbor motion in m. 9.

pentatonic scale and emphasize the m3 and M2 from the main pitch Bb,57 we can
understand this in terms of the Chinese melodic arch form.

(2). Liù
In a letter to the librettist Adami, Puccini wrote: “I call your attention to Liù in the
third [act]…I have the bit of music with a Chinese flavor and it will be necessary to adapt
it a little.”58 In Liù’s scene in Act III, she speaks of her love for Calaf and shows
Turandot that her love enables her to endure pain. Liù’s pseudo-Chinese melody shows
diatonic neighbor motion or, more specifically, the Chinese melodic arch.

Example 5.11: The neighbor motion from Liù’s “Tanto amore segreto” (III/24/1-5)

This melody is based on two pentatonic collections (F-G-A-C-D) and (C-D-E-G-A)59 and
are closely related through the P5 interval. This intervallic relationship helps to create the
smooth transposition from one to another and produces a distinctly Chinese flavor.60

The interval vector of the pentatonic scale is <032140>. Stepwise motion in the Pentatonic scale is based
on two intervals, M2 and m3. These two intervals are often used in Chinese pentatonic melodies to
highlight the main tone’s character. The example is Mo-Li-Hua.
See Ashbrook and Powers (1991), 98. Ashbrook and Powers say this passage contains Chinese tinta and
defines the irregular rhythm as expressing Liù’s secret love.
These two pentatonic scales add two biàn yìn, E and B, respectively. These two notes demonstrate the
way in which the diatonic scale can preserve its pentatonic sound. The E (in m. 2) does not sound distinct

Example 5.12: Pentatonic scales in Liù’s “Tanto amore segreto” (III/24)

The first pentatonic collection in mm. 1-2 shows a similar contour to the opening of
Chinese song no. 2. They both begin with the alternation of the rising (+) and falling (-)

Example 5.13: Contour relationship to Chinese song No. 2, mm. 1-2

The second pentatonic collection in mm. 3-4 reveals an imitation of the Chinese melodic
arch, where the pitch A takes part in an upper-neighbor motion. To a certain extent, this
phrase is pseudo-Chinese, as pitches are prolonged to create a larger-scale upper
neighbor motion in the arch shape. This shows the way in which Puccini retains the
Italian style, while introducing a Chinese touch as an enrichment. Overall, the melodic

because it is located within the rising-falling pattern. The B (in m. 4) sounds as part of the ‘diatonic’ double
neighbor, and is unemphasized because of its rapid thirty-second rhythm.
Mm. 1-2 is based on (F-G-A-C-D) and mm. 3-4 is based on (C-D-E-G-A). Ashbrook and Harold suggest
there is another pentatonic module (Bb-c-d-f-[g]) in mm. 5-6 and that comes from the pitch Bb. While their
point is good, since by including the Bb pentatonic, they are able to present three dualistically related
pentatonic collections (IV-I-V). However, I think that the identical harmonic settings of both mm. 1-2 and
mm. 5-6 precludes this notion, since they should probably be seen as the same pentatonic collection (with
Bb as a decoration).

wave that is built through the pentatonic arrangement of intervals successfully portrays
Puccini’s unique Chinese flavor.

7. Incorporation of French Impressionistic Sonorities

French Impressionistic sonorities densely integrate with the diatonic and

pentatonic systems to present an atmosphere that accords with the dramatic needs. The
French sonorities here either color the diatonic writing or melt into the tonal structure to
become a part of it. Two examples are listed below to show how this works. The first
demonstrates an impressionistic coloring of the diatonic writing in the trio of the three
ministers. The scene describes the ministers’ hopes for a prince to tame Turandot and
save China. The whole can be divided into three subsections each of which begins with
an identical melody (II/21, II/22 and II/24). Each subsection differs from the others in
their accompaniments in order to suit the dramatic needs. The accompaniment in II/21 is
based on the harmonic progression where Ping, Pong and Pang express their hope that
Turandot will accept the prince’s love. In II/22, it shifts to Romantic style arpeggios,
adding color to the imaginary scene in which Turandot succumbs to her future husband.
In II/24, the accompaniment displays an ascending chromatic progression. In this
passage, impressionistic chromatic planing colors the previous tonal writing to suggest a
glorified future for China. 61

Lyrics in II/21/3-4: “ Non v’ è in China, per nostra fortuna” – “There no longer dwells in China, to our
good luck.” II/22/2-3: “Ma là, dentro alle soffici tende” — “But within the curtained bower.” II/24/13-14:
“All’ebbrezza, all’amore che ha vinto” — “To the intoxication of the love she has won.” See Giuseppe
Adami and Renato Simoni, Turandot, K.H.B. de Jaffa trans. (U.S.A.: G. Ricordi, 1926), 42-43. See also Lo
and Maehder (2004), 126-27.

Example 5.14: French Impressionistic sonorities color the diatonic melody

The next example comes from III/1-2, where the heralds announce that no one
shall sleep and death will be the penalty if the unknown prince’s name is not revealed
before dawn. Here, the diatonic a-minor chord accompanies the Araldi. The a-minor
expands to SC (01478), which is a symmetric set derived from combinations of major,
minor and augmented triads.62 Both the a-minor passage and the SC (01478) alternate to
express the dread of night in Peking, where crowds fear the upcoming death ordered by
their icy princess, Turandot.

Example 5.15: The French Impressionist style integrated with diatonic melody

8. The Sign of Falling in Love (Turandot and Calaf)

above all heighten the amorous passion of Turandot which she has smothered so long beneath the
ashes of her pride…(Giacomo Puccini, 1920.)63

Puccini’s heartfelt compassion for humanity is presented in the belief that only
love can melt Turandot’s icy heart. Even if the composer’s sudden death left a vital part
This SC (01478) appears in the opening of Act I, where Budden calls it a bitonal dissonance. See
Budden (2002), 447. Ashbrook calls it “bicentric chord.” See Ashbrook (1991), 16. Both names suggest the
constituent overlapping of major and minor chord qualities. I use its set-class prime form SC (01478) to
highlight its symmetric quality, which ultimately integrates with a-minor passage to express the dread of
Budden (2002), 424.

of the opera—the love duet—incomplete, Turandot’s overall structure, particularly the
interaction between Turandot and Calaf, suggests what he had in mind.64 The presence of
three acts suggests that Turandot melts gradually. The high point comes when Calaf
kisses her, giving her an opportunity to reveal her passion.65 But, her love does not come
at once. The seeds of love had been planted before the kiss; indeed, Turandot confesses
that she has loved him since she first set eyes on him.

(1). Act I
In Act I, Turandot appears at the Persian prince’s execution without singing a
note, yet the chorus sings Mo-Li-Hua to indicate her presence. Both the scene of
execution and the chorus’s Mo-Li-Hua veil the image of Turandot, hiding her behind her
arrogance and pride.

Example 5.16: Mo-Li-Hua, the figure of Turandot

(2). Act II
The icy image of Turandot in Act I is sustained in Act II. When Turandot finally
appears in the middle of Act II, she tells the story of her ancient ancestor Lo-u-Ling in the
aria “In questa reggia,” whose death Turandot seeks to avenge. This explains why

While composing, Puccini often instructed his librettists Adami and Simoni to provide him with lyrics
that would agree with his own dramatic wishes. Since Simoni completed a satisfactory love duet before
Puccini died, the following analysis will include its ideas in order to suggest what Puccini might have had
in mind for Turandot. The text in III/42 indicates that after Calaf kisses her, Turandot melts. She admits
that she fell in love with Calaf in the first moment. She says “Stranier, quando sei giunto, con angoscia ho
sentito il brivido fatale di questo male supreme!” – “Stranger, at the first sight of thee, I felt the anguish of
that fatal quiver, of that supreme pain!” She goes on to say that “la superba certezza, e t’ho odiato per
quella, e per quella t’ho amato,”- “Thy superb reliance made me loathe thee and made me love thee.”
Translation from K. H. B. de Jaffa (1926), 84-85.
Puccini described the kiss: “I should have liked her to burst into expressions of love coram populo—but
excessively, violently, shamelessly, like a bomb exploding.” See Giuseppe Adami ed. (1931), 267.

Turandot keeps away from men, yet at a moment near the end of her aria, Turandot
unexpectedly tries to dissuade the unknown prince from trying to solve the riddles. She
sings a melody in Eb major, “Gli enigmi sono tre, la morte è una!” — “The riddles are
three, Death is one!”66 In this moment she displays human emotion for the first time. The
unknown prince then takes her Eb tonic and says “No!” to her. He then changes keys to
F# and imitates her melody, to show that he is not afraid: “Gli enigmi sono tre, una è la
vita!” — “The riddles are three, Life is one!”67 As both Turandot and the unknown prince
are unable to step away from their commitments, they sing in unison in a new key, Ab, a
key in which they both agree to stay.68

Example 5.17: Singing in unison, II/47

K.H.B. de Jaffa trans. (1926), 50.
For a more in-depth discussion, see aria analysis “In questa reggia” later in this chapter.

As noted, Turandot backs down from the marriage agreement. She asks Emperor
Altoum to release her from the marriage, but her request is refused. Turandot then turns
to the unknown prince, displays her reluctance, and sings her own Mo-Li-Hua for the first
time. But Calaf does not let her finish the song. He ardently interrupts her and takes over
her Mo-Li-Hua, concluding the musical phrase. Indeed, by taking over Turandot’s Mo-
Li-Hua, Calaf shows his strong desire to possess Turandot. He also raises himself to her
stature by singing her song; from this moment, Turandot is no longer the proud

Example 5.18: Turandot and Calaf in Mo-Li-Hua

The next conversation between Turandot and Calaf takes place in III/18 when the
guards drag in Timur and Liù.

Example 5.19: Turandot talks to the Unknown Prince in III/18

The fact that she allows Calaf to take over her song also suggests the fact that she already has feelings
for him.

Turandot’s melody comes from Calaf’s entrance in I/15, where the strings accompany
him. 70

Example 5.20: The entry of the Unknown Prince in I/5

In this conversation (III/18), Turandot takes over the notes of the strings in I/5. The
employment of notes from Calaf’s entry recalls the moment when Calaf takes over
Turandot’s notes from the Mo-Li-Hua in II/64. Both leads repeat fragments from each
other’s melodies to symbolize the germinating seed of love (even if the proud Turandot
won’t admit to it.)71
Puccini was unable to finish the love duet and Alfano stepped in to complete it.
According to the libretto, Turandot admits her love to Calaf after their kiss. She pleads
with Calaf to take his secret with him and leave. Calaf refuses and tells her his name. He
is ecstatic in the discovery of her love. Turandot is ecstatic in the return of her
dominance. Their ecstasy is displayed in the echoing of one another’s phrases.

This tune accompanies the entrance of Liù (I/4), Calaf (I/5) and Timur (I/6) in Act I. Carner states that
the tune expresses Liù’s anxiety to Timur. This seems likely, but as Liù’s entrance takes place at the end of
the tune, I do not take it to be Liù’s music. Since the tune begins with Calaf’s entrance (i/g) and then
continues through Timur’s entrance (iv/eb), it seems clear that the tune belongs to Calaf, and ultimately
represents his intimacy with Turandot. Indeed, Turandot sings this tune in III/18/3, where she begins in c
minor. See Carner (1958), 460.
Puccini’s male and female leads repeat fragments from each other’s arias to show their intimacy.
Another example comes from La boheme’s Mimì and Rodolfo, where in “Sono andati?” their budding
romance is shown in their repetition of fragments from each other’s initial arias.

Example 5.21: Ecstasy in III/49

Their notes in III/49 come from the riddle scene in II/50 where Turandot intimidates

Example 5.22: Riddle in II/50

The melodic notes in the lovers’ ecstasy (III/49) transform the previous intimidating
atmosphere of the riddles section (II/50) into jubilance.72 This transformation shows that
their love has existed since the riddles scene, or even earlier. It grows when they share the
Mo-Li-Hua, through Calaf’s entrance tune, the kiss, and finally, in peaks in the ecstasy

Puccini had told Simoni that “I lack only the final duet. All the rest is orchestrated.” It thus seems that
this section (III/49) comes directly from Puccini’s plan. See Philips-Matz (2002), 288. Alfano completed
III/49 according to Puccini’s outline and, especially since the notes derive from the riddles scene, it may
indeed be close to what Puccini intended.

scene when they reveal their love to one another.73 At this moment Calaf brings Turandot
back to humanity. She and Calaf are in an equal position now, connected by love.

From my perspective, it is Calaf’s great love that melts Turandot. To a certain extent, Liù’s death
impressed upon Turandot the power of great love. But, I do not agree with those scholars who believe that
Turandot fell in love with Calaf because of Liù’s death.

Musical Synopsis – Turandot74

For a description of my Musical Synopsis, please see Chapter 1 (pp. 36-37).

Liù: “Signore, ascolta!”

In this aria, Liù tries to persuade Calaf not to solve Turandot’s riddles. She asks
him to remain with her and his father, Timur. Her melody is constructed through the
pentatonic collection (Gb-Ab-Bb-Db-Eb), which symbolizes her Asian identity.75 The
harmonic structure in this aria depicts a simple I-IV-V-I progression,76 reflecting the
simple dualistic harmonization of traditional Chinese music (IV-I-V).77 The overall
structure is listed below.

Table 5.1: The overall structure of “Signore, ascolta!”

Location/mm. I/42/1-8 I/42/8-13 I/42/13-15

^ ^ ^
Urlinie 5 6 5
Ursatz I IV V-I
Harmonic Detail I (4) -IV-V-I I-IV(I6-IV)-V-I

The aria is composed without regular repetition. The locally prominent Db (5) in

I/42/1 is decorated through a motivic upper neighbor, Db – Eb – Db (5^ - 6^ - 5),


presents a miniature summary of the entire aria. This upper neighbor 5^ - 6^ - 5^ is supported
by the oscillatory pedal (I64-V-I64). The position of the 64 reduces the tonic’s strength and

produces extremely smooth voice leading to the subdominant that follows. The 64 also

Liù presents a more broadly Asian identity (she may be a Tartar), not a Chinese one, because she is a
slave-girl who comes to China with Timur, the exiled emperor of Tartary.
When analyzing this aria, Andrew Davis explores what he calls “Romantic-Exotic Integration.” He basis
his idea on the notion that the harmonic emphasis on IV represents Puccinni’s Romantic style. The IV here
weakens the tendency of the dominant. Also, his analysis shows a 3-2-1 Urlinie descent. See Davis (2003),
The overall structure of Mo-Li-Hua displays a similar harmonic progression,“I-IV-v7-I.” Yet, the IV in
Mo-Li-Hua is much more independent, as its voice leading to the I6 is not as smooth as in Liù’s “Signore,

creates an unstable opening, wherein the lack of a root-position tonic foreshadows Liù’s
The opening of Liù’s “Signore, ascolta!” suggests a pseudo Chinese melody with
pentatonic underpinnings. The initial stable IV (in the key of Gb) arrives in I/42/5, while
the melodic passage in I/42/1-10 shows a manipulation of the pentatonic collection. The

diatonic neighbor (5^ - 6^ - 5)

imitates the Chinese melodic arch form, as do most sub-units
of the melody (see arches in Figure 5.1).

Figure 5.1: Liù: “Signore, ascolta!” (I/42/1-10)79

Davis makes a good point about this opening: “the chord [ 64] has at least some degree of identity not only
as a dominant 64 but also as a tonic 64. This is another example of Puccini’s undercutting the dominant
function, and it puts the tonality of the aria on very unstable ground. Indeed, no stable tonic harmony is
articulated in the piece until the eighth measure.” Davis (2003), 119-10.
Detailed discussion of my linear methodology can be found in the introductory chapter and chapter 1.

I/42/7-15 shows a complete I-IV-V-I progression, supporting yet another 5^ - 6^ - 5^
neighbor. The subdominant here is prolonged through a motion to and from I6. The IV
supports this heart-rending melody that is based on the prolongation of 6. Both IV and 6^
create a subdominant sound realm to support the female protagonist’s pleading. As the
text in this passage refers to the torment of exile, perhaps Liù is hoping the unknown
prince will be sympathetic to her and the elderly Timur and will stop his attempt to solve
the riddles. After reminding him of the torment of exile, the harmonic progression shifts
to V-I, where she repeats her and Timur’s sadness, and closes the aria.

Figure 5.2: Liù: “Signore, ascolta!” (I/42/7-20)

As mentioned earlier, the pseudo-Chinese style is evoked through the use of the
pentatonic and the melodic arches. However, as the smooth melodic line is constructed
^ ^ ^
from a large-scale 5- 6-5 prolongation, rather than a particular pentatonic scale, the

harmonic setting emphasizes diatonicism. Through the avoidance of the tendency tones 4^
and 7, the melody represents Puccini’s most mature versimatic melody. Recalling my
discussion in previous chapters, verismic characters such as Mimì (see particularly “Mi
chiamano Mimì”) employ a dualistic divide between IV and V to distinguish between
unrealistic dreams and reality. Since Mimì dies in the end, the IV implies that she is an
unrealistic character whose existence is preparation for her upcoming death. Tosca, in her
“Vissi d’arte,” expands the VI which is at the edge of the tonal realm in which she lives.
Only death can take her to the tonic world of Cavaradossi. Both the verismic character
Mimì and the verismo-influenced character Tosca show how Puccini utilizes predominant
chords for intense inner expression. These sentimental expressions are duplicated in the
verisimic character Liù, a slave-girl whose love for a man of noble birth can never
become a reality.80 In Liù’s aria, the IV virtually blends with the tonic to portray her
torment. The smooth link between the two chords here makes the tonic harmony vague
and portrays the intense sorrow of this Asian woman.81 Indeed, coming after such
characters as Mimì, Tosca, and Angelica, Liù’s music represents the culmination of
Puccini’s experimentation with the language of intimate musical expression as it is
manifest in the humblest of versimic characters.

As shown in a letter to Adami, Puccini suggests the death of Liù: “I think that Liù must be sacrificed to
some sorrow, but I don’t see how to do this unless we make her die under torture.” See Adami, ed., (1931),
292. The death of Liù has been controversial for long and scholars take the point that her death is the
crucial moment in the opera. Yet, scrutinizing the fact that verismic characters such as Mimì only exist to
die, it can be seen that the death of Liù, another verismic character, is necessary—as Puccini usually lets his
verismic characters die.
Certainly the character of Chinese pentatonic melody emphasizes smoothness, avoiding the built-up
need for resolution found in Western diatonicism. This may be the reason that Puccini puts so much
emphasis on IV in this aria. Interestingly, this seems like a natural connection for Puccini, whose earlier
music already favored the Romanticists connection to the subdominant.

Turandot: “In questa reggia”

As noted, Turandot is Gozzi’s most humane work. The female lead Turandot is a
character of fable whose pride has smothered and repressed her passion. She believes she
must take vengeance on men for her ancestor Lo-u-Ling, who had been raped by her
enemies when China was conquered thousands of years earlier. Awakening Turandot—
releasing her from her prison of revenge and restoring her humanity—requires the magic
of fairy tales; yet, a great humanity is presented in this abstract world in which
geographic boundaries are easily crossed. In other words, the humanity of that abstract
world offers only one language to all, and that is the language of love.82
Although Puccini was unable to complete his opera, his overall plan for bringing
Turandot back to a state of humanity is suggested in each of her appearances, from Acts I
to III. These three acts show a tripartite progression. In Act I, Turandot is presented as an
icy, distant icon. In Act II, she reveals that avenging Lo-u-Ling has made her incapable of
loving men. In Act III, the magic of love washes vengeance away. The icy heart of
Turandot gradually melts and returns her to human life through the love of Calaf, the
unknown prince.
In the beginning of Act I, the execution scene sets up the dreadful dynamics of
Turandot’s realm. The Chinese song, Mo-Li-Hua, sung by the chorus,, indicates the
presence of Turandot, and this authentic tune specifies her Chinese identity in this fable
set in a mythical China. Turandot does not sing in Act I, but merely appears for the
execution of the prince of Persia. Her gesture in ordering the execution clarifies her
bloodthirstiness. The execution, the authentic tune Mo-Li-Hua, and the mute Turandot
produce a dramatic image of an untouchable and inhuman ruler. When Turandot
disappears, she leaves her perfume in the air; it is a bewitching scent that reveals that
Turandot is really human. Although she is mute and her existence seems abstract (her
messages are all presented by others, from executions to the Mo-Li-Hua chorus), she is
completely real. It is her scent that first captures Calaf, who has fallen in love with her at
first sight. Fascinated with her dynamic beauty and scent, Calaf forgets his earlier curses
and determines to win her.
To this, one might add the universal language of music.

Calaf is not alone in his venture, because his decision to win Turandot changes
her life as well. She is the sleeping beauty, waiting for the right prince to rescue her. The
dramatic description thus far reveals Puccini’s overall plan for Act I. Although musically
Turandot is mute, through the efforts of other characters she is shown to be a distant icon,
like the moon, marvelous and yet unapproachable.83
Turandot’s initial note takes place in the middle of Act II, half way through the
opera. In her lengthy aria, “In questa reggia,” Turandot tells the story of Lo-u-Ling. As
prior scenes have set her image to be icy and distant, this aria is essential. It introduces
her inner thoughts for the first time. While everyone curses her cruelty, the story of her
ancestor suggests the origins of Turandot’s bloodthirstiness in Lo-u-Ling, whose tragic
incident has led her to seek vengeance on men.
In her description of this aria Clément says:

Finally, Turandot’s voice [in this opera] rises. Lofty, among the highest peaks of
superhuman voices, she imperially sings her own myth, her originating fantasy. A
cry that is not hers…here is the familiar hysteric from our childhoods, the woman
who has no soul, the one who finds her own soul in that of others, in a lost past
where the recalcitrant, the irrepressible, and the rebels from this endless war live

In other words, Turandot finds her soul in the body of another, Lo-u-Ling. Thus, it is Lo-
u-Ling’s voice recounting the incident that instigates this ritual of revenge. Clément’s
insightful comment stands on the literary viewpoint that Turandot finds her soul in Lo-u-
Ling. Yet, in Puccini’s writing, Turandot still owns her soul (see later analysis). It is more
likely that Turandot and Lo-u-Ling share one voice for much of this aria. Turandot’s
weak human voice does begin to emerge, showing that her return to humanity may be
gradual, but it is progressing. This aria presents the first step.

See Musical Synopsis of Turandot for more musical specificity.
See Clément (1988), 100.

1. Overall Structure

As suggested earlier, this fable-based opera is set in a China that is not tied to a
particular era. This fantastical setting allows Puccini to integrate elements from the styles
described above (diatonicism, pentatonicism, impressionism). This differs from Madama
Butterfly, where the setting was a very specific time in Japanese history and therefore
required a more restricted set of musical resources. The overall structure of “In questa
reggia” carefully integrates musical resources from the three styles described earlier, in
order to clearly portray the vengefulness of Lo-u-Ling, who lives on in Turandot,
specifically in her disdain for men. The aria includes an introduction and five sections, as
described in the chart below.85

Table 5.2: The overall structure of “In questa reggia”

Sections Intro. A B A’ C D

II/43/1-15 II/45/1-13 II/47/15

Location/mm. -II/44/1-2 II-44/3-14 - II/46/1-3 II/46/3-12 II/47/1-14 - II/48/1-7
key I/d f# D f# Gb-Bb-D-F# Eb-F#-Ab
Harmony I-III-bVI-I
(in f#) VI i (+42) VI i (+42) (Aug.) VI-I-II
^^ ^^^ ^^ ^^^
Urlinie 6-5 5-6-5 6-5 5-6-5

Drama Night Lo-u-Ling Terrible Avenge Warning Death/Life

Similarity* A & A’ B&D A & A’ C&D B, C & D
Resources Integration of tonal, Chinese pentatonic and French sonority
* Similarity lists sections which share similar motives.

Davis also points out that this aria shows the integration of three styles (romantic, exotic-Chinese, and
dissonant). However, he shows an overriding Urlinie ( 3-2-1) that guides the structure in his analysis. See
Davis (2003), 133-47. My approach differs from his, for I focus on the integration of tonal and pentatonic
structures to emphasize the story of the Chinese princesses (Lo-u-Ling, the first and Turandot, the second).

2. Sectional Detail

(1). Introduction

Figure 5.3: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (Introduction: II/43/1-15 to II/44/2)

The introduction begins with a D-major tonic chord, but ends in f# minor. The opening
shows a distinct modal mixture, as the tonic pedal supports a d-minor scale descent in the
melody. The blending of major and minor creates an eerie dynamic, suggesting a position
of far remove. In the meantime, the harmonic progression above the tonic pedal is lacking
in a leading tone for the first five measures: I-bvii7-v-V-I, again suggesting the travel to
the distant past of suggested in the text (See Figure 5.3).

The harmony after the arrival of I/d (in II/43/6) belongs to a chromatic sequence,
wherein a half-diminished triad becomes fully diminished. The intensifying dissonances
highlight the “cry” and the anguish described in the aria. This cry seems to travel through
the ages, arriving on a leading-tone-less v6 in d (II/43/9). This v6/d acts as a pivot to f#
minor (iii6/f#). F# minor is firmly established through a V-i motion in II/44/1-2.
Meanwhile, once the new key is set, the name of the princess who cried thousands of
years ago, Lo-u-Ling, is revealed. The key of f# then presents the Lo-u-Ling figure in the
subsequent sections.

(2). A section

Figure 5.4: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (A section: II/44/3-14)

The A section maintains the key of f# from the end of the introduction. As stated
before, the new key represents Lo-u-Ling and links to her unyielding quality. The
^ 6-
^ 5^ supported by an ostinato that is based on the oscillation of
melodic structure depicts 5-
two pentatonicized tonic and dominant chords i (+4/+2) and v7 (+6/+2).86 These two
pentatonicized chords combine tonal and pentatonic qualities to eerily portray the ghostly
figure of Lo-u-Ling in this fantasized China.
The motion above the ostinato is a i-iv-v7-i harmonic progression. This harmonic
^ 6-
^ 5,
^ recalling a similar structure found in Mo-Li-Hua,
motion supports the melody’s 5-
where the chorus sings to indicate the presence of Turandot in Act I.

Figure 5.5: Mo-Li-Hua (I/19/1-16 to I/20/1-21)

Davis comments on this oscillation between tonic and dominant, showing the parallel seventh motion:
“they are, after all, triadic extensions, and extensions are common romantic-style elements—but in this case
they are better interpreted as integrated dissonance.” The strict parallelism here obscures the tonal harmonic
nature. He goes further to state that this is an example of Puccini’s musical connection to Debussy’s
technique of “planning.” See Davis (2003), 140.

The harmonic structure of Mo-Li-Hua lacks a leading tone function (bVII7 and v7), thus
avoiding dramatic tension from tonal harmonic usage. The lack of a leading tone
preserves the smooth pentatonic quality, and the tonal dualism subtly reminds the listener
that both IV and v provide better support for Chinese pentatonic melody than other
functional chords. Indeed, they (D and S) share almost equal harmonic weight in the
pentatonic system. Liù’s aria, “Signore ascolta,” is based on a similar progression, but
unlike Mo-Li-Hua, which is based on a large-scale tonic prolongation, Liù’s aria focuses
on a prolongation of IV.87
^ 6-
^ 5^
The overall I-IV-v7-I structure of Mo-Li-Hua, along with the melodic 5-
motion is duplicated in this A section, although here it is placed above the ostinato. The
similarity between the two represents a critical link between the figures of Turandot and
Lo-u-Ling. The embedded structure of Mo-Li-Hua within Lo-u-Ling’s music also
suggests that the ghost figure of Lo-u-Ling has been transplanted in Turandot, who,
however, is weak compared to Lo-u-Ling. Thus, Turandot’s Mo-Li-Hua is under the
control of Lo-u-Ling’s ostinato.

(3). B Section
The B section returns to d minor. This key recalls the scene in the introduction in
which a night thousands of years ago is recalled. The minor tonic (d) replaces the major
tonic (D) from the introduction, replacing the F# (supported as a key area throughout the
aria) with F natural. The minor mode highlights the darkness of China’s conquest. The
realm of China is vividly illustrated through the pseudo-Chinese pentatonic melody,
which is constructed using the Chinese pentatonic scale (see Figure 5.6).88 Here the
neighbor motions (the Chinese melodic arches) prolong each pitch from the pentatonic
scale (A-B-D-E-F, instead of F#) to signify that China has been defeated. Puccini
A number of Chinese music texts describe how the Subdominant and Tonic can support the pentatonic
system: “It differs from Western tonal usage; there is no limitation for the D to S motion in Chinese
pentatonic harmony. Indeed, D-S can produce appropriate voice leading in Chinese pentatonic structure.
So, S-T is clearly valid in the pentatonic system” (my translation). See 王小玲 [Wang Xiao Ling] (2006), 5.
See also footnote 48 in this chapter.
The structure of Turandot’s “In questa reggia” shows a closer connection to the Chinese pentatonic
system than Liù’s aria “Signore ascolta.” In Turandot’s aria, it is both the literal pentatonic scale and the
pentatonic collection that form the fundamental structure, while in Liù’s, it is simply the pentatonic
collection that colors the harmony and melody.

combines this with the torture of Lo-u-Ling to produce a frightful scene, which is
mirrored in the ostinato, where two M2-related pitches oscillate (D-E as i-ii in II/45/1-
10). The distance between these two notes grows to a M3 (D-Bb as i-bVI) in II/45/11-12,
^ ^ ^
which supports a descending tonic arpeggiation (5- 3-1) in the melody. Here the bVI
replaces the ii to place emphasis on Lo-u-Ling’s torment rather than on the defeat of

China. The middleground structure shows a 6^ prolongation to depict her torture, recalling
the Lo-u-Ling’s tormenting “cry” in the introduction, also set with 6.

Figure 5.6: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (B section: II/45/1-13 to II/46/1-2)

(4). A’ section
The A’ section possesses a similar structure to the A section, where the melodic
^ 6-
^ 5^ is supported by the oscillation of two pentatonicized chords: i (+4/+2)
motion of 5-
and v7 (+6/+2). In the A section these two chords are used to depict the ghost figure of
Lo-u-Ling. Here, Puccini uses the pentatonicized chords to illuminate the death scenes of
the princes who come to court Turandot. The parallel images, the ghost of Lo-u-Ling and
the princes suggest that the princes’ attempts are in vain because the ghost of Lo-u-Ling
wants to avenge herself on men. In addition, her eerie figure (as represented in the
unearthly pentatonicized chords) emphasizes her will to do so. In addition, the middle
harmonies of Mo-Li-Hua (I-IV-v7-I) from the A section are replaced with iiø to V7;
Turandot is no longer present in the harmony. Thus, this revenge is primarily at the hands
of Lo-u-Ling, not Turandot. It is clear that Lo-u-Ling lives on in Turandot and kills the
princes herself.

Figure 5.7: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (A’ section: II/46/3-12)

The B section closes with a standard diatonic motion (iiø7-V7), resolving to the
minor tonic (shown as enharmonic Gb-minor) in the C section. The tonic resolution here
ends the story of Lo-u-Ling and she leaves the picture. The remainder of the C section
ushers in a new sonorous realm where the voice of Turandot is truly revealed.

(5). C section
The key plan of the C section unfolds a large-scale augmented triad. It begins
with the Gb tonic, then moves to Bb major and D major, finally returning to F#, the
enharmonic equivalent of Gb, completing a full cycle of major thirds. Each key area is
confirmed through a v-I progression. This augmented substructure supports a thrice-
repeated melody based on of the same ordering of the Chinese pentatonic scale that was
found in the B section. The lyrics in the B section recall Lo-u-Ling’s terrible experience
at the hands of men. These lyrics are musically linked to those in the C section, which
explain that Turandot will not be possessed by any man (of course supporting the
relationship of Turandot with her ancestor).
She repeats her statement three times, but in a surprising twist, when she finally
returns to the original key, F# (enharmonic to Gb), Turadot reveals her feelings toward
the unknown prince (Calaf). Turandot warns the unknown prince (Calaf) not to tempt
fate: “Straniero! Non tentare la fortuna!” — “Stranger! Do not tempt fate!”89 This
sudden warning washes away Turandot’s previous hatred and inhumanity to show her as
humane and compassionate. In particular, when we recall the appearance of this unknown
prince to Turandot, we are reminded that there had been twenty-six princes before him
who failed in their attempts and were executed. Thus, this is a particularly magical and
romantic moment in this aria.90

K.H.B. de Jaffa trans. (1926), 50.
As my dissertation focuses on harmony, I do not include any substantial discussion of orchestration in
my study. However, the accompaniment of the harp throughout the C section emphasizes the magical

Figure 5.8: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (C section: II/47/1-14)

Indeed, the revelation of Turandot’s humanity is manipulated through the careful

expansion of the augmented triad (Gb-Bb-D). This augmented structure opens a fabled
space to allow for the magical romanticism to sweep over the female lead.91 Also, since it
only occurs at the final moment, it seems clear that Turandot’s feelings well up from her
unconscious.92 Finally, ending her aria with a discussion of a magical transformation
foreshadows Turandot’s eventual return to humanity, fueled by the power of love.

The employment of the augmented triad to represent magical transformations can be found in Wagner’s
operas. For one discussion. see Mark Anson-Cartwright, “Chord as Motive: The Augmented-Triad Matrix
in Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll,” Music Analysis 15/I (1996): 57-71. Also, for a historic tracing of its origins
and analytic studies of its usage in the romantic era, see Matthew Bribitzer-Stull, “The Ab-C-E Complex:
The Origin and Function of Chromatic Major Third Collections in Nineteenth-Century Music,” Music
Theory Spectrum 28/2 (Fall 2006): 167-90.
In III/42 Turandot admits that she fell in love with Calaf at first sight (as discussed previously). Also,
perhaps the warning here coincides with Clément’s suggestion that the unknown prince (Calaf) is of the

(6). D section
In terms of dramatic functionality, the aria ends with the C section, where
Turandot’s true voice emerges. The D section presents the first conversation between
Turandot and the unknown prince (Calaf). They repeat each other’s melodies in the keys
of Eb and F#, respectively. Turandot intends to stop Calaf from attempting to solve the
riddles, but Calaf is prepared to risk everything for her.93 Thus ensues the trajectory
towards either love or death.

Figure 5.9: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (D section: II/47/15 to II/48/1-7)

same bloodline as the man who violated Lo-u-Ling thousands of years ago. He is now here to change that
history. Turandot, in whom Lo-u-Ling lives, thus feels a familiarity with him from the beginning. So, Lo-u-
Ling departs after telling her story and leaves Turandot to him. See Clément (1988, 101) and see footnote
28 in this chapter.
He may even be able to rectify the wrongs of the past, if one is to agree with Clément’s statement
(mentioned above) that Calaf belongs to the same bloodline as the man who violated Lo-u-Ling thousands
of years ago. Puccini clearly wanted Turandot to have feelings for Calaf from the moment he first appeared
before her. In a letter that Puccini wrote to Adami and Simoni, he describes a Turandot who is praying
because of the power that Calaf already has over her: “And for the first scene of Act II, consider the
daughter of the sky, high up beside the Emperor’s throne, beseeching and praying that she be not thrown
into the stranger’s arms.” See Giuseppe Adami ed. (1931), 285.

(7). From C section to D section
Greenwald suggests that the F#-Bb (in the beginning of II/47) and the Eb (at the
end of II/47) presents a three-fold key plan that coincides with the overall structure (F#-
Bb-Eb) from Act I, where the distant icon of Turandot is depicted. She states that the
bloodthirsty scene in Act I is reaffirmed here to tell of “Turandot, herself: bloodthirsty,
yet splendid, like the moon.”94 Indeed, making a connection between the F#-Bb-Eb
scheme from Act I and this aria explains how Turandot can be the shadow that covers the
entire dynamic of Act I even though she is mute. The terrible memory of Lo-u-Ling is
thrust on Turandot, in fact, the bloodthirsty Turandot (in Act I) seems to be under the
control of Lo-u-Ling.95 The real Turandot only appears in the romantic magical space,
and it is only at the last moment that she reveals her innocence.
The magical space (II/47) is reproduced in Act III (III/38) where the unknown
prince kisses Turandot. (See Figure 5.10).

Figure 5.10: Prior to the kiss in III/38

Greenwald (1991), 94.
It seems odd that such a proud princess would show passion so suddenly. The emergence of her passion
and humanity has to be revealed in small, incremental stages.

The augmented tripartite scheme96 unfolds with tonicizations of C, E, Ab, and C. Here
the unknown prince touches Turandot. Her resistance is useless as the unknown prince is
triumphant, following the major third cycle with a kiss. Oddly, the three-fold plan (F#-
Bb-Eb) in Act I presents what Greenwald suggests is the bloodthirsty Turandot. Yet, the
same scheme becomes F#-Bb-D-Gb (F#)-Eb in II/47, revealing Turandot’s initial
humanity through her warning to the prince. The two episodes (Act I – Act II) display the
progress of her change from bloodthirsty creature to human. This scheme becomes C-E-
Ab-C-F in III/38, which sets the final transformation with the magical kiss and
Turandot’s escape from the curse that has plagued her.

3. Conclusion

As suggested, this aria shows Turandot’s inner thoughts. It starts by explaining

the motivation to avenge Lo-u-Ling wherein the voice of Turandot is particularly weak.97
Her real voice only emerges near the end of this aria where the magic transformation
begins (as indicated by the augmented triad). The following analytic graph shows the
overall structure of the aria and clearly demonstrates how the voices of Turandot and Lo-
u-Ling control this aria.

Alfano completed this part based on the sketch that Puccini had left. As both II/47-48 and III/38 share
similar music, it stands to reason that the ideas in III/38 stem from Puccini.
This coincides with Clément’s comment that the soul in this aria is Lo-u-Ling’s, not Turandot’s. This is
only valid up to II/46, however. Ping, Pong and Pang have also told the unknown prince that Turandot does
not exist in Act I (I/39). This shows that the entire opera centers on Turandot’s identities and

Figure 5.11: Turandot: “In questa reggia” (Middleground of the entire aria)

Puccini has stated that to discover “the amorous passion of Turandot which she has
smothered so long beneath the ashes of her pride…”98 is the goal of the opera. The voice
of Turandot is revealed gradually. It is only at the end of the aria that she takes a first step
toward humanity. Thereafter, her passion is discovered step by step with the assistance of
Calaf 99 and Liù. In the death of Liù, Puccini reveals his last hand in his plan to melt the
heart of the icy princess. Liù’s scene is based on subdominant prolongation that supports
the pentatonically conceived melody.

Example 5.23: Prior to Liù’s death (III/24/1-5)

Comparing the figures of Lo-u-Ling and Liù, the pentatonicized tonic and dominant
chords representing Lo-u-Ling express hate and fright, while the diatonic subdominant
representing Liù expresses love.100 Both female protagonists present the dualistic
meanings of their characters.

Budden (2002), 424.
See the previous discussion in this chapter for the steps taken toward Turandot’s humanity.
Scholars have depicted the death of Liù as the dramatic pitfall of this opera. Yet, when comparing the
musical structure of Liù’s “Signore, ascolta!” with Turandot’s “In questa reggia,” Turandot’s aria places
much more weight on pentatonic structure than Liù’s. Liù’s aria is heart-rending and is inspired by the
pentatonic collection, but her musical structure is built on a diatonic foundation, not pentatonic. So, from a
musical perspective, she is like Mimì. She only exists to die.

Example 5.24: Dualist figure for love and hate

A similar dualistic dichotomy appears in Mimì’s “Mi chiamano Mimì” where the
IV and V realms represent the unrealistic dream and reality, respectively. When the
fragile and ill Mimì first appears and falls in love with Rodolfo, her figure seems to be
substantial (real). Yet, her dual figures (IV and V) suggest that she is not a true character,
but a representation of the feminine object of affection. Her death at the end of the opera
confirms this statement; she has only lived to die.
The dual figures of Mimì differ from the dual figures of Turandot, however.
Turandot initially appears to be a distinct and untouchable icon, an inapproachable image.
Her transformation is accomplished through the assistance of other characters. At first,
the chorus sings her Mo-Li-Hua and the authentic tune places her in the space of the
exotic “others.” Then, Lo-u-Ling speaks through Turandot through the pentatonicized
tonic and dominant chords, telling of her desire for vengeance against men. Turandot’s
true voice is only revealed in the magical augmented space that shows the first step
toward transformation. Next, Liù uses her diatonic subdominant to introduce love to
Turandot. In addition, Calaf uses the submediant in his “Nessun dorma!” to express his
great love. Thus, the overall harmonic representation of Turandot is revealed: starting
with the authentic Chinese song, Mo-Li-Hua, which presents the image of Turandot;
going to the pentatonicized tonic and dominant that portrays her hate and vengeance;
continuing with the subdominant and submediant that brings her to the path of love. It is

through the efforts of these characters (Chorus, Lo-u-Ling, Liù and Calaf) that the true
Turandot is incarnated and returned to humanity.101
Liù died after revealing her love for Calaf to Turandot; and it is at this juncture
that Puccini died. He had nearly completed Turandot and left sketches for the unfinished
portion (except for the scene after the kiss). The music he had already completed reveals
how he intended to transform Turandot and bring her to human life.102 What Puccini left
us is not an incomplete dream but an invitation. As Turandot is set in a fantasy world
where all substance can be comprehended through magic, all lovers of Puccini’s music
are able to enter the fantasy and complete Turandot with him. As he wrote shortly before
his death: “when the heart speaks . . . the outcome is the same to everyone.”103 Only those
who speak with their hearts will enter the opera’s magical realm and will respond to that
“something human” that Puccini offers the audiences of Turandot.

Certainly the efforts of Calaf’s love count the most. But, as Puccini did not finish the opera, Calaf’s part
is incomplete. As my dissertation centers on Puccini, I have regretfully left Alfano’s contributions out of
my discussion.
See the previous discussion on “From C Section to D Section.” Also, as I do not deal with Alfano’s
work on the opera here, I admit that the analysis seems incomplete. I have missed the most important part
pertaining to Turandot’s return to humanity (the love duet) here. But, as my attention has been devoted to
what remains under Puccini’s hand, I have chosen to stop the discussion here.
See Phillips-Matz (2002), 288.



I believe I have done good work; perhaps, though, I have made a mistake, with all the new things
people are trying today, following rough-sounding paths and discord, where sentiment—that
sentiment that gives us joy and tears—has been abandoned. I have put my whole soul into this
opera; we shall see whether my vibrations match those of the public. (Giacomo Puccini, 1924.)1

Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) lived at a time when the world was experiencing
radical sociopolitical changes in both domestic and international domains. The Industrial
Revolution and its technological advances changed the way people lived and worked, as
well as the social structure with which they had previously identified. The voices of
capitalism and communism competed and sometimes clashed, the former stirred by the
rise of the mercantile classes, the latter by the working classes that provided labor for the
businesses, trades, and industries spawned by the great age of modernization. These
systems eventually replaced the Imperial structure of most western nations in the early
twentieth century.
The technological advances that improved transportation and facilitated
communication for Western peoples gave them a cosmopolitan perspective and interest in
other cultures of the world. International relations made people see the world with new
interest and fascination. Former remote parts of the world seemed closer and the people
who inhabited them more accessible. The rise of the middle class, the ease of
transportation, and a curiosity for the world outside the habitual comforts of Europe
created audiences for Puccini that were intrigued with distant lands and fascinated by the
exotic. At the same time, opera-goers of Puccini’s time were receptive to his intimate
characterizations, especially of his exotic female subjects, an intimacy in which his
audiences could feel compassion for a geisha in Japan or an ice princess in a mythical
China. Puccini created for his audiences romantic fantasies in remote lands where surreal
events could be transported to the operatic stage. Exotic domains became wonderlands

From a letter Puccini wrote to Simoni on March 25, 1924. See Phillips-Matz (2002), 288.

for audiences to escape from real life. In Puccini’s operas, human intimacy conjoins with
exotic fantasy to create magical and surprisingly believable worlds that have been
transporting audiences for nearly a hundred years.

The Feminine

Puccini did not create his exotic characters or settings from scratch. In fact, they
represented part of the social thinking of his time. In addition to capturing, refining, and
concentrating the ideas of the period in his characters, he also contributed his own special
ability to portray his observations, making them come vividly alive on the operatic stage.
Some examples of this can be found in the verismic character, Mimì, who represents the
romance of the lower-classes, and Butterfly, whose story was based on an unrealistic
exotic event set in a far-away land. Also, as I have suggested in the Turandot chapter, the
style of Verdi, which emphasized the dominance of male power, faded in Puccini’s work.
Puccini instead emphasized the intimacy of the little things of daily life.
Puccini’s great humanity has been consistently displayed in his compassion for
society’s subordinate groups, particularly women. Most of his female characters fits into
the verismo or verismo-influenced category. They share one thing in common in that they
experience love and, for the most part, die from the experience. However, Puccini did not
write women’s roles only to lead his heroines to a romantic and passive death. His female
roles grew in strength and determination, evolving into characters that were vulnerable to
love, but independent and capable of free will and self-sacrifice. This evolution can be
seen in the shift from the subordinate image of Mimì in the early La bohème to the
determined and substantive character of Liù in Turandot.2

Carner has stated that “Works that are genuinely admired by the world at large must possess some value
even if they offend the taste and principles of the elite. We may in cold blood accuse an artist of holding a
view of life which as a statement of moral and spiritual values strikes us as shallow or even false, yet we
cannot withhold our admiration from him if he succeeds in transmuting this view into artistic terms of such
intensity, conviction and imaginative qualities as will make it perennially interesting and persuasive. This,
clearly, is Puccini’s case.” See Carner (1958), 230. I agree with Carner. To a certain extent, Puccini kept
his style moving in one direction, but that does not deny his contribution to the operatic world as he
consistently made progress in a direction that was, in Carner’s terms, “perennially interesting and

Mimì’s voice is surreal as she is meant to be Rodolfo’s imaginary love fantasy. It
is only her death that puts her at the center of the Bohemians. Tosca exists in her own
world and can never live without Cavaradossi. She depends on Cavaradossi to live on
stage, and her voice emerges only at the time she plays the diva and kills Scarpia. Yet,
Floria Tosca is mute without the presence of Cavaradossi or the Madonna. It is,
unexpectedly, Butterfly in her American cocoon, who is first independent. Her voice
reveals the strength of will with which she becomes an American, but also the conflict
between her desire and her Japanese identity. Audiences can hear the real Butterfly as she
creates her dream through her Japanese imagination, yet Butterfly is deaf to herself.
Finally, it is Liù whose voice fully emerges. Indeed, Liù is the most independent among
Puccini’s verismic characters as she clearly knows herself and accurately portrays her
role as a slave-girl in this opera. She turns over her life, and it is her great self-sacrifice
that allows Calaf to unite with Turandot.
In scrutinizing the deaths of these aforementioned female characters, we see that
Mimì dies because she only exists as a vehicle to prepare for her upcoming death; Tosca
dies in order to enter Cavaradossi’s world; Butterfly dies because she realizes she cannot
attain her American dream in this life. Her death represents another pursuit in the
afterlife. In these three female protagonists, death does not represent the end of life but a
continuous journey or a rebirth. Only Liù ends her life because she clearly wants to
transfer her love to Turandot so that Calaf can fulfill his dream. From this standpoint, Liù
is the true heroine of all of Puccini’s verismic characters. We can thus surmise that
Puccini’s idea of the verismic character evolved from dependency and subordination to
independence and dominance, and that these women’s gentleness presents a type of
strength, a softness with strength of will. This quality of quiet determination is difficult to
remove or defeat, and more difficult to defend against than domination.

Harmonic Representation

The advocacy of human rights surfaced from new political systems in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century and were also represented in the arts, including the

realm of music. The hierarchy of a tonal tradition that had developed over the course of
centuries had arrived at a turning point. Musicians and audiences of the time were
seeking to communicate through less hierarchic musical structures. One obvious example
could be found in the new post-tonal approach to chromaticism, which proclaimed the
equality of all twelve tones. Puccini certainly knew of this trend, but he preferred to stay
within the Italian tonal tradition and yet modify this tradition to accord with the new
societal aesthetics. When he did make use of the new styles, he borrowed mostly from
French Impressionism, which showed the influence of Debussy, but not of Schoenberg
and the Second Vienna School. And even when adopting Impressionistic sounds, Puccini
was careful to preserve the Italian tradition, as he merely incorporated the new musical
vocabulary for coloristic and dramatic needs. He had no interest in replacing his tonality
with the new musical style.
While Puccini remained firmly within the tonal tradition, his musical vocabulary
did distinctly weaken the hierarchy of tonal structure, as evidenced in a number of ways.
First, he paid particular attention to extended prolongations of the subdominant and other
harmonies that belong to the same harmonic realm.3 This reinforced the weight of the
subdominant and made it capable of competing with the dominant. Second, Puccini

consistently applied the upward interval of a P4 (5^ - 1)

to create closure.4 Meanwhile, he
also eliminated the leading tone from the dominant to avoid tension, and by doing so,
Puccini weakened the weight of the dominant and its dramatic tension. Third, through
increasing emphasis on the realm of the subdominant and decreasing weight on the
dominant (and its substitutes), both subdominant and dominant stand in almost equal
proportion. As a result, directed tonal motion becomes motion in opposite directions,
with the tonic serving as the center. Here, the space of within the opposition is capable of
building networks in both dominant and subdominant regions, as shown by the arrow to

The subdominant here includes any chord that can function as the PD in T-PD-D-T pattern. I use the
subdominant here in order to retain the focus of the discussion on Puccini’s dualistic harmonic structure.
One of the examples is Cavaradossi’s aria, “E lucevan le stele.” See the Tosca chapter for discussion.

the right in Figure 6.1. Regardless of the motion within each region, the tonic stands at
the center to control the tonal color of each side.5

T—S—D—T Becomes S — T — D

Hierarchy Softness Dominancy

Figure 6.1: Directed tonal motion versus dualistic regions

As a result, Puccini was able to manipulate a voice-leading smoothness and a contrast

that came from the balancing of these two regions, while still controling them within a
single tonic. In a word, he deconstructed the hierarchic order of tonal vocabulary while
still preserving its diatonic roots.
Lastly, as the dramatic tension that comes from conflict-resolution in
conventional tonal usage is replaced to become a smoother tonal landscape, the dramatic
character of the conventional tonal structure fades. It does, however, make room for
“exotic” sonorities and systems to inhabit the new tonal kingdom. This seems extremely
purposeful on Puccini’s part, and the seamless shifting of styles that his music allows had
been cultivated at least since La bohème, 6 perhaps even before. As a result, it planted the
seed of orientalism, displaying the flexibility to adapt to many possible styles.

This is not pitch centricity, however. Pitch centricity implies that a work that does not otherwise employ
functional harmony uses other means to emphasize one particular pitch. In Puccini, it is the harmonic
relationships themselves that clarify and establish tonic.
See chapter on Mimì for discussion.

The Harmonic Representation of the Feminine

In scrutinizing the operatic worlds that Puccini’s female characters inhabit, we see
that he makes consistent progress in his application of the subdominant region in order to
smooth harmonic motion and to allow the subdominant to compete with the dominant.
For instance, the dualistic harmonic structure of Mimì’s music places IV as the dualistic
opposition of V, with I in the center. The IV and V portray the coexistence of love and
death. When Mimì dies, her death signifies that the unrealistic realm of the subdominant
must be subsumed by the realistic realm of the dominant. Contrasted with Mimì’s
unrealistic dream, the IV in Musetta represents her attractiveness to men. In Tosca, the
strength of the dominant is reduced by the absence of the leading tone. In the meantime,
the strength of the submediant increases as it consistently forbids the dominant to make
its proper resolution to the tonic. The submediant represents the edge of the world that
Tosca inhabits. Tosca does not truly receive tonic support, yet, unlike Mimì who exists to
die, Tosca lives within the realm of the submediant. Butterfly presents Puccini’s initial
attempt to orient the tonal structure such that it invites non-western musical materials: the
Japanese musical system. Even if Western and Japanese realms coexist in the opera, the
challenge here is maintaining an appropriate balance. To do so, Puccini weakens the
tension of the leading tone while still preserving the V-I relationship. This serves as a
legitimate departure from the tonal system in that the fundamental dramatic effect fades.
As a result, it opens a space that is filled by borrowings from the Japanese style.
All these aforementioned developments culminated in the portrayals of Liù and
Turandot. In Liù, it is the subdominant that subsumes the dominant. Unlike Butterfly’s or
Tosca’s music, Liù’s dominant maintains its leading tone, yet the emphasis and special
placement of the subdominant focuses the drama on the left side of the dualist dichotomy
(focusing on the gentleness and kindness of self-sacrificing love). In Turandot, the tonic
and dominant chords include added notes, both to reinforce their strengths, and to link
them to the pentatonic music of China. Yet, by doing so, Puccini subtly makes Turandot
take the subordinate role in her aria and lets Lo-u-Ling sing, transplanted into the form of
Turandot. Indeed, Puccini shapes the personality of Turandot, his only unfinished female
character, via the juxtaposition of two harmonic regions (dual figures in the subdominant

and dominant) that come from other characters (Liù, Calaf and Lo-u-Ling) and the
passions they represent. Perhaps Puccini might also have wanted to manifest this dual
harmonic organization to support a synthesis of the two systems (tonal and pentatonic) in
the love duet for Turandot, so that she may reveal her real voice in this fabled world. This
can never go beyond a hypothesis, of course, but I look forward to future discussion and
dialogue on this topic.

Giacomo Puccini and Italian Opera

To a certain extent, the employment of dualistic harmonic regions to portray the

world of dominance and intimacy is simple. Yet, through emphasis on the subdominant
region, Puccini vividly expresses tender sentiments in the small moments of everyday
life. As this simplicity eventually opens a door for the sounds of non-western borrowings
to enter, it also is the key to unlock the possibilities that could be created by smoothly
including the music of “others.” Thus, it is simplicity itself; yet, by borrowing from all of
the influences found in his particular emotional styles (from the dualist figure of Mimì,
the religious (vi) implication of Tosca, the linking of the diatonic and Japanese system in
Madama Butterfly; and, finally, the tonal integration with the Chinese system in
Turandot), Puccini awakens new sympathies for and understanding of other cultures. In
the end, he enriched the Italian tonal tradition through the employment of exotic tunes
and the invocation of other cultures. The result was a demonstration that the great Italian
operatic tradition is capable of orientating itself to worldwide music, and is thus able to
speak to worldwide audiences.
What remains is the question of how the Italian tonal tradition was able to create a
highly diverse and emotional music that could serve the needs of drama while still
preserving its diatonic language and Italian color. What theoretical concepts can present
this tradition and its development? What critical turning points can be found in this
tradition? How can this tradition incorporate musical styles from other European nations,
such as Germany, and still preserve its national identity? How can it incorporate different
exotic borrowings and maintain a balance that preserves the identities of each?

Italian opera has played a role in the development of European tonal music since
its initial creation in sixteenth-century Florence.7 It has even influenced the musical styles
of other nations, such as Germany.8 While Wagner’s leitmotif and chromaticism
characterised the German Romantic opera of the nineteenth century, it was Verdi with his
heritage of the Italian tradition that competed with Wagner. Later on, while Strauss
continued in the realm of Wagner’s chromaticism and produced dissonant harmonies in
Salome (1905) and Elektra (1909), it was Puccini’s sentimental style coming from the
Italian style that competed with German opera. And, when Berg’s Wozzeck (1925)
appeared to be the outstanding new development in operatic musical language, Puccini’s
tonal language still held a privileged status in the hearts of opera-goers. Certainly the
names Puccini and Berg represent opposite poles of musical style, but the point here is
that while audiences paid attention to the post-tonal works, their affections lay in the
tradition from which Puccini worked. Indeed, the avant-garde at the beginning of the
twentieth-Century, including such composers as Schoenberg, Webern and Stravinsky,
liked Puccini’s operas. As he had wished, Puccini’s “writings of sentiment” resonate with
diverse audiences and vibrate within each individual’s heart. More than that, we are left
with the knowledge that Italian opera created a solid foundation from which to express
the themes of humanity that stir the emotions of audiences of all times and races.

The term Intermedio, inserted music between acts of the play, represents the first attempt at opera in Italy.
One example is Girolamo Bargagli’s La pellegrina (1589) which contains six intermedi. Artists of the time
included Giovanni Bardi de vernio, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, Giulio Caccini and Jacopo Peri. See Donald Jay
Grout & Hermine Weigel Williams (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 25-26. Thanks also to
class notes from Prof. Douglas Fisher’s Opera Literature I class (FSU, Fall/2004).
In fact, Italian operatic composers have influenced German composers in different ways. For a more
thorough discussion, see Chapter One, footnote one. In addition, Carner pairs German and Italian opera
composers from each period: Gluck-Piccini, Mozart-Cimarosa, Weber-Rossini, Wagner-Verdi, and Strauss-
Puccini. See Carner (1958), 232. This shows that the Italian style is never absent from the history of opera.
From my perspective, Mozart is an exception to Carner’s list, as Mozart’s works include both German and
Italian operas: Italian opera (Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte), German Singspiel (Die
Entführung aus dem Serail) and German opera (Die Zauberflöte).

Conclusion and Directions for Future Study

Because of the large scope of this (and all) study of opera, I have had to restrict
my focus on the few characters discussed in this dissertation. In the future, I hope to
examine the harmonic language used by other female characters, such as Manon from
Manon Lescaut, Minnie from la fanciulla del West and Angelica from Suor Angelica.
The goal in so doing would be to present the distinct harmonic representation of each of
Puccini’s female characters. Moreover, based on the understanding of the music of
Puccini’s women characters, I would like to apply the same theoretic models to the study
of Puccini’s male characters. Ultimately, I would like to explore how Puccini
harmonically portrays the interaction between genders and to demonstrate how this
harmonic representation coheres with the drama to portray the dynamic relationship
between male and female leads. This expansion might also further our understanding of
how Puccini’s distinct harmonic language unifies the diverse cultural resources used in
his operas.
In addition, as I have consistently mentioned, the development of the Italian tonal
tradition requires more attention from theorists. My hope in this study was to begin
finding the connections between Puccini and other Italian opera composers, such as
Rossini and Verdi. These composers have preserved a distinctive Italian operatic writing,
which can still be heard in such places as the film music of Ennio Morricone.9 I believe
that a thorough study of Italian (and perhaps even American) film music would show
how Puccini’s incorporation of disperse styles and harmonic languages has influenced
modern film music. Ultimately, my hope is to stimulate others’ interest in Puccini and to
invite more music theoretical scholars to partake in the research of Puccini and Italian

Many scholars have suggested that Puccini represents the final stage in the Italian great tradition. From
my perspective, the end of this epoch also has to do with the diversity of entertainment brought by modern
technologies, which has reduced the role of opera in popular culture. But the Italian opera tradition
continues to make its appearance in other forms of entertainment. For instance, the film music industry in
Italy creates productions for worldwide audiences. In 2007, the Italian composer Ennio Morricone received
an honorary Academy Award, the second composer to have received this honor. One can hear the Italian
tonal tradition transplanted to film music, and the music of Morricone is one expression of this influence.
See (accessed May 25, 2008).

The musical writing of Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) was never as radical as
most of his contemporaries. Neither did he invent any new theories that were taken up by
students and taught in conservatories. What distinguishes him is his ability to integrate
diverse types of sonorities and keep them in balance in order to express a particular
sentiment. Although he did not go in the direction of his contemporaries in a time of great
innovation, he did exhibit intellectual and artistic interest in contemporary themes
through his approach to international and exotic locales. Puccini’s writing, in his Italian
tonal tradition, embraced themes that extended to and reverberated throughout the world.
Later, Puccini’s works brought the attention of international audiences to Italian opera
and its tonal tradition. Puccini’s commitment to this tradition and his skill in integrating
diverse sonorous systems secured his status in the contemporary world and caused his
audiences to regard his innovations as more advanced than those of most of his
Puccini sought to express his great humanity through his musical pursuits, stating

...sentiment—that sentiment that gives us joy and tears—has been abandoned. I

have put my whole soul into this opera; we shall see whether my vibrations match
those of the public.10

His hopes were fulfilled in his ability to express true and intense emotions through artistic
simplicity. Ultimately, this quality of simplicity sheds a great deal of light on Puccini’s
craftsmanship, embodying his belief that humanity is to be found in the details of
everyday life.11
If we can agree that the time of Verdi was represented by the highly romantic,
larger-than-life hero, as characterized in Carner’s statement that “Verdi’s uniqueness lies
in the elemental masculinity of his whole art. A spouting volcano. . . ,”12 perhaps we can
also agree that Puccini lived in times calling for more intimacy, and in which female
characters acquired greater complexity. Social changes, some of which have been

Phillips-Matz (2002), 288.
In this respect, Puccini’s aesthetic is similar to American contemporary, Charles Ives.
Carner goes on to say that “...Verdi was a product of the risorgimento [national rebirth], that awakening
in the national spirit which inspired Italy to fight for political freedom and unity,” see Carner (1958), 232.

mentioned earlier, whet the public’s appetite for art forms expressing the kind of
unvarnished realities of life created by the Industrial Revolution. This setting paved the
way for a more complex and richer psychological aesthetics that looked deeper into the
lives of ordinary human beings.13 Thus, the masculine world into which Puccini had been
born was beginning to disintegrate, giving way to societal forces that were beginning to
shape a new interest in heretofore neglected groups and under-classes—the working and
middle classes, and women. If we can all agree on these broader views and take this as a
starting point when considering Puccini, his music and his times, perhaps we can realize
why the sentiment of small things came to be foremost in his musical pursuits. And,
perhaps through this realization, we can rethink our branding of Puccini as “sentimental.”
Instead Puccini’s appeal to the sentiments of his audiences distinguished him from his
contemporaries and placed him in the pantheon of the great artists of Italian opera.

Some scholars compare Puccini with his precedent, the giant – Verdi and excuse Puccini for his artistic
limitations. Yet, while the time of Verdi was already gone, the question here should not be whether Puccini
could write in a style as sublime and masculine as Verdi, but whether Puccini should write with the
language of Verdi. The answer is a resounding no.


Aalas, J. A. Van. Chinese Music. New York: Paragon book Reprint Corp, 1966.

Abbate, Carolyn. And Parker, Roger. Ed. Analyzing Opera: Verdi and Wagner. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1989.

_____. Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century.
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Adami, Giuseppe. Ed. Letters of Giacomo Puccini. Trans. and ed. Ena Makin.
Philadelphia & London: J. B. Lippincott, 1931.

Adami, Giuseppe. and Simoni, Renato. Turandot. Trans. K.H.B. de Jaffa. U.S.A.: G.
Ricordi, 1926.

Agawu, Kofi. Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Position. New
York: Routledge, 2003

Anson-Cartwright, Mark. Review of Explaining Tonality: Schenkerian Theory and

Beyond, by Matthew Brown. Journal of Schenkerian Studies 2, 2006 forthcoming.

_____. “Chord as Motive: The Augmented-Triad Matrix in Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll.”

Music Analysis 15/I (1996): 57-71.

Atlas, Allan W. “Crossed Stars and Crossed Tonal Areas in Puccini’s Madama
Butterfly.” 19th – Century Music 14/2 (Autumn 1990): 186-96.

_____. “Newly Discovered Sketches for Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ at The Pierpont Morgan
Library.” Cambridge Opera Journal 3/2 (Jul. 1991): 173-91.

_____. “Puccini’s Tosca: A New Point of View.” Studies in the History of Music 3. New
York: Broude Brothers Ltd, 1992.

_____. “Multivalence, Ambiguity and Non-Ambiguity: Puccini and the Polemicists.”

Journal of the Royal Musical Association 118/1 (1993): 73-93.

_____. “Mimì’s Death: Mourning in Puccini and Leoncavallo.” Journal of Musicology

14/1 (Winter 1996): 52-79.

Ashbrook, William. The Operas of Puccini. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

Ashbrook, William and Powers, Harold. Puccini’s Turandot: The End of the Great
Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Babbitt, Milton. The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt. Edited by Stephen Dembski,
Andrew Mead, and Joseph N. Straus. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Baker, Steven Scott. “Neo-Riemanian Transformations and Prolongational Structures in

Wagner’s Parsifal.” Ph.D. diss., Florida State Univ. College of Music, 2003.

Berger, William. Puccini without Excuses. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.

Bergeron, Katherine. “Review: Clément’s Opera, or One Woman’s Undoing”

Cambridge Opera Journal 2/1 (Mar. 1990): 93-98.

Bribitzer-Stull, Matthew. “The Ab-C-E Complex: The Origin and Function of Chromatic
Major Third Collections in Nineteenth-Century Music.” Music Theory Spectrum
28/2 (Fall 2006): 167-90.

Brown, Matthew. And Park, Roger. “Motivic and Tonal Interaction in Verdi’s ‘Un ballo
in maschera.’” Journal of the American Musicological Society 36/2 (Summer
1983): 243-65.

_____. “‘Ancora un bacio: Three Scenes from Verdi’s “Otello.”’ 19th Century Music
9/1 (Summer 1985): 50-62.

Brown, Matthew. “A Rational Reconstruction of Schenkerian Theory.” Ph. D. diss.,

Cornell University, 1989.

_____. Explaining Tonality: Schenkerian Theory and Beyond. Rochester: University of

Rochester Press, 2005.

Budden, Julian. “Reviewed Work(s): The Operas of Puccini by William Ashbrook.” The
Musical Times 127/1716 (Feb. 1986): 93.

_____. Puccini. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

_____. “Puccini, Giacomo.” The New Grove Dictionary of Music Online, ed. Laura
Macy, (accessed January 9, 2006).

Burnham, Scott. “Theorists and The Music Itself.” The Journal of Musicology 15/3
(Summer 1997): 316-329.

Burton, Deborah Ellen. “An Analysis of Puccini’s Tosca: A Heuristic Approach to the
Unifying Elements of the Opera.” Ph.D. diss., Michigan University, 1996.

_____. “Orfeo, Osmin and Otello: towards a theory of opera analysis,” Studi musicali
33/2 (2004): 359-85.

Cadwallader, Allen and Gagné, David. Analysis of Tonal Music. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1998.

Carner, Mosco; G. R. “The Exotic Element in Puccini,” The Musical Quarterly 22/1
(1936): 45-67.

_____. Madam Butterfly: A Guide to the Opera. London: Breslich & Foss, 1979.

_____. Giacomo Puccini, Tosca. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

_____. Puccini: A Critical Biography, 3rd ed. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1992.

Castel, Nico. Trans. The Complete Puccini Libretti. Geneseo, New York: Leyerle, 1994.

Cherlin, Michael. “Why we got into analysis and what to get out of it. ” Theory &
Practice 11 (1986): 53-74.

Christen, Norbert. Giacomo Puccini: analyt. Unters. d. Melodik, Harmonik u.

Instrumentation. Hamburg: Verlag der Musikalienhndlung, 1978.

Clément, Catherine. Opera, or the Undoing of Women. Trans. Betsy Wing. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Cohn, Richard. “Maximally Smooth Cycles, Hexatonic Systems, and the Analysis of Late
– Romantic Triadic Progression.” Music Analysis 15.1 (Mar. 1996): 9-40.

_____. “Introduction to Neo-Riemannian Theory: A Survey and a Historical

Perspective.” Journal of Music Theory 42/2 (1998): 168 - 80.

_____. “as Wonderful as Star Clusters: Instruments for Gazing at Tonality in Schubert.”
19th-Century Music 22/3 (Spring, 1999): 213-32.

Cone, Edward. “The World of Opera and Its Inhabitants.” Music: A View from Delft.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989, 13-27.

Cooper, Martin. “Stage Works: 1890-1918.” The Modern Age 1890-1960. Edited by J. A.
Westrup, Gerald Abraham, Anselm Hughes, Egon Wellesz, and Martin Cooper
Martin Cooper. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974, 153-64.

Corse, Sandra. ‘“Mi chiamano Mini” The Role of women in Puccini’s Operas.”’ Opera
Quarterly 1/1 (1980): 93-106.

Dahlhaus, Carl. Nineteenth-Century Music. Trans. J. Bradford Robinson. Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1989.

Darcy, Warren. Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Darcy, Warren. “Creatio ex nihilo: The Genesis, Structure, and Meaning of the Rheingold
Prelude.” 19th-Century Music 13/2 (Autumn 1989): 79-100.

_____. Review of Analyzing Opera: Verdi and Wagner, by Carolyn Abbate and Roger
Park. Music Theory Spectrum 13/2 (Autumn 1991): 260-64.

_____. Wagner’s Das Rheingold. New York: Oxford University, 1993.

Davis, Andrew C. “Structural Implications of Stylistic Plurality in Puccini’s Turandot.”

Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 2003.

_____. “Turandot and the Modern Puccini.” published in Spanish as "Turandot y el

Puccini moderno," trans. Anouska Antunez. Yearbook of the ABAO-OLBE
Bilbao: Asociación Bilbaina de Amigos de la Ópera, 2007.

Digaetani, John Louis. “Puccini’s Tosca and the Necessity of Agnosticism.” The Opera
Quarterly 2 (1984): 76-84.

Everett, Yayoi Uno and Lau, Frederick. eds. Locating East Asia in Western Art Music.
Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2004.

Fiorentino, Dante Del. Immortal Bohemian: An Intimate Memoir of Giacomo Puccini.

New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1952.

Fisher, Douglas. "Tosca." Lyric Season Companion: 2004/2005. Chicago: Lyric Opera of
Chicago (2004): 63-73.

Forte, Allen. “New Approaches to the Linear Analysis of Music.” Journal of the
American Musicological Society 41/2 (Summer 1988): 315-48.

Geoffrey & Ryan Edwards. Verdi and Puccini Heroines: Dramatic Characterization in
Great Soprano Roles. London: The Scarecrow Press, 2001.

Girardi, Michele. Puccini: His International Art. Trans. Laura Basini. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Greenwald, Helen. “Dramatic Exposition and Musical Structure in Puccini’s Operas.”

Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 1991.

_____. “Recent Puccini Research,” Acta Musicologica 65, Fassil (Jan. 1993): 23-50.

Grout, Donald Jay and Williams, Hermine Weigel. A Short History of Opera, 4th ed. New
York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Gobbi, Titto. “Interpretation: some reflections.” Giacomo Puccini: Tosca. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Harrison, Daniel. Harmonic Function in Chromatic Music: A Renewed Dualist Theory
and an Account of Its Precedents. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Hyer, Brian. “Tonality.” The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory. Edited by
Thomas Christensen. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002, 726-52.

Klumpenhouwer, Henry. “Dualist Tonal Space and Transformation in Nineteenth-

Century Musical Thought.” The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory.
Edited by Thomas Christensen. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002,

Jacob, Naomi and Robertson, James C. Opera in Italy. New York: Books For Libraries
Press, 1948.

Kerlinger, Fred N. “Behavior and Personality in Japan: A Critique of Three Studies of

Japanese Personality.” Social Forces 31/3 (Mar. 1953): 250-58.

Kerman, Joseph. Opera As Drama. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956.

_____. Contemplating Music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Kielian-Gilbert, Marianne. “Of Poetics and Poiesis, Pleasure and Politics - Music Theory
and Modes of the Feminine.” Perspectives of New Music 32/1 (1994): 44-67.

Kramer, Lawrence. “Reviewed Work(s): Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative
in the Nineteenth Century by Carolyn Abbate.” 19th Century Music 15/3 (Spring
1992): 235-39.

Lang, Paul Henry. The Experience of Opera: An Informal Introduction to Operatic

History and Literature. New York: W.W. Norton, 1971.

Latham, Edward. “Linear-Dramatic Analysis: An Analytical Approach to Twentieth-

Century Opera.” Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 2000.

Lawton, David. ‘“On the “Bacio” Theme in “Otello.”’ 19th Century Music 1/3 (Mar.
1978): 211-20.

Levis, John Hazedel. Foundations of Chinese Musical Art. New York: Paragon, 1963.

Lewin, David. “Behind the Beyond.” Perspectives of New Music 7 (1969): 50-60.

_____. Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations. New Haven: Yale University
Press, 1987.

_____. “Klumpenhouwer Networks and Some Isographies that Involve Them.” Music
Theory Spectrum 12/1 (Spring 1990): 84-116.

Lo, Ki-Ming. “‘Turandot’ auf der Opernbühne.” Diss.: Heidelberg, 1988.

Locke, Ralph P. “Musical Exoticism: Toward a Second Paradigm,” Paper presented at

American Musicological Society and Society of Music Theory Annual Meet, Los
Angeles CA, 2006.

Mary Jane, Phillips-Matz. Puccini: A Biography. Boston: Northeastern University Press,


McClary, Susan. Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality. Minneapolis:

University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

McCreless, Patrick. “Schenker and Chromatic Tonicization: A Reappraisal.” Schenker

Studies. Edited by Hedi Sigel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990,

_____.“Reviewed Work(s): Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Studies in Musical Genesis and

Structure by Warren Darcy.” 19th-Century Music 18/3 (Spring 1995): 277-90.

Nicholson, David. “Gozzi’s “Turandot”: A Tragicomic Fairy Tale.” Theatre Journal.

31/4 (1979): 467-78.

Palisca, Claude V. Studies in the History of Italian Music and Music Theory. Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1994.

Parker, Roger. “A Key for Chi? Tonal Areas in Puccini,” 19th-Century Music 15/3
(Spring 1992): 229-34.

Pinzauti, Leonardo. “Giacomo Puccini’s Trittico and the Twentieth Century.” The
Puccini Companion. Edited by William Weaver and Simonetta Puccini. New
York: W.W. Norton, 1994, 228-43.

Provine, Robert C. Tokumaru, Yosihiko. and Wistzleben, J. Wawrence. Eds. “East Asia:
China, Japan, and Korea,” The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music 7 New
York: Garland Pub., 2002, 533-65.

Rings, Steven. “Tonality and Transformation.” Ph. D. diss., Yale University, 2006.

______. “Perspectives on Tonality and Transformation in Schubert’s Impromptu in

Eb, D. 899, no. 2.” Journal of Schenkerian Studies 2, 2006 forthcoming.

Robinson, Paul. “It’s not over until the soprano dies.” The New York Times,
http://www.nytimes,com/book/99/10/03/nnp/clement-undoing.html (accessed
September 16, 2007).

Rosen, Charles. The Romantic Generation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Rothstein, William. “The Americanization of Heinrich Schenker.” Schenker Studies.

Edited by Hedi Sigel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990, 193-203.

_____. “Why theorists should pay attention to nineteenth-century Italian opera; or,
Confessions of a reformed Germanophile snob,” Paper presented at Music Theory
Southeast Annual Meet, Chapel Hill, NC, 2006.

_____. “Common-tone Tonality in Italian Romantic Opera: An Introduction,” MTO, 14/1

March 2008 (accessed June 21, 2008).

Sadie, Stanley. Ed. Puccini and His Operas. New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc, 2000.

Saffle, Michael. “Exotic Harmony in La Fanciulla del West and Turandot.” Exotismo e
Colore Locale nell’Opera di Puccini. Edited by. Jürgen Maehder, 119-30.
Proceedings of the Prima Convegna Internazionale sull’opera di Giacomo Puccini
in Torre del Lago, Italy. Pisa: Giardini, 1983.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books, 1979.

_____. “The Imperial Spectacle (Aida),” Grand Street 6/2 (1987): 82-104.

Salze, Felix. Structural Hearing: Tonal Coherence in Music. New York: Dover, 1962.

Sanguinetti, Giorgio. “Dramatic Functions of Tonal Field.” Essays from the Third
International Schenker Symposium. Edited by Allen Cadwallader. New York:
Olms, 2006, 81-102.

Schachter, Carl. Unfoldings: Essays in Schenkerian Theory and Analysis. Edited by

Joseph N. Straus. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Schenker, Heinrich. Free Composition. Trans. and ed. Ernst Oster. New York: Longman,

Seligman, Vincent. Puccini Among Friends. London: Macmillan, 1938.

Smart, Mary Ann. Ed.“Siren Songs” Representations of Gender and Sexuality in Opera.
Princeton: Princeton, 2000.

Smith, Elizabeth Lena. “Musical Narrative in Three American One-Act Operas with
Libretti by Carlo Menotti: A Hand of Bridge, The Telephone, and Introductions
and Good-Byes.” Ph.D. diss., Florida State Univ. College of Music, 2005.

Smith, Patricia Juliana. “Gli Enigmi Sono Tre: The [D]evolution of Turandot, Lesbian
Monster. En Travesti: Women, Gender Subversion, Opera. Edited by Corinne E.

Blackmer and Patricia Juliana Smith. New York: Columbia University Press,
1995, 242-284.

Shaftel, Matthew. “Sonata Form, Dramatic Subtext, and Musical Irony in the Trio from
Le Nozze di Figaro.” Keys to the Drama: Nine Perspectives on Sonata Forms,
edited by Gordon Sly. London: Ashgate Press, 2007. Also appears in "Form,
Sign, and Singing: Integrating Sign Systems in an Interdisciplinary Approach to
Opera." Semiotics 2007 (forthcoming).

_____. “Anton Webern’s Early Songs: Motive, Harmony, and Influence.” Ph. D. diss.,
Yale University, 2000.

Solie, Ruth A. “The Living Work: Organicism and Musical Analysis.” 19th-Century
Music 4/2 (Autumn 1980): 147-156.

Stein Deborah J. Stein, Hugo Wolf’s Lieder and Extensions of Tonality. Ann Arbor: UMI
Research Press, 1985.

Straus, Joseph. "The Problem of Prolongation in Post-Tonal Music." Journal of Music

Theory 31/1 (1987): 1-22.

_____. "Voice Leading in Atonal Music." Music Theory in Concept and Practice. Edited
by James Baker, David Beach, and Jonathan Bernard. Rochester: University of
Rochester Press, 1997, 237-74.

_____. Introduction to Post-Tonal Theory, 2nd ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2000.

Treitler, Leo. ‘“To Worship That Celestial Sound” Motives for Analysis.” The Journal
of Musicology 1/2 (Apr. 1982): 153-70

Toshiharu, Ichikawa. Ying and Yang Scales. Music for Junior High School Students 1.
Tokyo: Kyoiku Geijutsu Shuppan, 2001.

Weaver, William. The Golden Century of Italian Opera: from Rossini to Puccini. New
York: Thames and Hudson, 1980.

Chinese Publications:

羅基敏 and 梅樂亙 [Lo, Ki-Ming. and Maehder, Jürgen.] 浦契尼的杜蘭朵. [Puccini’s
Turandot.] (My Translation) 臺北市: 高談文化出版 [Taipei: Guo-Tan], 1992.

_____. 杜蘭朵的蛻變. [The Stylistic Shift of Turandot.] (My Translation) 臺北市:

高談文化出版 [Taipei: Guo-Tan], 2004.

钱仁康. [Qian Ren Kang.] 学堂乐歌考源. [The Resource of School Music.] (My
Translation) 上海音乐学院出版社 [Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press],

王小玲. [Wang Xiao Ling.] 漢族調式及其和聲技法. [The Harmonic Skill in Chinese

Mode Music.] (My Translation) 上海音乐学院出版社 [Shanghai Conservatory
of Music Press], 2006.

杨瑞庆. [Yang Rui Qing.] 中国民歌旋律形态. [The Melodic Structure in Chinese Folk
Song.] (My Translation) 上海音乐学院出版社 [Shanghai Conservatory of Music
Press], 2002.

張繼光. [Zhang Ji Guang.] 民歌(茉莉花)研究. [The Research of Folk Song Mo-Li-Hua.]

(My Translation) 文史哲 出版社 [Wen Shi Zhe Press], 2000.

Selected Web Resources: (accessed February 2, 2008). (accessed March 3, 2008). (access March 19, 2008). (accessed March 19, 2008). (access March 19, 2008). (accessed May 25, 2008).

Selected Musical Scores:

La bohème (Full Score). New York: Dover, 1987.

La bohème (Piano Score). New York: G. Ricordi & Co., 1987.

Tosca (Full Score). New York: Dover, 1991.

Tosca (Piano Score). New York: G. Schirmer, Inc., 1956.

Madama Butterfly (Full Score). New York: Dover, 1990.

Madama Butterfly (Piano Score). New York: G. Schirmer, Inc., 1963.

Il trittico (Full Score). New York: Dover, 1996.

Turandot (Full Socre). Milano: Casa Ricordi, 2000.

Turandot (Piano Score). Milano: Casa Ricordi, 1926.


Ya-Hui Cheng was born on January 25, 1974 in Taiwan, ROC. She holds a B.A.
degree in Music from Queens College, City University of New York (1996-2000), and a
M.A. degree in Music Education from Teachers College, Columbia University (2000-
2001). While doing her M.A. degree at Teachers College, CU, Ya-Hui received a
Teaching Assistantship and worked as a Piano Instructor teaching non-music major,
graduate-level students piano lessons for credit. In 2003, Ya-Hui enrolled at City College,
City University of New York to study for a M.A. degree in music theory. At City
College, she received The William Dabney Gettel Scholarship as a promising music
theory student and was appointed to tutor college students in music theory. Ya-Hui
transferred to Florida State University to pursue her Ph. D in music theory in 2004. At
FSU, she has received research and teaching assistantships and has taught freshman ear
training. Her dissertation is titled “The Harmonic Representation of the Feminine in
Puccini.” Ya-Hui will receive the Doctor of Philosophy in Music Theory from the Florida
State University College of Music in Summer 2008