Giacomo Puccini: Le Willis

Edited by Martin Deasy (2020)

One-volume set: score + critical commentary included pp. XXIX, 1-262
NR 139546
Piano vocal score available
CP 139549

In 1883, having just finished his conservatory studies, Puccini took part in the Sonzogno Competition for young Italian composers, on the advice of his maestro Amilcare Ponchielli, president of the jury. Puccini chose a libretto by the poet Ferdinando Fontana inspired by the Nordic legend of the Willis, maidens who, abandoned by those they loved, died of grief and turned into evil, dancing, vengeful spectres. Work on the composition continued until close to the scheduled delivery date: December 31, 1883.

The result for Puccini, however, was negative and he was not even given a mention. A few months later, in 1884, the young composer from Lucca was put under contract by Ricordi, giving rise to the suspicion that the negative result at the competition was the consequence of an under-the-table agreement between Giulio Ricordi and Ponchielli to prevent Puccini’s arrival at Sonzogno.

The first performance of Le Willis took place at the Teatro Dal Verme on May 31, 1884 and the opera was very well received by critics and the public, so Ricordi asked Puccini and Fontana to transform the composition from “Leggenda in un atto” to “Opera ballo in due atti”, a version that would take the title Le Villi (which is available in a separated volume).

This volume recovers the one-act version which is structurally and aesthetically distinct from the two-act revision, containing significant differences in orchestration and vocal idiom. The editor relied primarily on the two extant autographs: for the first six numbers, on the one conserved in the Archivio Storico Ricordi, later reused by Puccini for the composition of Villi; for the final number, on the pages detached to make room for the new version, now conserved at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

The coeval printed runs of the song and piano reduction were also considered as the main collateral witnesses, by virtue of the opera’s particular genesis. In fact, it is certain that at the Sonzogno Competition, Puccini presented a score lacking the orchestration of some pages and especially some vocal lines. But at the same time, he presented a manuscript reduction for voice and piano (now lost, with the exception of that for the final number) that was certainly more detailed. In fact, the editor shows that the vocal materials produced for the first performance were not copied from the autograph score, but from the lost manuscript reduction, which was used by Ricordi as the basis for preparing the printed reduction.