WHEN GIACOMO PUCCINI died in 1924, so did Italian opera. There have been dozens of Italian compsers since, of course, some of whose works have even been performed abroad - for instance, Zandonai's I cavalieri di Ekebti, Dallapiccola's II prigioniero and Rota's I1 cappello di paglia di Firenze. But these are all minor works; the great line Rossini-Bellini-Donizetti-Verdi found its only twentieth-century son in Puccini. For decades, however, his operas were held in contempt by musicologists and historians; Joseph Kerman called Tosca a 'shabby little shocker'. Only in the last thirty years has critical opinion turned around and recognised Puccini as a master of theatre and orchestra, someone who could please the public at large with works that have a good deal more to them than many would acknowledge.
In her introduction, Mary Jane Phillips-Matz writes that many of Puccini's detractors object to the 'sadism and gratuitous cruelty' in his operas. Of his best-known heroines, four commit suicide (Tosca, Butterfly, Angelica and Lih), two die in misery (Manon and Mirni), and one is witness to the murder of her lover by her jealous husband (Giorgetta). The others aren't exactly in clover either. Minnie, in La fanciulla del West, faces an uncertain