Finishing the work

I used to subscribe to a journal called Spirituality. It was a Roman Catholic journal with some nice wee articles and some gloriously beautiful covers. I’m not sure if it is still going or not, but I recently came across a story I’d read there which I thought I might share. (For some reason it always brings a tear to my eye.)

Giacomo Puccini composed some of the world’s greatest operas, including La Scala, Tosca, and Madame Butterfly. In 1922 as he began what many critics consider his finest work, Turandot, Puccini was diagnosed with cancer. He struggled to finish the opera before he died, but as his disease sapped his energy, he told his students that, if he did not complete the work, they should finish it for him. After his death in 1924, Puccini’s students assembled all his notes, studied them carefully, and proceeded to complete the work.

In 1926 the world premier of Turandot was performed in Milan’s famous La Scala Opera House. Puccini’s prize pupil, Arturo Toscanini, conducted the opera. It proceeded beautifully until Toscanini came to the end of the parts composed by Puccini. He stopped the music, put down his baton, and turned to the audience. “Thus far the master wrote, until he died.”  There was a long pause. Then Toscanini announced, “But his disciples finished the work.”  The conductor, with tears in his eyes, picked up the baton again, and the opera concluded to thunderous applause and a permanent place in the world of great operas.

(William J Bansch, World of Stories, 1998, p300)


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