VENICE (Reuters) - A new film on Giacomo Puccini has uncovered letters and documents suggesting the composer may have a second living descendant, in a tangled tale of infidelity and vengeance befitting one of his operas.
“Puccini e la Fanciulla” (Puccini and the Girl), which premieres at the Venice film festival on Friday, has already attracted the ire of Simonetta Puccini, the composer’s only known living heir until now.
Thirty years ago Simonetta won a legal battle to prove she was the illegitimate daughter of Puccini’s son Antonio, and she has inherited most of the maestro’s estate.
Now another woman, Nadia Manfredi, suspects she too could be Puccini’s grand-daughter, and has asked for a DNA test to find out the truth.
The film brings to the screen the story of Doria Manfredi, who was Puccini’s young maid servant and who committed suicide after being wrongly accused by his wife Elvira of having an affair with the composer.
After an autopsy established that Doria died a virgin, Elvira was convicted of slander and Puccini, who was notorious for his tumultuous love life, had to pay damages to the Manfredi’s family to save his wife from prison.
While that chapter in Puccini’s life is known, director Paolo Benvenuti says he has discovered documents showing Puccini actually had a long affair with Doria’s cousin, Giulia Manfredi.
Giulia ran a hostelry in front of the composer’s lakeside villa at Torre del Lago and is thought to be the model for the saloon bar owner Minnie in Puccini’s 1910 opera “La fanciulla del West.”
The result of her relationship with Puccini, according to Benvenuti, was another son, also named Antonio, who died in poverty in 1988 without knowing who his father was.
Benvenuti traced Antonio’s daughter, Nadia Manfredi, while researching the film and says she bears a striking resemblance to the composer of La Boheme, Turandot and Madame Butterfly.
At Nadia’s house in Pisa, he found a dusty suitcase full of photos and letters written by Puccini to Giulia Manfredi from 1908 to 1922, as well as film clips showing the composer at the piano, hunting ducks and playing with his dog.
“The film roll was all sticky but there was a tag at the end with ‘Puccini’ written on it. We opened it and looked at it and at one point recognized Puccini in one of the frames. You can imagine what an extraordinary emotion it was,” Benvenuti told a press conference. The clip is shown at the end of his film.
Puccini’s letters to Giulia, Benvenuti says, prove she — and not Doria — was his mistress. He adds the composer paid Giulia maintenance money, presumably for their son Antonio, until his death in 1924.
The revelations risk overshadowing this year’s celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Puccini’s birth.
Simonetta Puccini, who owns Puccini’s villa in Torre del Lago, now a museum and archive, has asked residents to sign a petition to protect his memory from what she dismisses as local gossip.
But Benvenuti defended his finds in Venice, saying they were based on years of thorough research.
“Everything you see on the screen is rigorously documented.”
Editing by Matthew Jones