At 97, Sun Lakes author pens novel on flamboyant opera icon - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

At 97, Sun Lakes author pens novel on flamboyant opera icon

December 23rd, 2021 development
At 97, Sun Lakes author pens novel on flamboyant opera icon
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By Srianthi Perera, Contributor

Many biographies have been written about Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, but none read like a thriller.

Sun Lakes playwright, teacher and novelist Mel Weiser’s “Viva Puccini,” a new historical biography in novel form, fills in the gap.

Weiser captures the essence of the composer’s life: adversity, love, tragedy, death and sexual conquest – qualities found in the great master’s operas – and weaves a compelling tale.

“There is anger in it, there is some mystery, there is a tremendous conflict in it,” said Weiser, who at 97 has four other published books and nine produced stage plays to his credit.

“There is excitement in terms of how the mystery is revealed or the mysteries of his life are revealed and how, ultimately, they lead to the inevitable conclusion, his death.”

Why Puccini?

It seems that Puccini chose Weiser as much as Weiser chose him.

Years ago, Weiser read a book on the composer and was so fascinated by him that he scribbled notes on the margins.

“One day, I was sitting in the bedroom where the bookshelves were and across the room from them – this is almost mystical – I’m looking at the bookshelf, and one book from all those books in the shelf, for no reason that I can understand, seemed to jump out at me,” he said.

“I kept staring at it and – I couldn’t read the title of it or anything – so I got out of my chair and I walked over and pulled this book out and it was the Puccini book.”

Weiser leafed through it, read his own comments and said to himself: “There’s a book in this.”

To research Puccini’s remarkable life further, Weiser bought and read eight different biographies about him. He browsed online for more tidbits. He listened to his popular operas – “La Boheme,” “Tosca,” “Madame Butterfly” and “Turandot” – and cultivated a deep understanding and appreciation of them. He read analysis of the compositions.

Then, he began writing the novel.

“I had great fun writing about Puccini,” Weiser said.

While a biography has to be factual, a novel gets more latitude, he noted.

“One sticks to the facts of his life but one embroiders those with imagination,” Weiser explained. “For example, if in a biography it says that he spent a lot of time trying to find time to write his music, that’s very vague.”

“The writer of a novel has considerable latitude and I use that latitude to create situations to indicate how he didn’t have time, what was he doing in those times that he didn’t have time,” he added.

“Or, if it says great conflict with his wife Rivera, now I want to know what those conflicts were like and in biographies you can’t get full details like that but they tell you they had great conflict,” he said. “What was said actually between them: that’s where the novelist comes in, in order to make that moment memorable and understandable.” 

Weiser was fascinated by Puccini’s life for several reasons.

Forced into a music career at an early age, Puccini resisted every effort to shape his future. He preferred to loaf, to pursue women and to cavort with like-minded friends. However, fate decreed that he was to carry on his family’s musical tradition.

Puccini became one of the greatest opera composers of all time. But, along with success, he experienced disappointment and pain.

One reason Weiser was captivated by Puccini pertained to his relationships with women. His wife, Elvira, was dominating, but she was also the mother of his only child. So, he didn’t leave them.

He loved women and had many affairs. He used to go away from home very often and on those trips, he invariably found some women or some woman found him, Weiser said.

One such affair was scandalous. While on a train journey, a woman introduced herself to him and he found her fascinating.

“She in turn found him very fascinating. He invited her to dinner. That night after dinner they found themselves in bed together,” he said. “He developed a very strong love for her and was even ready to leave his wife for her and proposed to this woman.”

Puccini soon became very careless and used to parade around with her on his arm. “Eventually, the word reached his family and Elvira, and there was madness, threats and everything else,” Weiser said.

The family decided to investigate the woman and discovered that she was a prostitute who had sought him out in the same manner she frequently sought other men.

The family made his life miserable. “He had to separate himself from her and the separation was dramatic and painful,” Weiser said.

Weiser’s own life is not without drama. He started writing at 19, aboard a WW11 aircraft carrier. It didn’t go down too well because he was suffering from acute seasickness and unable to perform his duties. He managed to read a book, The Adventures of Cortez, which inspired him to learn how to write well.

“I remember putting the book on my chest and saying to myself, ‘If I could write like this, I could be happy for the rest of my life,’” he said.

He tried to write on board the ship, but he knew nothing about writing and didn’t have much to draw from life experiences.

“Nothing came out and that’s when the decision was made, you had to go and learn what this is all about and how it works,” he said.

The native New Yorker enrolled in college, and went on to teach English, first in the school system and later in college. He taught for more than 30 years, until he found it was “enough.”

At age 55, about the time he retired, he wrote and published his first book. He had the good fortune to have a friend who knew an agent, who sold the manuscript without any trouble.

“That was a fluke. That never happened again. After that, it was a struggle as I was learning how to do this,” he said.

Weiser developed his playwriting and directing career alongside teaching. He has been a stage director of more than 25 professional productions in regional theaters, and once on Broadway.

His last book, On 174th Street: The World of Willie Mittleman, is a delightful family story set in 1930s New York. His next book, The Crown Of Sammuramat, will be a mystery-thriller linked to the fabled and ancient Assyrian empire.

Creativity keeps Weiser writing and publishing at 97 and enhances his life. His book shelves are filled with manuscripts awaiting his attention.

“If one is creative, one has to do what that force demands of him. It’s the same with a painter, it’s the same with a sculpturer,” he said. “When one learns how to do something and to do it well, and I’m pleased to say I think I do it well, there’s enormous satisfaction in doing it.

“I just can’t stop.”

“Viva Puccini” is available at amazon.com and barnes&noble.com for $23.95.

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