December 22, 1858: Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini arrives on this planet.
And opera has never been the same, not just because he could do verismo (Il Tabarro), comedy (Gianni Schicchi), tragedy (Butterfly, Manon Lescaut), western (La Fanciulla del West), and he conceived what is arguably the most successful and influential opera ever staged (La Bohème). Not just because he created some of the most famous tunes the world has ever heard, period (O mio babbino caro, Nessun dorma). Not just because his genius for orchestration has very few peers in the history of classical music. Not even because, as Riccardo Chailly -- a splendid Puccini conductor -- is fond to say, when you analyze Puccini's drafts for the Turandot ending he didn't have enough time to finish, you can see sequences of ten notes that, Chailly says, indicate Puccini was getting close to inventing the twelve-tone model.
No, the reason today is a big day for all those who love opera is that, even if you don't like Puccini and you're just sick of going to see just another Bohème (OC shares that feeling), just remember that if your local opera house -- government subsidized or not .. is still standing there, well, it's probably thanks to that cigar-chomping womanizing hunter from Lucca who was born 150 years ago today.
Oh, and Madame Kabaivanska says happy birthday, too.