Music: Salute to Puccini

"Almighty God touched me with His little finger," wrote Giacomo Puccini, "and said: 'Write for the theater . . .' I have obeyed the supreme command."

He obeyed so successfully that he became one of the four alltime opera masters, alongside Verdi, Wagner and Mozart. Though some critics dismiss him as sugary and sentimental, no opera house can hope to stay in business long without including in its repertory the three major monuments to Puccini's career—La Bohème, Tosca, Madame Butterfly. Puccini himself once made a list of the houses where his operas were playing; Tosca alone was then being given in 73...