The Puccini Principle

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David Belasco was one of the great figures in American theater history. He wrote, directed, or produced more than a hundred plays, launched the careers of many stars, and pioneered lighting and set design techniques that are still in use. He was known as “The Bishop of Broadway.”

One of his plays was The Girl of the Golden West. That was a play opera composer Giacomo Puccini chose to see while visiting New York. The only problem was that Puccini didn’t speak English. He couldn’t understand the words being spoken on stage. That might make you think the man was a bit mad.

Puccini wasn’t mad, but he was talented. He composed some of the most popular operas in history. The list includes La Boheme, Tosca, Turandot, Madama Butterfly, and many others.

Puccini’s fans love his memorable melodies. And they love that each opera has a story. That’s what drew Puccini to the darkened theater and David Belasco’s play. He was looking for a story he could turn into an opera.

Puccini applied two simple tests to the play he was watching. He watched how the audience responded. That told him if the emotional content was engaging.

He also wanted to judge the quality of the story itself. Puccini figured that if he could follow the story of the play without understanding a word that was spoken, it was a play that would make a first-rate opera.

The Girl of the Golden West was a play like that. So was another Belasco play, Madame Butterfly. Puccini liked stories that were simple and powerful.

That’s the Puccini Principle. Good ideas don’t require elaborate explanations and translations. If you can explain them in a simple sentence or two, you’ve probably got a winner. If you attempt to explain your idea and all you get are puzzled looks, either your telling or the idea itself needs work.

Use the Puccini Principle as a test of your ideas, plans, and business models. In the real world, not just in opera, a simple story is best.

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