I recently fell down an internet rabbit hole and stumbled across an article entitled “Ten Ways Rich People are Worse Off than You.” Apparently, the biggest reasons why the ultra-wealthy toss and turn at night: lazy kids, needy friends and the near-constant threat of being sued. Maybe it’s just my little stone of a heart, but I was unmoved.
If you’re looking to cry on my shoulder about your bank accounts with too many zeros, your wealth-induced problems should at least have some panache. Live it up a little, Italian-style, con gusto! Take your inspiration from Giacomo Puccini, who knew a thing or two about rich people’s headaches.
Puccini was one of the master creators of Italian opera at a time when enthusiasm for the art form was at a fever pitch. His three masterpieces—La Bohème, Madama Butterfly and Tosca—remain among the most popular works to appear on stages the world over. His meteoric rise to fame brought along with it immense wealth. When he died in 1924, his estate was worth over $200 million.
So what’s a guy to do with this kind of cash? Puccini started with a lakeside luxury villa, complete with speedboat. Then lots and lots of cars. In the the span of twenty years, he purchased nearly as many new cars. One of these cars ended up being the first of his problems. On a night trip back to his villa, his car veered off the road, fell several meters and flipped over. Puccini was pinned underneath and suffered serious injuries, taking many months to recover.
Then there were the women. He eventually married Elvira (an already married former student of his), but along the way—and concurrently—there were many others. The most serious of his affairs was with a young woman named Corinna, for whom he considered leaving his soon-to-be wife. (He couldn’t yet marry her because divorce was still an Italian no-no and her husband was still alive.) Unfortunately for Corinna, Puccini hired a private detective to do a bit of digging around about her. He discovered she was carrying on with several other men, and there was a strong possibility of money changing hands. So much for Corinna. Then there was his housemaid, Doria, with whom Puccini’s wife was convinced he was having an affair. Elvira publicly humiliated Doria so mercilessly that the poor maid took three tablets of mercury chloride and died. An autopsy proved that Doria was in fact still a virgin, and Puccini’s wife was sued for slander and sent to jail. As it turns out, Puccini was actually having an affair with Doria’s cousin, Giulia, which lasted until his death. Sadly, I’ve run out of room here to talk about the persistent rumours of illegitimate children.
In the end, it was smoking that got Puccini. He was a chain smoker of both cigars and cigarettes, reportedly as many as 70 a day. He underwent an experimental radiation treatment for throat cancer and died from complications. He was 65.
If you are unlucky enough to count yourself among those beleaguered souls who trudge tirelessly forward despite the burden of extraordinary wealth, the least you can do is give the rest of us something to talk about.