Simonetta Puccini, who has died aged 88, was the granddaughter of the composer Giacomo Puccini. She dedicated much of her life to preserving his legacy, working for years on family archives and travelling the world to pass judgment on new productions of his operas. However, her campaign to establish her credentials as his only living descendant was complicated by the fact that the composer had pursued what one Italian newspaper called "an exuberant love life". "I am a mighty hunter of wildfowl, operatic libretti and attractive women," Puccini once confessed. In 1885, amid much scandal, he ran off with Elvira Gemignani, the wife of a friend, with whom he had an illegitimate son, Antonio, Simonetta's future father.
Elvira eventually married Puccini, but he continued to have affairs, usually with girls below his social station. When an alleged liaison with Doria Manfredi, a maid at his villa in Torre del Lago, ended in the girl's suicide, Elvira was blamed because she had publicly accused the girl of having an affair with her husband. When the local court ordered an autopsy, it was found that Doria was a virgin and Elvira was sued for slander. She only escaped prison when the composer offered financial compensation to the Manfredi family.
Like her father Antonio, Simonetta, born in Pisa on June 2 1929, was the product of an extramarital liaison. Her mother, Giuseppina Giurumello, was a teacher from Milan who brought her up alone. Antonio subsequently married Rita Dell'Anna, but the couple had no children and Rita was, by all accounts, resentful of Simonetta. Although Antonio paid for his daughter's education, came to see her and wrote her letters, he never acknowledged her officially. After taking a degree in literature from the University of Milan, she became a teacher.
Puccini died in 1924 a wealthy man. His fortune passed to Elvira, then to Antonio. In 1946, Antonio died and Rita inherited the Puccini estates. When she died in 1979 they passed to her unmarried brother, Count Livio Dell'Anna, a socialite who blew much of it in Monte Carlo before his butler (and lover) Pasquale Belladonna began to fritter away the rest. When Count Livio died in 1986 without leaving a will, Belladonna claimed the count had left the Puccini legacy to him.
Simonetta began her campaign for recognition in 1973 when she initiated legal action to be formally acknowledged as a Puccini. She won her case after 12 years of court hearings. She then set about contesting Belladonna's right to the inheritance. In 1995, a court at Lucca ruled she had the right to one third. Two years later, after an appeal by Belladonna, the court confirmed the earlier settlement, ruling she was to get Puccini's lakeside villa at Torre del Lago, where he composed Turandot, and his birthplace at Lucca, as well as an undisclosed cash sum. The rest, including his villa at Viareggio, went to the state.
For many years, Simonetta catalogued her grandfather's archives unpaid, founding the Institute for Puccini Studies in Milan in 1979. Yet it seemed that her court victory might turn out to be Pyrrhic. The trustees warned that because of debts run up by Belladonna, some properties might have to be sold. Moreover, the villas had fallen into a poor state.
Simonetta set to work raising the money to renovate them, and eventually opened the villa at Torre del Lago as a museum. In 2005, she founded the Simonetta Puccini Foundation to promote her grandfather's legacy. In 2002, she was co-author, with the musicologist William Weaver, of The Puccini Companion.
Her status as the composer's sole surviving descendant continued to be challenged. The first thing she did on coming into her inheritance was to sack Giacomo Giovannoni, the caretaker at Torre del Lago, who attempted to turn the tables by claiming his father, Claudio, the caretaker before him, was Puccini's illegitimate son by a maid, and demanding DNA tests to prove it.
In 2008, the film director Paolo Benvenuti claimed to have discovered documents showing that, at the time of the death of Doria Manfredi, Puccini was having an affair with Doria's cousin Giulia. Subsequently, Nadia Manfredi, Giulia's granddaughter, made a request for a DNA test on the dead composer.
Despite Puccini's history of extramarital affairs, Simonetta was having none of it, dismissing the claims as "an attack on the private life of the maestro and his family" and launching a petition asking for his memory to be protected against "exaggerations and inventions". Both claims were rejected by the courts.
The Telegraph, London