Claudio Monteverdi | A revolutionary composer
Monteverdi reinvents vocal music as a new relationship between the composer and his audience, using to that end his melodies of unprecedented expressivity. He creates modern opera as the public’s right to a performance he can understand, appreciate, being moved or laugh at.
Moving forward from Baroque opera | Zeno, Metastasio, Gluck
Gluck finally estabilished an indissoluble link between music and words, with music becoming the main element for the success of an opera. As in the striking aria “What shall I do without Euridice?”. It is through to the incomparable beauty and expressiveness of the melody sung by Orpheus that Love is presuaded to bring Euridice back to life.
Mantua | Monteverdi’s Orfeo and the beginning of Opera
Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua attended the successful performance of Peri’s Euridice in Florence, which was probabily witnessed also by Monteverdi himself. The Duke realized immediately the originality of this new entertainment and the prestige that would reflect on the lord that sponsored it.
Rome, the Domus Aurea | Monteverdi’s Incoronazione di Poppea
The libretto for Monteverdi’s Opera L’Incoronazione di Poppea was mainly drawn from the roman historians Tacitus. Its leading character is Poppea, the beautiful mistress who became wife to the Roman Emperor Nero, one of the most loved and, at the same time, hated emperor of the ancient Rome. Nero after the great fire of Rome, built on the Colle Oppio, the most lavish and vast villa of the ancient Rome, the Domus Aurea.
Domenico Cimarosa | The triumph of the Neapolitan school
The Neapolitan school and the trumph of the classical style Domenico Cimarosa’s successes are a prove of the fact that the revolutionary charge of Mozart’s operas wasn’t fully understood by his contemporaries. The secret marriage is regarded as the masterpiece of the comic Neapolitan School and has been almost constantly performed since its composition; yet its characters don’t have a naturalness or a psychological definition comparable to that of Mozart’s. An unmatched reputation as a composer Cimarosa was however the best of his time for his ability of setting into fine music ordinary-life stories. He gave voice to real people with their passions and anxieties, reveiling their true heart. Through the refined melodies of his arias, his characters describe their actions and emotions with freshness and effectiveness. Cimarosa wrote a total of 99 operas filled with delightful pages, graceful melodies and funny and profoundly human characters. In the last years of his life and before Rossini became famous, his reputation as a composer was unmatched. Cimarosa, a brief biography Domenico Cimarosa was born in Aversa, nearby Caserta on the 17th December 1749. Just a few days after his birth his family moved to Naples, as his father was hired for the construction of […]
Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater | A sublime piece of sacred chamber music
Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is a sublime piece of sacred chamber music. Originally composed for two castrato voices, strings and basso continuo, is arguably one of the most important works in music history, which influence stretches to Mozart, Haydn and beyond. A sublime summary of the religious and aesthetics of its time. It is also a simple man’s expression of religious sense
Castenaso | Rossini marries Colbran in a sanctuary
In the church Madonna del Pilar with its magnificent Baroque interiors and fine stuccoes on the 16th March 1822, by special concession as it was Lent, was celebrated the marriage between Gioachino Rossini and Ysabel Colbran crowning the great love and successful artistic alliance between the most prominent opera composer of the time and his muse.
Il Matrimonio Segreto by Domenico Cimarosa
Domenico Cimarosa’s most successful opera, The Secret Marriage, was composed on a libretto written by Giovanni Bertati, a Venetian employed as court poet in Vienna, on a subject very popular at the time. The story was in fact at the centre of a series of 6 paintings by William Hogarth, the Marriage in Fashion, le Mariage à la Mode, published in London between 1743 and 1745, depicting the bad consequences of a wedding between a penniless aristocrat and a rich bourgeois. Bertati the librettist turns the social satire into a mockery of bourgeois, eager to ennoble but happy to save half of the dowry when the opportunity arises.
The transition between 18th and 19th century in Opera
Opera, until then the favourite entertainment of aristocracy and educated classes, was going to change radically as a consequence of the French revolution. In the three decades of the rise and fall of Napoleon, opera social function changed completely and irrevocably.
Rossini’s revolution and the transition to a new era
Gioachino Rossini embodied quite well the ideals of the Restoration, at least in the choice of traditional and already tested subjects. Yet, on the other side, his music was completely revolutionary for its novelty: rhythmic energy, robust orchestral texture, dynamic melodies are some of the elements of his new style.
Riccardo Zandonai was one of the last Italian operatic master craftsmen. Although many Italian composers after him continued to write operas, none will show the same consistent dedication or would produce such an impressive body of works. Composer of symphonic and chamber music as well as sacred music, Zandonai was also a sensitive and intelligent conductor.
Pesaro | Gioachino Rossini
Rossini wrote his first opera, Demetrio e Polibio in 1806 not even fifteen. His official debut was in Venice in 1810 with the opera La Cambiale di Matrimonio. In the following two decades Rossini composed 39 operas, 4 or 5 new ones per year, with some controversial premieres, such as the Barber of Seville legendary fiasco in Rome in 1816 and some extraordinary successes: La Gazza Ladra, Zelmira and Semiramide, the last opera premiered in Italy in 1823.
Siracusa | Rossini’s Tancredi
In Stendhal’s opinion Tancredi was Rossini’s best opera. In his biography he wrote: “there’s no bravery or grandeur in this opera but only the simple purity and virginity of genius”. The libretto by Gaetano Rossi was drawn from Voltaire’s tragedy Tancrede. For that libretto Rossini composed an innovative score, combining in an original way the baroque “extreme coloraturas” with the pre-Romantic simple melodies of the new belcanto.
The genesis of Italian Romantic Opera
The protagonists of romantic operas live love differently than those of the eighteenth-century repertoire. For them love is a complete emotional enrapture. They share this incontrollable passion with a public who generally has a more ordinary life and now, through this new music drama, can experience a total emotional involvement.
Bellini | Manifesto of Italian romantic opera
Locked in my room, I recite the characters’ parts passionately and study my voice: its inflections, the tempo and pauses, in short the emphasis a man uses when he’s at the mercy of his passions. I then identify the right tempo and melody in order to allow the singers to express those passions by the means of harmony. I put the ideas on paper, try them on the harpsichord. When I feel the same emotion I wanted to express I judge I have succeeded; if I don’t, I look again for inspiration until I feel I’ve achieved my goal”.
The short life of Vincenzo Bellini
Bellini met in Milan an artist who will be fundamental in his career: the librettist Felice Romani, the greatest theatrical poet of his time. Their cooperation lasted for 6 years and Romani, who wrote something like 90 librettos, created for and with Bellini some of his best ones. Bellini was actively involved not only in shaping the subjects but also in writing the verses, to insure the effective delivery of his idea through word and music simultaneously.In Milan Bellini met an artist who was going to be fundamental in his career, the greatest theatrical poet of his time: librettist Felice Romani. Their cooperation lasted for 6 years. Romani, who wrote something like 90 librettos, created for and with Bellini some of his best ones. The first opera produced through this collaboration was Il Pirata The Pirate, an opera that completely electrified the audience in Milan on October 27th 1827, night of the premiere. The newspapers titled “the start of Italian Romantic opera”.
Bellini | A love and death story I Capuleti e i Montecchi
I Capuleti e i Montecchi is considered by many Bellini’s first masterpiece. It certainly recalls in many ways the great belcanto era, particularly in the way the roles are organized: the mezzo-soprano as male protagonist, the soprano as his lover, the tenor as the hero’s rival, bass and bariton respectively as the noble father and the tyrant. However, Capuleti is not strictly a belcanto opera because of its intimate and at times dramatic atmosphere. So much so that the many embellishments, counterbalanced by a well-defined melodic core, are not ornamentation anymore but start to take an expressive connotation.
Vincenzo Bellini | La Sonnambula
La Sonnambula was a complete triumph, since its premiere. The newspapers wrote of “a melody that goes to the heart, an instrumentation always beautiful and well built” and reported of “endless applauses”. The story revolves around the character of Amina, the archetypal of the slandered innocent.
Donizetti and Romantic opera
Bellini’s premature death allowed finally Donizetti to take the title of “Main Italian composer” left vacant by Rossini a decade before. On the other end, his sickness and death spared him the humiliation of being ousted again by the irresistible rise of Verdi.
Donizetti | The Romantic epitome
At the beginning of his carrier, Donizetti writes mainly for the small theatres in Venice. Every new work by the young maestro was welcomed and praised by the press, as an original new development of Rossini’s style. Anna Bolena and L’Elisir d’Amore both premiered in Milan on librettos by Felice Romani, finally launched Donizetti as one of the most prominent European opera composers. These two masterpieces are the first of a list of milestones written by Donizetti that mark the history of romantic Italian theatre.
Donizetti | Triumph and death
Donizetti moves to Paris in 1834-1835 called, along with Bellini, by Rossini in his capacity as co-director of the Théâtre Italien. In 1843 the first symptoms of a brain disease that rapidly and progressively got worse to degenerate during the summer 1845. Subsequent medical treatments made the situation irreparable and in February 1846 the composer was interned in an institution for mentally ill in Paris.
The generation of the 80s
At the end of 19th century it became clear that the style used in opera until 1890s couldn’t be used any more: the great social and cultural changes demanded new ways to express and increase the dramatic tension. The music coming from abroad (oltr’alpe-beyond the Alps) was becoming increasingly important. The new younger generation of composers, such as Puccini and Mascagni, where influenced not only by Wagner but also by younger composers such as Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss. Pelléas et Melisande premiered in 1902, Salome (1905) and Electra (1909), Strauss’s two breaking through operas, had a rapid success. Change demanded from older composers a conscious and radical effort while for those born after 1875 and used to the new music as part of their musical landscape, the transition to new ways of composing operas was more spontaneous, although different in nature and magnitude for each composer. Some composer intended their relationship with nineteenth-century Italian opera as “evolutionary” and continued to work within the traditional framework using at times new techniques and dramatic themes. Others felt that Italian music needed to break free from an opera that had become a stale entertainment for the new middle class and that a […]
Verismo and Wagnerianism
Verismo composers were mainly opera composers; the new generation of composers was different, more eclectic. Franco Alfano’s two symphonies, among the most relevant Italian compositions of the first half of the 20th century as well as Zandonai’s remarkable collection of orchestral and chamber works show that their non-operatic compositions weren’t certainly occasional. Franco Alfano, as most knows, composed the music for the last 2 scenes of Turandot, Puccini’s last opera left unfinished after the composer’s death in 1924. Puccini had left sketches for the end of the opera, along with instructions to Riccardo Zandonai to finish it, yet, following Puccini’s son objections, to work on the draft and finish the opera, was instead chosen Franco Alfano. Both Alfano and Zandonai can be defined as “operatic symphonists” : they embodied a new way to define the relationship between music and drama. The drama was no longer described by the music; it was precisely the opposite: the drama provided the frame to the music. This process can be seen at its most in Zandonai’s Francesca where entire acts can be defined as symphonic poems. Since 1890 Wagner’s scores had spread widely in Italy. The scale and magnificence of the composer’s major works led […]
Forging the new Italian Opera | Francesca da Rimini
Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini tells of the tragic love story between Paolo and Francesca, told by Dante Alighieri in the 5th Canto of his Inferno, first part to the XIV century poem The Divine Comedy. Nearly 100 years later Boccaccio retold the story in his commentary on Dante’s Divine Comedy, adding details which are still historically controversial. In his account Malatesta from Verucchio, founder of the powerful Malatesta family, decided the marriage of his crippled son Gianciotto Malatesta to Francesca Da Polenta to put an end to the war between the two families. According to Boccaccio, Malatesta the Old, concerned that the bride could reject the bridegroom on the altar, sent in his place to perform a proxy marriage his handsome brother Paolo, a trick that she’d uncover only upon her arrival in Rimini. Gabriele D’Annunzio based the libretto for Zandonai’s opera on Boccaccio’s tale. His intention was to make of Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini, (1902) the first of a series of dramatic works and the foundation to “the new Italian art”. D’Annunzio’s importance as a writer in the early-twentieth-century Italy was matched only by the prominence of his blatant, extravagant personality, his debts and his scandalous lifestyle, which left a trail […]
IL VIAGGIO DI ROBERTO | Roberto’s journey – from Ravenna to Auschwitz
On October 16, 1943 Roberto and his father were imprisoned in Milan. Two months later the 6th of December they were loaded like cattle in the same coach with other 64 people and left from the infamous platform 21 of Milan train station for a one way journey.
Jesi | Wine and Music | Pergolesi and Spontini
Not only composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi but also Gaspare Spontini was born nearby Jesi. The town is however mainly important for being the birthplace of one of the most important and fascinating figure in medieval history, the second emperor of the Hohenstaufen dynasty Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250) also referred to as the Stupor Mundi “Wonder of the world”.
Composers and librettists places