La Serva Padrona, composed on a libretto by Gennaro Antonio Federico in 1733, is an intermezzo divided into two interludes. It was originally designed to be performed between the acts of the opera seria Il prigioniero superbo by Pergolesi himself, staged at the Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples on the occasion of the birthday of the empress Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick, wife of the emperor Charles VI and mother of the empress Marie Therese of Augsburg. That very same libretto had been used by almost every composer in Naples and therefore was already popular in a number of successful versions. The definition of believable characters and the solid realism of the short story, revolving almost entirely around the characters’ psychology made of the libretto a success. Pergolesi’s genius turned it into a masterpiece.
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 […]
A troubled genesis Un Ballo in Maschera is arguably one of most popular opera by Giuseppe Verdi. Yet it had the most troubled genesis. Written for the San Carlo in Naples and never performed there Un Ballo in Maschera was originally composed to be staged in Naples as the last new opera written under the contract between the Teatro San Carlo and Verdi but was never performed there. The major changes imposed by the Bourbon censorship to the composer convinced Verdi to premiere it in Rome instead. Even the Papal censorship in 1859 allowed him more freedom than that of the Bourbons’. Last (missed) opportunity for a Verdi’s “King Lear” Initially, Verdi had suggested to the San Carlo management another subject: King Lear by William Shakespeare, a long-term project that this time seemed to finally have found a right opportunity. But a new problem came up. To stage King Lear 2 or 3 strong soloists were not enough: 5 at least were needed and the San Carlo couldn’t provide them. These circumstances convinced Verdi, after over 15 years, to finally abandon the project of staging a music version of King Lear. Verdi & Shakespeare Verdi was a great admirer of […]
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.