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 […]
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 […]
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 […]
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.