Born: September 18, 1860; Turin, Italy
Died: August 4, 1942; Viareggio, Italy
From a noble family of substantial wealth, Baron Alberto Franchetti was lucky enough to be able to dedicate all his time to writing music instead of teaching composition or working other jobs like many composers of the past and present. Being independently wealthy, he had the unique chance to see his operas produced and performed under the best possible conditions. He even had the free time to pursue such hobbies as an interest in fast cars -- inRead more common with Puccini. Primarily an opera composer, Franchetti studied in Turin and Venice, then later in Germany with Rheinberger in Munich and Draeseke in Dresden. His earlier operas were acclaimed in their time, including Asrael (1888). On an eclectic libretto by Ferdinando Fontana (librettist of Puccini's Le Villi and Edgar), Asrael has a plot that seems to mix Boito's Mefistofele with Wagner's Lohengrin. Seeing the production of Asrael at La Scala in 1889, Verdi was so impressed that he recommended Franchetti to be the composer of the Genoa opera commission celebrating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. This led to Franchetti's finest work, Cristoforo Colombo, written on one of Luigi Illica's earliest librettos and premiered in Genoa in 1892.
Like Asrael, Cristoforo Colombo has massive epic scenes that show Franchetti at his best, for he was always most comfortable working with large-scale forces and huge masses of sound. Indeed, the influence of two other epic composers, Meyerbeer and Wagner, is particularly noticeable in Asrael, and even the libretto for Cristoforo Colombo was modeled on Meyerbeer's L'Africaine. Whatever the influences, however, Cristoforo Colombo was a masterpiece, demonstrating the contemporary Italian aesthetic of sinfonismo through the use of large symphonic interludes and complete integration of the soloists' voices into the orchestral texture. The orchestra, therefore, was the unifying body of each act through continuous musical discourse. This showed progress towards a new kind of Italian musical theater, and Franchetti was right there on the cutting edge. The Italian audience was excited by the sheer grandness of Act II (set aboard the Santa Maria), by the employment of novel staging techniques (a revolving backdrop, influenced by Bayreuth's Parsifal), and by the masterly use of the orchestra. Franchetti had reached his highest accomplishment as a music-dramatist, and the Franchetti-Illica team had reached the culmination of their collaboratory efforts.
Later works did less to show off Franchetti's talent, however. After turning down Illica's libretto Tosca (subsequently given to Puccini), Franchetti experienced his greatest popular success with Illica's Germania, premiered at La Scala in 1902 under Toscanini. Despite being a hit with the Italian public, this opera showed the composer's occasional difficulty with individual characterization. Germania also suffered from Franchetti's somewhat naive attempt to create local color through the use of German folk songs. It can be said, though, that if his melodic invention lacked individuality, it was always fluent and resourceful. Another work, La figlia di Iorio (1906), was a disastrous attempt to capture the essence of the Abruzzese pagan society of Gabriele D'Annunzio's play. Franchetti's orchestration evokes a gentle pastoral atmosphere throughout, but D'Annunzio's characters are, in ridiculous contrast, very powerful and even cruel. Sadly enough, Franchetti's postwar works like Giove a Pompei (1921) and Glauco (1922) showed an even more serious decline in musical style and overall dramatic vision. His reputation as a composer began to wane in Italy and abroad, and it was perhaps to get his mind off composition that he finally took the post of director of the Florence Conservatory from 1926 to 1928. It was the only official musical position he ever held. Franchetti composed little, if any, after that. His short-lived success around the turn of the century may have been over, but works like Asrael and Cristoforo Colombo were well-deserving of the praise they had received. In fact, for his earlier works, Franchetti still deserves notice and not oblivion. Read less