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Ruggero Leoncavallo

Biography

Born: 1857   Died: 1919   Country: Italy   Period: Romantic
Ruggero Leoncavallo is remembered almost exclusively for his opera I Pagliacci, which -- along with Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana -- has become the hallmark of the late nineteenth century verismo style. Leoncavallo studied composition at the Naples conservatory and literature at Bologna University; this dual passion for music and poetry would lead the young composer to seek a unity between the two disciplines in the manner of Richard Wagner, Read more whose music would come as a revelation.

His first operatic efforts were thwarted by ill fortune: a production of his student work, Chatterton, fell through after the impresario made off with the money Leoncavallo himself had furnished to cover the costs. However, after several years of scraping by as a café pianist, he was introduced to the influential publisher Giulio Ricordi, who bought the rights to Chatterton and engaged Leoncavallo as a librettist. While this signified a temporary improvement in the young man's circumstances, the creative alliance between Leoncavallo and Ricordi proved frustrating. Ricordi declined his next opera, I Medici, and his attempts at a libretto for Puccini's Manon Lescaut led to irreconcilable creative differences.

These combined misfortunes instilled in Leoncavallo a singular desire for operatic success, which he channeled into his masterpiece, I Pagliacci. Modeled on Mascagni's Cavalleria, Pagliacci was an instant sensation at its premier in 1892. From that point onward, Leoncavallo enjoyed fame and wealth, although the success of this work was never to be repeated.

In 1897 Leoncavallo produced a setting of La Bohème that was meant to rival that of Puccini, but, although it pleased the public somewhat, Puccini's finer and more sophisticated work quickly outstripped Leoncavallo's in popularity. Subsequent re-workings of Chatterton and I Medici proved to be dismal failures in Italy, but I Medici sufficiently impressed the Kaiser of Germany to gain a commission for a new work, Der Roland von Berlin (1904), which enjoyed modest success in Berlin. However, Leoncavallo never again gained his footing in Italy, where his works formed a succession of spectacular failures and tepid successes.

The advent of recording technology was fortuitous for Leoncavallo, who conducted I Pagliacci in the first complete recording of an Italian opera. He also accompanied Enrico Caruso in a recorded performance of the song, "Mattinata," which has become his most popular work after Pagliacci. Read less
Leoncavallo: Pagliacci
Release Date: 02/15/1994   Label: Naxos  
Catalog: 8660021   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Mattinata

About This Work
Leoncavallo's charming Mattinata, whose title translates as "Morning Song," is a greeting from a lover to his beloved. He calls to her to awaken and to come down to him. The dawn is dressed in white, giving joy to the earth. The narrator Read more asks the object of his affections to likewise dress and give joy to him: "Ove non sei, la luca manca, ove tu sei, nasce l'amor!" ("Where you are not, the light cannot shine, where you are, love is born!").

The music is appropriately cheerful; the keyboard provides an accompaniment of swift major-key arpeggios and scales, calling for a light touch on the part of the pianist. The vocal line follows the same pattern for most of the song; the last lines of the setting receive a more operatic treatment, including higher and longer-held notes.

The song, written to Leoncavallo's own text, quickly became a recital and concert favorite among tenors; it is, however, occasionally sung by baritones, mezzo-sopranos, and sopranos. Its popularity is such that it has attained the status of a folk song in the composer's native Italy. Read less

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