About this Recording
8.660021 - LEONCAVALLO: Pagliacci
English 

Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1857 -1919)

Ruggiero Leoncavallo (1857 -1919)

 

Ruggiero Leoncavallo was born in 1857 in Naples, where he entered the conservatory in 1866, proceeding ten years later to the University of Bologna to take a degree in literature. His first opera, Chatterton, proved initially unacceptable, while his second attempt at opera, with the first of an intended

Renaissance trilogy, I Medici, did not please the publisher Ricordi, who had started to take an interest in Leoncavallo's work, and the trilogy remained unfinished. Ricordi had commissioned from him a libretto for Puccini's planned

Manon Lescaut, but this was rejected by the composer. It was in partial reaction to this early failure and to the very considerable success of Mascagni's short and realist opera Cavalleria Rusticana, that Leoncavallo, in 1892, wrote the text and music of Pagliacci, with a story based on a murder case with which his father, a magistrate in Naples, had been concerned. The work was at once accepted for performance by the impresario Sonzogno and staged at the Teatro dal Verme in Milan with great success under the direction of Arturo Toscanini.

 

The success of Pagliacci persuaded Sonzogno to stage I Medici, the first part of the proposed trilogy, but the work failed to please, either musically or dramatically. In 1897 Leoncavallo's version of La Boheme was mounted at La

Fenice in Venice and was initially well enough received, although Puccini's version of the same story, staged the year before, was eventually to oust its later rival. A revised version of Chatterton failed, but in 1900 the new opera

Zaza, staged at the Teatro Lirico in Milan under Toscanini, fared well enough.

Leoncavallo's subsequent stage works enjoyed only fleeting success, if any, and he wrote nothing to equal Pagliacci, although the song Mattinata, written for recording and first recorded by Caruso in 1904, remains a particularly popular item of tenor repertoire. He died in 1919.

 

Pagliacci remains Leoncavallo's most considerable achievement. It came at a time when verismo, realism, often of a generally sordid kind, had seized the imagination of the public, and is a successful example of a genre that produced a number of contemporary operatic disasters, whatever their passing commercial appeal. Music and text are dramatic and even histrionic in a tragedy of jealousy expressed in the starkest terms. After its first successful staging in Milan in May 1892 it was mounted at Covent Garden in May the following years and in June 1893 at the Grand Opera House in New York.


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