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(1848 - 1921)

Of all the composers who played a part in the late nineteenth-century renaissance of Italian instrumental music, Luigi Mancinelli is the least well-known, perhaps because he devoted more of his professional life to conducting than to writing his own music. Born in Orvieto in 1848 into a mercantile family, Mancinelli taught himself to play the piano. His passion for music soon led him away from the career in commerce his father expected him to follow: instead he ran away to Florence where he studied cello and composition. He became a cellist in the city’s Teatro Pergola orchestra, later playing with the orchestras of the Argentina and Apollo theatres in Rome. In 1874 he moved to Perugia to become first cellist and repetiteur at the Teatro Morlacchi. That same year he stood in at a performance of Aida for conductor Emilio Usiglio (who had got roaring drunk an hour before the curtain was due to rise and, when urged to prepare himself to take to the podium, had replied: “What Aida? I am Radamès, dead and gone; leave me here in my vault”!). Mancinelli thus made his conducting début (although in fact he had also presided over a performance of Verdi’s Luisa Miller in 1873), and succeeded not only in winning critical acclaim but in catching the eye of the publisher Ricordi and the impresario Jacovacci, who were quick to engage him as the Teatro Apollo’s assistant conductor for the 1875 season and principal conductor a year later, when he opened the season with Spontini’s La vestale. The charisma he brought to the latter work and the subsequent success of his performances of Gomes’s Il Guarany earned him further praise from the critics, as did the Roman premières of Ponchielli’s La Gioconda and Boito’s Mefistofele (both 1877). He soon consolidated his work in the opera houses of Rome, receiving much recognition, including compliments from Wagner on his interpretation of Lohengrin and warm congratulations from Verdi.

In 1886, having spent six years at the Apollo in Rome and another five thereafter at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, Mancinelli travelled abroad for the first time, becoming chief conductor at Madrid’s Teatro Real, where he remained until 1893. He also presided over nineteen spring seasons at Covent Garden, between 1887 and 1915, as well as conducting at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, between 1893 and 1901, and at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires (1907–1911). He died in Rome in 1921.

© Naxos Rights US, Inc. — Marta Marullo with translation by by Susannah Howe (MANCINELLI Scene veneziane, 6 Intermezzi sinfonici per la tragedia Cleopatra (excerpts), Naxos 8.573074)

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