Music with Ease > 19th Century Italian Opera > Life of Ruggiero Leoncavallo (2)
Italian opera composer
Leoncavallo, born March 8, 1858, at Naples, is a dramatic composer, a pianist, and a man of letters. He is the composer of the successful opera "Pagliacci," has made concert tours as a pianoforte virtuoso, is his own librettist, and has received the degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Bologna.
He studied at the Naples Conservatory. His first opera, "Tommaso Chatterton," was a failure, but was successfully revived in 1896, in Rome. An admirer of Wagner and personally encouraged by him, he wrote and set to music a trilogy, "Crepusculum" (Twilight): I. "I Medici"; II. "Gerolamo Savonarola"; III. "Cesare Borgia." The performing rights to Part I were acquired by the Ricordi publishing house, but, no preparations being made for its production, he set off again on his travels as a pianist, officiating also as a répetiteur for opera singers, among them Maurel, in Paris, where he remained several years. His friendship with that singer bore unexpected fruit. Desparing of ever seeing "I Medici" performed, and inspired by the success of "Cavalleria Rusticana," Leoncavallo wrote and composed "Pagliacci," and sent it to Ricordis rival, the music publisher Sonzogno. The latter accepted "Pagliacci" immediately after reading the libretto. Maurel then not only threw his influence in favour of the work, but even offered to create the role of Tonio; and in that character he was in the original cast (1892). "I Medici" was now produced (La Scala, Milan, 1893), but failed of success. Later operas by Leoncavallo, "La Bohème" (La Fenice Theatre, Venice, 1897) and "Zaza" (Milan, 1900), fared somewhat better, and the latter is played both in Italy and Germany. But "Roland of Berlin," commissioned by the German Emperor and performed December 13, 1904, was a complete failure. In fact Leoncavallos name is so identified with "Pagliacci" that, like Mascagni, he may be called a one-opera composer.