Obscure Composers (8) (final)
significant that between Verdi's
Ballo in maschera in 1859 and his Otello
in 1887, very few new operas by other composers were
produced in Italy. (That situation changed with the
coming of the new generation of composers such as Leoncavallo, Mascagni and
An interesting —and staggeringly complete— book entitled Il Melodramma Italiano (1861-1900) by Andrea Sessa (ed. Leo S. Olschki, Florence. 2003) lists hundreds of Italian composers working in relative obscurity, in the shadows of the giants,in the second half of the 19th century.
a very few (in chronological order of birth) from a long
list of lesser known composers whose works appeared at San Carlo in Naples or in
secondary theaters in the city in the mid- and late 1800s.
I chose them almost at random, perhaps looking for a
connection in birth or conservatory study in Naples. It is
not easy to determine why they and the others are so
little known. A friend suggested to me that "maybe their
music was no good."
(1810-1885) was raised in Naples and studied music there.
He composed about 30 operas for Naples and elsewhere,
including la Casa
disabitata for la
Scala opera in Milan in 1834. Perhaps he was one
of those who got discouraged in the face of competition;
he went away to Mexico in the 1840s; he moved to Cuba to
be the director of the Havana Theater and eventually back
to Italy, where he became director of the Milan
conservatory. Rossi was one of the composers who answered
Verdi's call to contribute to what was to be a requiem
mass for Rossini (but which never materialized, Verdi's
portion later turning into his own Requiem for
(1836-1895) studied music at the Naples
music conservatory. He was from a "revolutionary"
family in that his father actively agitated against the
government of the Kingdom of Naples and for the eventual
unification of Italy. Miceli had some early success in
Naples but the fact that his father had had to flee the
kingdom did not help his own attempts to have his music
produced at San Carlo. After the fall of the kingdom of
Naples (1861), Micelli composed about a dozen operas and
some patriotic music, including a hymn to Garibaldi.
(1836-1877) was from Naples and was a child prodigy, being
admitted to the music conservatory at the age of eight. He
had an opera performed at San Carlo in 1862, shortly after
the unification of Italy. Of his other four or five
(1872) is the most noteworthy. He also composed a
symphony. His career was cut short at the age of 39.
(1839-1920) studied music in Naples but spent much of his
professional life in Florence. He was primarily interested
in instrumental music and
composed at least one symphony. He is best remembered as a
music critic and helped found the journal, Rivista musicale italiana.
His opera, il Conte di
Monreal, opened in Genoa in 1865.
(1848-1889) is mentioned, above, as the one who went off
to fight with Garibaldi soon after leaving the Naples
conservatory. He composed instrumental works, two ballets,
a few operas and was the conductor of the San Carlo
orchestra from 1877-1882.
—Niccolò van Westerhout
(1857-98) (photo, right) was from Mola di
Bari in Puglia, his family having come to Italy from
northern Europe in the 1600s. He studied music at the
Naples conservatory, eventually teaching there. His
(based on Shakespeare's Cymbaline) was produced at San Carlo
in 1887, and his Doña
Flor was done there in 1896. Of his four
complete operas, one, Colomba,
was premiered posthumously at San Carlo in 1923, He also
composed three symphonies and a violin concerto. He was
an accomplished concert pianist. He, too, died young.
(1860-1942) was from Torino. He studied music in Venice,
Dresden and Munich. He was a contemporary, obviously, of
Mascagni, Leoncavallo, and Cilea, but in spite of his long
life never achieved even their "flash-in-the-pan" fame.
His best remembered work is the opera Cristoforo Colombo,
composed for the Columbus quadricentennial exposition in
Genova in 1892.(The libretto is by Luigi Illica, famous
for his libretti for Puccini's La bohème, Tosca, and Madama Butterfly.) Franchetti composed
the work at the behest of Verdi (the obvious first
choice!), who had turned down the offer. Franchetti's
(1902) enjoyed some early success. Franchetti was a Jew
and his later career was hindered greatly by the
in Fascist Italy of the 1930s.
(1869-1934) was born in Naples and died in far-off Rio de
Janeiro. He was a child prodigy and studied music in
Naples and then Vienna. He was only 21 when his opera, Erebo, was performed
at San Carlo. He composed a number of lighter operas and
some musical comedy, including il Cristo alla festa di Purim (Christ at the Feast of Purim),
based on the play by the Neapolitan playwright and poet Libero Bovio. It opened in 1905 in
Rio de Janeiro, where Giannetti was the director of the