His early career was disappointing. Maneuvered out of a professorship at the Milan Conservatory that he had won in a competition, he took small-time jobs in small cities, and composed several operas, none successful at first. In spite of his disappointment, he gained much experience as the bandmaster (capobanda) in Piacenza and Cremona, arranging and composing over 200 works for wind band. Notable among his "original" compositions for band are the first-ever concerto for euphonium (Concerto per Flicornobasso, 1872), fifteen variations on the popular Parisian song "Carnevale di Venezia", and a series of festive and funeral marches that resound with the pride of the newly unified Italy and the private grief of his fellow Cremonese. The turning point was the big success of the revised version of I promessi sposi in 1872, which brought him a contract with the music publisher G. Ricordi & Co. and the musical establishment at the Conservatory and at La Scala. The role of Lina in the revised version was sung by Teresina Brambilla whom he married in 1874. Their son Annibale became a music critic and minor composer. The ballet Le due gemelle (1873) confirmed his success.
The following opera, I Lituani (The Lithuanians) of 1874, had a three-night run in 1903 at La Scala, where the casting was particularly poorly reviewed; it was scheduled for performances in 1939 that did not take place because Second World War broke out, and it was not performed again until 1979 when RAI recovered the score. It has been revived several times since then. His best-known opera is La Gioconda (1876), which his librettist Arrigo Boito adapted from the same play by Victor Hugo that had been previously set by Saverio Mercadante as Il giuramento in 1837 and Carlos Gomes as Fosca in 1873. The opera contains the famous ballet Dance of the Hours as the third act finale. It was first produced in 1876 and revised several times. The version that has become popular today was first given in 1880.
In 1876 he started working on I Mori di Valenza, although the project dates back to 1873. It was an opera that he never finished, although it was completed later by Arturo Cadore and performed posthumously in 1914.
After La Gioconda, Ponchielli wrote the monumental biblical melodrama in four acts Il figliuol prodigo given in Milan at La Scala on 26 December 1880 and Marion Delorme, from another play by Victor Hugo, which was presented at La Scala on 17 March 1885. In spite of their rich musical invention, neither of these operas met with the same success but both exerted great influence on the composers of the rising generation, such as Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni and Umberto Giordano.
In 1881, Ponchielli was appointed maestro di cappella of the Bergamo Cathedral, and from the same year he was a professor of composition at the Milan Conservatory, where among his students were Puccini, Mascagni and Emilio Pizzi.
Although, in his lifetime, Ponchielli was very popular and influential (and introduced an enlarged orchestra and more complex orchestration), only one of his operas is regularly performed today - La Gioconda. It contains a strong and memorable aria for contralto 'Voce de donna o d'angelo'(the Rosary song), the great tenor romanza "Cielo e mar", a well-known duet for tenor and baritone titled "Enzo Grimaldo, Principe Di Santafior", the soprano aria "Suicidio!", and the ballet "The Dance of the Hours", which is widely known thanks in part to its having been featured in Walt Disney's Fantasia in 1940, and in Allan Sherman's novelty song, "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh", and numerous other popular works.
Arrigo Boito was an Italian poet, journalist, novelist, librettist and composer, best known today for his libretti, especially those for Giuseppe Verdi's last two monumental operas Otello and Falstaff and his own opera Mefistofele. Along with Emilio Praga and his own brother Camillo Boito, he is regarded as one of the prominent representatives of the Scapigliatura artistic movement.
Sylvano Bussotti was an Italian composer of contemporary classical music, also a painter, set and costume designer, opera director and manager, writer and academic teacher. His compositions employ graphic notation, which has often created special problems of interpretation. He was known as a composer for the stage. His first opera was La Passion selon Sade, premiered in Palermo in 1965. Later operas and ballets were premiered at the Teatro Comunale di Firenze, Teatro Lirico di Milano, Teatro Regio di Torino and Piccola Scala di Milano, among others. He was artistic director of La Fenice in Venice, the Puccini Festival and the music section of the Venice Biennale. He taught internationally, for a decade at the Fiesole School of Music. He is regarded as a leading composer of Italy's avantgarde, and a Renaissance man with many talents who combined the arts expressively.
Antonio Ghislanzoni was an Italian journalist, poet, and novelist who wrote librettos for Verdi, among other composers, of which the best known are Aida and the revised version of La forza del destino.
The Milan Conservatory is a college of music in Milan, Italy.
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Salvatore Sciarrino is an Italian composer of contemporary classical music. Described as "the best-known and most performed Italian composer" of the present day, his works include Quaderno di strada (2003) and La porta della legge (2006–08).
Daniela Dessì was an Italian operatic soprano.
Lorenzo Ferrero is an Italian composer, librettist, author, and book editor. He started composing at an early age and has written over a hundred compositions thus far, including twelve operas, three ballets, and numerous orchestral, chamber music, solo instrumental, and vocal works. His musical idiom is characterized by eclecticism, stylistic versatility, and a neo-tonal language.
Clorinda Corradi was an Italian opera singer and one of the most famous contraltos in history.
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Romilda Pantaleoni was an Italian soprano who had a prolific opera career in Italy during the 1870s and 1880s. She sang a wide repertoire that encompassed bel canto roles, Italian and French grand opera, verismo operas, and the German operas of Richard Wagner. She became particularly associated with the roles of Margherita in Boito's Mefistofele and the title role in Ponchielli's La Gioconda; two roles which she performed in opera houses throughout Italy. She is best remembered today for originating the roles of Desdemona in Giuseppe Verdi's Otello (1887) and Tigrana in Giacomo Puccini's Edgar (1889). Universally admired for her acting skills as well as her singing abilities, Pantaleoni was compared by several critics to the great Italian stage actress Eleonora Duse.
Francesco Maria Bonini was an Italian baritone who had a major international opera career from 1896 through 1927. He was one of the first wave of musicians to be recorded, having made a number of recordings with Fonotipia Records in Milan in 1905–1906.
Antonio Cagnoni was an Italian composer. Primarily known for his twenty operas, his work is characterized by his use of leitmotifs and moderately dissonant harmonies. In addition to writing music for the stage, he composed a modest amount of sacred music, most notably a Requiem in 1888. He also contributed the third movement, Quid sum miser, to the Messa per Rossini, a collaborative work created by thirteen composers to honor Gioacchino Rossini.
Alberto Mazzucato was an Italian composer, music teacher, and writer.
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Teresa "Teresina" Brambilla was an Italian soprano who sang in the major opera houses of Europe in a career spanning 25 years. She was particularly noted for her interpretations of the leading roles in operas by Amilcare Ponchielli whom she married in 1874.
Amelia Pinto (1876–1946) was an Italian operatic soprano who first performed at the Teatro Grande in Brescia in December 1899 in La Gioconda. She developed a particular liking for Wagner, excelling in Tristan and Isolda at La Scala. She is also remembered for her interpretation of Tosca, appreciated by Puccini himself.
Maddalena Mariani Masi, sometimes written Maddalena Mariani-Masi, was an Italian soprano and voice teacher. She created the title role of Ponchielli's La Gioconda in 1876 at La Scala in Milan, and appeared in the role at several Italian theatres and the Liceu in Barcelona. She also frequently appeared as Marguerite in Boito's Mefistofele.
Antonio Veretti was an Italian composer.
Riccardo Gandolfi was an Italian composer and music critic.
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