Ruggero Leoncavallo

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Leoncavallo on a 1910 postcard Leonkavallo Postcard-1910.jpg
Leoncavallo on a 1910 postcard

Ruggero (or Ruggiero) [1] Leoncavallo (Italian pronunciation:  [rudˈdʒɛːro leˌoŋkaˈvallo] ; 23 April 1857 9 August 1919) was an Italian opera composer and librettist. Although he produced numerous operas and other songs throughout his career it is his opera Pagliacci (1892) that remained his lasting contribution, despite attempts to escape the shadow of his greatest success.

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.

<i>Pagliacci</i> opera by Ruggero Leoncavallo

Pagliacci is an Italian opera in a prologue and two acts, with music and libretto by Ruggero Leoncavallo. It is the only Leoncavallo opera that is still widely performed. Opera companies have frequently staged Pagliacci with Cavalleria rusticana by Mascagni, a double bill known colloquially as 'Cav and Pag'.


Today he remains largely known for Pagliacci, one of the most popular works in the repertory, appearing as number 20 on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide in the 2013/14 season. [2] His other well-known works include the song "Mattinata", popularized by Enrico Caruso, as well as the symphonic poem La nuit de mai.

Operabase is an online database of opera performances, opera houses and companies, and performers themselves as well as their agents. Found at, it was created in 1996 by English software engineer and opera lover Mike Gibb. Initially a hobby site, it became his full-time occupation after three years. Opera magazine describes the Operabase website as "the most comprehensive source of data on operatic activity".

Not to be confused with the songs of the same name by Ottorino Respighi and Paolo Tosti.

Enrico Caruso Italian operatic tenor

Enrico Caruso was an Italian operatic tenor. He sang to great acclaim at the major opera houses of Europe and the Americas, appearing in a wide variety of roles from the Italian and French repertoires that ranged from the lyric to the dramatic. Caruso also made approximately 260 commercially released recordings from 1902 to 1920. All of these recordings, which span most of his stage career, remain available today on CDs and as downloads and digital streams.


The son of Vincenzo Leoncavallo, a police magistrate and judge, Leoncavallo was born in Naples on 23 April 1857. [3] As a child, he moved with his father to the town of Montalto Uffugo in Calabria, where Leoncavallo lived during his adolescence. He later returned to Naples and was educated at the city's San Pietro a Majella Conservatory and later the University of Bologna studying literature under famed Italian poet Giosuè Carducci.

Magistrate officer of the state, usually judge

The term magistrate is used in a variety of systems of governments and laws to refer to a civilian officer who administers the law. In ancient Rome, a magistratus was one of the highest ranking government officers, and possessed both judicial and executive powers. In other parts of the world, such as China, a magistrate was responsible for administration over a particular geographic area. Today, in some jurisdictions, a magistrate is a judicial officer who hears cases in a lower court, and typically deals with more minor or preliminary matters. In other jurisdictions, magistrates may be volunteers without formal legal training who perform a judicial role with regard to minor matters.

Naples Comune in Campania, Italy

Naples is the regional capital of Campania and the third-largest municipality in Italy after Rome and Milan. In 2017, around 967,069 people lived within the city's administrative limits while its province-level municipality has a population of 3,115,320 residents. Its continuously built-up metropolitan area is the second or third largest metropolitan area in Italy and one of the most densely populated cities in Europe.

Montalto Uffugo Comune in Calabria, Italy

Montalto Uffugo is a city and comune of the province of Cosenza in the Calabria region of southern Italy. The original name of the town was Montalto. Uffugo was added to the town's name after the unification period in the 1860s. It was the childhood home of composer Ruggero Leoncavallo. His famous opera Pagliacci takes place in Montalto.

In 1879 Leoncavallo's uncle Giuseppe, director of the press department at the Foreign Ministry in Egypt, suggested that his young nephew come to Cairo to showcase his pianistic abilities. Arriving shortly after the deposition of Khedive Ismail, Leoncavallo eventually secured work as a piano teacher and pianist to the brother of the new Khedive Tewfik Pasha. His time in Egypt concluded abruptly in 1882 after revolts in Alexandria and Cairo led by ‘Urabi in which the composer quickly departed for France. In Paris, Leoncavallo found lodging in Montmartre.

Ismail Pasha viceroy of Egypt and Sudan

Isma'il Pasha, known as Ismail the Magnificent, was the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan from 1863 to 1879, when he was removed at the behest of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Sharing the ambitious outlook of his grandfather, Muhammad Ali Pasha, he greatly modernized Egypt and Sudan during his reign, investing heavily in industrial and economic development, urbanisation, and the expansion of the country's boundaries in Africa.

Tewfik Pasha khedive of Egypt and the Sudan

Mohamed Tewfik Pasha, also known as Tawfiq of Egypt, was khedive of Egypt and the Sudan between 1879 and 1892 and the sixth ruler from the Muhammad Ali Dynasty.

Alexandria Metropolis in Egypt

Alexandria is the second-largest city in Egypt and a major economic centre, extending about 32 km (20 mi) along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country. Its low elevation on the Nile delta makes it highly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Alexandria is an important industrial center because of its natural gas and oil pipelines from Suez. Alexandria is also a popular tourist destination.

Leoncavallo's house at Montecatini Terme Casa di Ruggero Leoncavallo, Montecatini Terme.JPG
Leoncavallo's house at Montecatini Terme

An agent located in the Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis secured Leoncavallo employment as an accompanist and instructor for artists who performed in Sunday concerts mostly at cafés. It was during this time that he met Berthe Rambaud (1869–1926) a "preferred student", who became his wife in 1895. Increasingly inspired by the French romantics, particularly Alfred de Musset, Leoncavallo began work on a symphonic poem based on Musset's poetry entitled La nuit de mai. The work was completed in Paris in 1886 and premiered in April 1887 to critical acclaim. With this success and now with enough accumulated money Leoncavallo and Rambaud would return to Milan to begin his career as a composer of opera.

Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis street in Paris, France

The Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis is a street in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. It crosses the arrondissement from north to south, linking the Porte Saint-Denis to the Métro station of La Chapelle and passing the Gare du Nord.

Alfred de Musset French writer

Alfred Louis Charles de Musset-Pathay was a French dramatist, poet, and novelist. Along with his poetry, he is known for writing the autobiographical novel La Confession d'un enfant du siècle.

Back in Italy, Leoncavallo spent some years teaching and attempting ineffectively to obtain the production of more than one opera, notably Chatterton . In 1890 he saw the enormous success of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana and wasted no time in producing his own verismo work, Pagliacci . (According to Leoncavallo, the plot of this work had a real-life origin: he claimed it derived from a murder trial, in Montalto Uffugo, over which his father had presided.)

<i>Chatterton</i> (opera) opera

Chatterton is a dramma lirico or opera in three acts by Ruggero Leoncavallo. The libretto was written by the composer himself and is freely adapted from the life of the young English poet from Bristol, Thomas Chatterton (1752–1770). Although composed in 1876, it premiered 20 years later on 10 March 1896, at the Teatro Drammatico Nazionale in Rome.

Pietro Mascagni Italian composer known for operas

Pietro Antonio Stefano Mascagni was an Italian composer most noted for his operas. His 1890 masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana caused one of the greatest sensations in opera history and single-handedly ushered in the Verismo movement in Italian dramatic music. While it was often held that Mascagni, like Leoncavallo, was a "one-opera man" who could never repeat his first success, L'amico Fritz and Iris have remained in the repertoire in Europe since their premieres. Mascagni said that at one point, Iris was performed in Italy more often than Cavalleria.

<i>Cavalleria rusticana</i> opera by Pietro Mascagni

Cavalleria rusticana is an opera in one act by Pietro Mascagni to an Italian libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci, adapted from an 1880 short story of the same name and subsequent play by Giovanni Verga. Considered one of the classic verismo operas, it premiered on 17 May 1890 at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome. Since 1893, it has often been performed in a so-called Cav/Pag double-bill with Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo.

Pagliacci was performed in Milan in 1892 with immediate success; today it is the only work by Leoncavallo in the standard operatic repertory. [4] Its most famous aria "Vesti la giubba" ("Put on the costume" or, in the better-known older translation, "On with the motley") was recorded by Enrico Caruso and laid claim to being the world's first record to sell a million copies (although this is probably a total of Caruso's various versions of it made in 1902, 1904 and 1907).

The next year his I Medici was also produced in Milan, but neither it nor Chatterton (belatedly produced in 1896)both early worksobtained much lasting favour. Much of Chatterton, however, was recorded by the Gramophone Company (later HMV) as early as 1908, and remastered on CD almost 100 years later by Marston Records. Leoncavallo himself conducts the performance or at very least supervises the production. [5]

It was not until Leoncavallo's La bohème was performed in 1897 in Venice that his talent obtained public confirmation. However, it was outshone by Puccini's opera of the same name and on the same subject, which was premiered in 1896. Two tenor arias from Leoncavallo's version are still occasionally performed, especially in Italy.

Subsequent operas by Leoncavallo were in the 1900s: Zazà (the opera of Geraldine Farrar's famous 1922 farewell performance at the Metropolitan Opera), and 1904's Der Roland von Berlin . In 1906 the composer brought singers and orchestral musicians from La Scala to perform concerts of his music in New York, as well as an extensive tour of the United States. The tour was, all in all, a qualified success. [6] He had a brief success with Zingari which premiered in Italian in London in 1912, with a long run at the Hippodrome Theatre. Zingari also reached the United States but soon disappeared from the repertoire. [7]

After a series of operettas, Leoncavallo appeared to have tried for one last serious effort with Edipo re  [ it ]. It had always been assumed that Leoncavallo had finished the work but had died before he could finish the orchestration, which was completed by Giovanni Pennacchio  [ it ]. However, with the publication of Konrad Dryden's biography of Leoncavallo [8] it was revealed that Leoncavallo may not have written the work at all (although it certainly contains themes by Leoncavallo). A review of Dryden's study notes: "That fine Edipo re ... was not even composed by [Leoncavallo]. His widow paid another composer to concoct a new opera using the music of Der Roland von Berlin. Dryden didn't find one reference to the opera in Leoncavallo’s correspondence nor is there a single note by him to be found in the handwritten score." [9]

What is certain is that in Edipo re, a short one act work, the composer (whoever it actually was) uses exactly the same melody for the final scene "Miei poveri fior, per voi non più sole..." (with the blinded Edipo) as in the act 4 soprano aria from Der Roland von Berlin. It has been assumed (see The New Grove Dictionary of Opera) that Leoncavallo left the opera more or less complete (except for the orchestration). Pennacchio may either have concocted the opera or may have had to do more to Leoncavallo's more or less complete work to "fill in the gaps" using Leoncavallo's earlier music. [10] Another clue to demonstrate that Leoncavallo had no or little part in Edipo re is that unusually, in fact exceptionally, Leoncavallo did not write the libretto. The libretto for Edipo re was written by Giovacchino Forzano, who also wrote Il piccolo Marat for Pietro Mascagni and two of the one-act operas for Puccini's Il trittico . Further, the orchestration of Edipo re, consisting all too often of massed strings and a depressingly constant use of the cymbal, does not seem the work of Leoncavallo whose own orchestration, whilst sometimes uninspired, is at very least competent.[ citation needed ]

From the 1970s Edipo re has had a number of revivals, both as concert performances (including Rome 1972, Concertgebouw (Amsterdam) 1977 and Konzerthaus, Vienna 1998) as well as fully staged productions at the Teatro Regio, Turin, in 2002 and the Thessaloniki Opera 2008. [11] It remains to be seen who will be given the credit for this opera in future revivals.

Death and legacy

Leoncavallo died in Montecatini Terme, Tuscany, on 9 August 1919. His funeral was held two days later, with hundreds in attendance, including fellow composer Pietro Mascagni and longtime rival Giacomo Puccini. He was buried in the Cimitero delle Porte Sante in Florence.

70 years after his death a campaign was launched to move the composer's remains to Brissago, Switzerland, after talk of a letter written by Leoncavallo claimed to show that the composer had desired to be buried there originally, although no such letter was ever found. Having become an honorary citizen of Brissago (he owned a lavish summer residence, Villa Myriam, in the town) in 1904 Leoncavallo had mentioned in a speech that he would not mind having a resting place in the town's Madonna di Porte cemetery, but it was never a written request in his will. Regardless the campaign to move Leoncavallo's remains moved ahead and was granted official approval by Piera Leoncavallo-Grand, the last remaining descendant of the composer. The body was exhumed for transfer to Switzerland along with the remains of his wife Berthe, who died in 1926.

The Museo Leoncavallo (Leoncavallo Museum) was established in 2002 in Brissago to commemorate the composer with personal items and original manuscripts on display including statues representing characters from his other operas including Zazà and Der Roland von Berlin.

Little or nothing from Leoncavallo's other operas is heard today, but the baritone arias from Zazà were great concert and recording favourites among baritones and Zazà as a whole is sometimes revived, as is his La bohème. The tenor arias from La bohème remain recording favorites.

Leoncavallo also composed songs, most famously "Mattinata", which he wrote for the Gramophone Company (which became HMV) with Caruso's unique voice in mind. On 8 April 1904, Leoncavallo accompanied Caruso at the piano as they recorded the song. On 8 December 1905 he recorded five of his own pieces for the reproducing piano Welte-Mignon. [12] [13]

Leoncavallo was the librettist for most of his own operas. Many considered him the greatest Italian librettist of his time after Boito. Among Leoncavallo's libretti for other composers is his contribution to the libretto for Puccini's Manon Lescaut.



Ruggero Leoncavallo Ruggiero leoncavallo.jpg
Ruggero Leoncavallo

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  1. His first name is also spelled "Ruggiero" in many sources. His birth certificate lists his full name as "Ruggiero Giacomo Maria Giuseppe Emmanuele Raffaele Domenico Vincenzo Francesco Donato Leoncavallo". See Dryden (2007) p. 4. However, his tombstone spells his first name as "Ruggero". See Fondazione Ruggero Leoncavallo.
  2. "Opera Statistics". Operabase . Retrieved 8 May 2011.
  3. Works referencing the established date, 23 April 1857, include The New Grove Dictionary of Opera (1992), p. 1148; The New Penguin Opera Guide (2001) p. 487; The Oxford Dictionary of Musical Works (2004), p. 201; Sansone, Matteo (1989) "The Verismo of Ruggero Leoncavallo: A Source Study of Pagliacci", Music & Letters , Vol. 70, No. 3 (August 1989), pp. 342–362.
  4. Stanley Sadie and Christina Bashford (eds.), 1992, p. 1148
  5. Stephen R. Clark (2004) The Leoncavallo Recordings 1907/1908: Chatterton Archived 2009-01-15 at the Wayback Machine , Marston Records.
  6. James Greening-Valenzuela (2011) Ruggero Leoncavallo in New York and other American cities: 1906 and 1913
  7. See ForumOpera for a review of a modern recording of Zingari and a musical analysis (in French)
  8. Dryden (2007) [ page needed ]
  9. Jan Neckers: Operanostalgia
  10. Chillemi, Carmelo "Giovanni Pennacchio"' (in Italian).
  11. Luraghi, Sylivia Review of the 2002 Turin performance of Edipo re, Opera Japonica
  12. Gerhard Dangel und Hans-W. Schmitz: Welte-Mignon Reproductions. Complete Library Of Recordings For The Welte-Mignon Reproducing Piano 1905–1932. Stuttgart 2006. ISBN   3-00-017110-X. p. 49, p. 518
  13. The Welte Mignon Mystery Vol. XIV
  14. See Le Opere di Leoncavallo, Fondazione Leoncavallo (in Italian)