Ruggero (or Ruggiero) Giacomo Maria Giuseppe Emmanuele Raffaele Domenico Vincenzo Francesco Donato Leoncavallo was an Italian opera composer, pianist and librettist. He started his career as a music teacher and later turned to composing music. He spent a considerable part of his life as a touring pianist, traveling through Europe. His was a great admirer of Wagner and this prompted him to attempt a trilogy of operas on Renaissance subjects, which unfortunately, he could never complete. He was not only an amazing musician, but also a brilliant librettist and wrote libretto for his works, except for his last work, "Edipo Re". His major works include operas, operettas, popular songs, and musical comedies. Though regarded as one of the most important Italian musical person, many of his works are not available in the repertory. His two-act work "Pagliacci" is one of the most popular works in the repertory, and holds 20th most-performed operas in the world. Read this biography to learn more about Leoncavallo, his early life and works.
Ruggero Leoncavallo's Childhood And Early Life
Leoncavallo was born on 23 April 1857 in Naples, Southern Italy, as the son of a Judge. During childhood he moved to Montalto Uffugo in Calabria along with his father and spent his life there till adolescence. Passionate about music, he joined San Pietro a Majella Conservatory, a famous music institution in Naples.
Career And Masterpiece
He started off his career as a music teacher and tried to produce some operas, but in vain. Inspired by the success of the opera "Cavalleria Pietro" by Mascagni, Leoncavallo produced an opera "Pagliacci", which was a big verismo hit and brought him to limelight overnight. "Pagliacci", which is considered as his masterpiece, was premiered on May 1892 in Milan. The meaning of the title "Pagliacci" is The Clowns' or 'Strolling Players', which refers to small group of nomadic stage players or actors. This opera depicts the audience about the lives of these people, their relationships and emotions which gets into their stage roles and performance, culminating in a murder. Leoncavallo claimed that it had a real-life origin and he derived the idea from a murder trial which his father had chaired. This opera holds another importance as well; this is the only work by Leoncavallo which is preserved in the operatic repertory. “Vesti la giubba” was the most famous aria in that opera and is claimed to be the first-ever record to sell a million copies. His next two works, I Medici and Chatterton which were produced in Milan but, both of them could not obtain much public favor.
His next two works after "Pagliacci" – "I Medici" and "Chatterto",’ which were produced in Milan, could not obtain much public favor. It was when Leoncavallo performed "La boheme" in Venice in 1897 that people got to know more about his talents. His other works include Zaza in the year 1900 and Der Roland von Berlin in 1904. His next work, "Gli zingari", which was premiered in 1912 in London, had a brief success. Though this work reached even the United States, it vanished from the repertory somehow. Leoncavallo did a series of operas and "Edipo Re" was his last work. He died before he could complete this work but, it was almost done, with only orchestration left. This was then completed by Giovanni Pennacchio by filling the interludes with Leoncavallo’s earlier works. There are not much information on Leonocavallo’s other works. Apart from operas he composed songs as well. Mattinata, the one which he wrote for Gramphone Company (now HMV) was highly popular.
Usually Leoncavallo writes libretto for his works. Leoncavallo’s librettos were popular those days and are considered as greatest librettist after Boito. He had written librettos not only for his works but also for other composers. His libretto for Puccini’s Manon Lescaut is a popular one. Though a wonderful librettist, surprisingly, the libretto of his work Edipo Re was written by Giovacchino Forzano.
Ruggero Leoncavallo died in Montecatini Terme in Italy, on 9 August 1919 at the age of 69.
- Pagliacci (1892)
- I Medici (1893)
- Chatterton (1896)
- La bohème (1897)
- Zazà (1900)
- Der Roland von Berlin (1904)
- Maïa (1910)
- Gli zingari (1912)
- Mimi Pinson (1913)
- Goffredo Mameli (1916)
- Edipo Re (1920) (Completed by Giovanni Pennacchio )
- La jeunesse de Figaro (1906)
- Malbrouck (1910)
- Are You There? (1913)
- La candidata (1915)
- Prestami tua moglie (Lend me your wife)(1916)
- A chi la giarrettiera? (Whose Garter Is This?) (1919) (produced after his death)
- IIprimo bacio (1923 ) (produced after his death)
- La maschera nuda (1925) (produced after his death)
- La nuit de mai (poème symphonique for tenor and orchestra)
- Séraphitus Séraphita (Poema Sinfonico)