Giuseppe Saverio Raffaele Mercadante (baptised 17 September 1795 – 17 December 1870) was an Italian composer, particularly of operas. While Mercadante may not have retained the international celebrity of Gaetano Donizetti or Gioachino Rossini beyond his own lifetime, he composed as impressive a number of works as either; and his development of operatic structures, melodic styles and orchestration contributed significantly to the foundations upon which Giuseppe Verdi built his dramatic technique.
Mercadante was born in Altamura, near Bari in Apulia; his precise date of birth has not been recorded, but he was baptised on 17 September 1795. Mercadante studied flute, violin and composition at the conservatory in Naples, and organized concerts among his compatriots. The opera composer Gioachino Rossini said to the conservatory Director, Niccolo Zingarelli, "My compliments Maestro - your young pupil Mercadante begins where we finish". In 1817 he was made conductor of the college orchestra, composing a number of symphonies, and concertos for various instruments - including six for flute about 1818-1819, and whose autograph scores are in the Naples conservatory, where they were presumably first performed with him as soloist.
The encouragement of Rossini led him to compose for the opera, where he won considerable success with his second such work (Violenza e Constanza), in 1820. His next three operas are more or less forgotten, but an abridged recording of Maria Stuarda, Regina di Scozia was issued by Opera Rara in 2006. His next opera Elisa e Claudio was a huge success, and had occasional revivals in the 20th century, most recently by Wexford Festival Opera in 1988.
He worked for a time in Vienna, in Madrid, in Cadiz, and in Lisbon, but re-established himself in Italy in 1831. He was invited by Rossini to Paris in 1836, where he composed I Briganti for four of the most-known singers of the time, Giulia Grisi, Giovanni Battista Rubini, Antonio Tamburini and Luigi Lablache, all of whom worked closely with Bellini. While there, he had the opportunity to hear operas by Meyerbeer and Halévy, which imparted a strong influence on him, especially the latter's La Juive. This influence took the form of greater stress on the dramatic side.
Return to Italy, 1831
When Mercadante returned to Italy after living in Spain and Portugal, Donizetti's music reigned supreme in Naples, an ascendancy which did not end until censorship problems with the latter's Poliuto caused a final break. But Mercadante's style began to shift with the presentation of I Normanni a Parigi at the Teatro Regio in Turin in 1832: "It was with this score that Mercadante entered on the process of development in his musical dramaturgy which, in some aspects, actually presaged the arrival of Verdi, when he launched, from 1837 on, into master works of his artistic maturity: the so-called "reform operas".
In the period after 1831 he composed some of his most important works. These included Il giuramento which was premiered at La Scala in November 1837. One striking and innovative characteristic of this opera has been noted:
- ..it marks the first successful attempt in an Italian opera premiered in Italy of depriving the prima donna, or some other star singer, of her until-then inalienable right of having the stage to herself at the end. By doing this, Mercadante sounded what was to be the death knell of the age of bel canto.
Early in following year, while composing Elena da Feltre (which premiered in January 1839), Mercadante wrote to Francesco Florimo, laying out his ideas about how opera should be structured, following the "revolution" begun in his previous opera:
- I have continued the revolution I began in Il giuramento: varied forms, cabalettas banished, crescendos out, vocal lines simplified, fewer repeats, more originality in the cadances, proper regard paid to the drama, orchestration rich but not so as to swamp the voices, no long solos in the ensembles (they only force the other parts to stand idle to the detriment of the action), not much bass drum, and a lot less brass band.
Elena da Feltre followed; one critic found much to praise in it:
A work of harmonic daring, subtlety and originally orchestrated, it suddenly makes sense of oft quoted comparisons between Mercadante and Verdi. It has the overall coherence one looks for and finds in middle and late Verdi - a surprising anticipation, for Elena da Feltre dates from 1838, the year before Verdi's first opera 
Some of Mercadante's later works, especially Orazi e Curiazi, were also quite successful. Many performances of his operas were given throughout the 19th century and it has been noted that some of them received far more than those of Verdi's early operas over the same period of time.
He generated more instrumental works through his life than most of his contemporaries due his lifelong preoccupation with the orchestral scores, and, from 1840, being the Director of the Naples conservatory for the last 30 years of his life. From 1863 he was almost totally blind.
In the decades after his death in Naples in 1870, his output was largely forgotten, but it has been occasionally revived and recorded since World War II, although it has yet to achieve anything like the present-day popularity of the most famous compositions by his slightly younger contemporaries Donizetti and Bellini.
The French soloist Jean-Pierre Rampal notably recorded several Mercadante concertos for flute and string orchestra, including the grand and romantic E minor concerto, which has since gained some popularity among concert flautists.
- L'apoteosi d'Ercole (19 August 1819, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- Violenza e costanza, ossia I falsi monetari (19 January 1820, Teatro Nuovo, Naples) [also as: Il castello dei spiriti (1825, Lisbon)]
- Anacreonte in Samo (1 January 1820, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- Il geloso ravveduto (October 1820, Teatro Valle, Rome)
- Scipione in Cartagine (26 December 1820, Teatro Argentina, Rome)
- Maria Stuarda regina di Scozia (29 May 1821, Teatro Comunale, Bologna)
- Elisa e Claudio, ossia L'amore protetto dall'amicizia (30 October 1821, Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
- Andronico (26 December 1821, Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
- Il posto abbandonato, ossia Adele ed Emerico (21 September 1822, Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
- Amleto (26 December 1822, Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
- Alfonso ed Elisa (26 December 1822, Teatro Nuovo, Mantua) [rev. as: Aminta ed Argira (1823, Reggio Emilia)]
- Didone abbandonata (18 January 1823, Teatro Regio, Turin)
- Gli sciti (18 March 1823, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- Costanzo ed Almeriska (22 November 1823, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- Gli amici di Siracusa (7.2.1824 Teatro Argentina, Rome)
- Doralice (18.9.1824 Karntnertortheater, Wien)
- Le nozze di Telemaco ed Antiope (5 November 1824, Karntnertortheater, Wien) [pasticcio]
- Il podestà di Burgos, ossia Il signore del villaggio (20 November 1824, Karntnertortheater, Wien)
- Nitocri (26.12.1824 Teatro Regio, Turin)
- Ipermestra (29 December 1825, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- Erode, ossia Marianna (12 December 1825, Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
- Caritea, regina di Spagna (Donna Caritea), ossia La morte di Don Alfonso re di Portogallo (21 February 1826 Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
- Ezio (3 February 1827, Teatro Regio, Turin)
- Il montanaro (16 April 1827, Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
- La testa di bronzo, ossia La capanna solitaria (3 December 1827, priv. theatre of Barone di Quintella at Laranjeiras, Lisbon, revised for Teatro Carignano, Turin, 1831) [libretto written 1816 for Soliva]
- Adriano in Siria (24 February 1828, Theatre S. Carlos, Lisbon)
- Gabriella di Vergy (8 August 1828, Theatre S. Carlos, Lisbon) [rev: 1832, Genoa]
- La rappresaglia (21 February 1829, Teatro Principal, Cadiz)
- Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamaccio (10 February 1830, Teatro Principal, Cadiz)
- Francesca da Rimini (1831, probably unperformed)
- Zaïra (31 August 1831, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples) [libretto written 1829 for Bellini]
- I normanni a Parigi (7 February 1832, Teatro Regio, Turin)
- Ismalia, ossia Amore e morte (27 October 1832, Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
- Il conte di Essex (10 March 1833, Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
- Emma d'Antiochia (8 March 1834, Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
- Uggero il danese (11 August 1834, Teatro Riccardi, Bergamo)
- La gioventù di Enrico V (25 November 1834, Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
- I due Figaro (26 January 1835, Teatro Principe, Madrid) [composed 1826]
- Francesca Donato, ossia Corinto distrutta (14 February 1835, Teatro Regio, Turin) [rev.1845, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples]
- I briganti (22 March 1836, Théâtre Italien, Paris) [rev. with additions 1853]
- Il giuramento (3 Nov 1837, Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
- Le due illustri rivali (3 October 1838, Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
- Elena da Feltre (1 January 1839, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- Il bravo (La veneziana) (9 March 1839, Teatro alla Scala, Milan)
- La vestale (10 March 1840, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- La solitaria delle Asturie, ossia La Spagna ricuperata (12 March 1840, Teatro La Fenice, Venice)
- Il proscritto (4 January 1842, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- Il reggente (2 February 1843, Teatro Regio, Turin) [rev. with adds. 11 November 1843, Trieste]
- Leonora (5 December 1844, Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
- Il Vascello de Gama (6 March 1845, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- Orazi e Curiazi (10 November 1846, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- La schiava saracena, ovvero Il campo di Gerosolima (26 December 1848, Teatro alla Scala, Milan) [rev. 1850 Teatro S. Carlo, Naples]
- Medea (3 January 1851, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- Statira (8 January 1853, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- Violetta (10 January 1853, Teatro Nuovo, Naples)
- Pelagio (12 February 1857, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples)
- Virginia (7 April 1866, Teatro S. Carlo, Naples) [composed December 1849 - March 1850]
- L'orfano di Brono, ossia Caterina dei Medici [only 1st act]
- Michael Rose, "Mercadante: Flute Concertos", booklet accompanying the 2004 RCA CD recording with James Galway and I Solisti Veneti under Claudio Scimone.
- Couling (trans.) 1997, p. 6
- Blaha, Peter 2006, (trans. Stewart Spencer), "A gratifying experience", Booklet accompanying the 1979 live Orfeo recording of Il giuramento
- Kaufman, Tom, "The Neglected Bel Canto Composers", The Meyerbeer Fan Club, online at meyerbeer.com
- Schmid, Patric April 1975, "Rediscovering Mercadante", Opera, vol. 26, No.4, p.332
- Kaufman, Thomas 1995, "Mercadante and Verdi", Opera Quarterly, date unk.: For example, Il giuramento received 400 performances and La vestale 150 compared to Giovanna d'Arco, Don Carlo (in all its versions), and Aroldo 's approx. 90 each.
- Couling, Della (trans.) (1997), "Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870)" Elena da Feltre ", in the booklet accompanying the 1997 recording of that opera at the Wexford Festival released on the Marco Polo label
- Bryan, Karen M. (1988), "Mercadante's Experiment in Form: The cabalettas of Elena da Feltre", Donizetti Society Journal Number 6, London.
- De Napoli, Giuseppe, (1952) La triade melodrammatica altamurana: Giacomo Tritto, Vincenzo Lavigna, Saverio Mercadante, Milan.
- Kaufman, Thomas G. (1993), "Mercadante", in the International Dictionary of Opera, vol. 2 pp. 858–861
- Kaufman, Thomas G. (1996), "Catalogue of the Operas of Mercadante-Chronology of Performances with Casts", Bollettino dell Associazione Civica "Saverio Mercadante" N. 1; Altamura
- Kaufman, Thomas G. (June 1997), "Mercadante and Verdi", The Opera Quarterly, vol. 13, No. 3
- Notarnicola, Biagio (1955), Verdi non ha vinto Mercadante, Rome
- Palermo, Santo (1985), Saverio Mercadante: biografia, epistolario, Fasano
- Petrucci, Gianluca and Giacinto Moramarco (1992), Saggi su Saverio Mercadante, Cassano Murge
- Petrucci, Gianluca (1995), Saverio Mercadante l'ultimo dei cinque re, Rome
- Rose, Michael (1998), "Mercadante, Saverio", in Stanley Sadie, (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Three, pp. 334 – 339. London: MacMillan Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5
- Summa, Matteo (1985), Bravo Mercadante, Fasano
- A Mercadante discography (rather outdated)
- Free scores by Saverio Mercadante at the International Music Score Library Project
- The Mutopia Project has compositions by Saverio Mercadante