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.
Throughout his life he generated more instrumental works than most of his contemporary composers of operas due to his lifelong preoccupation with orchestration, and, from 1840, his position as the Director of the Naples conservatory for the last thirty 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: See Donizetti's compositions and Bellini's compositions.
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.
|apoteosiL'apoteosi d'Ercole||dramma per musica||2 acts||schmidtGiovanni Schmidt||1819081919 August 1819||Naples, Teatro San Carlo|
|violenzaViolenza e costanza, ossia I falsi monetari||dramma per musica||2 acts||tottolaAndrea Leone Tottola||1820011919 January 1820||Naples, Teatro Nuovo||Revised as: Il castello dei spiriti: Lisbon, 14 March 1825|
|anacreonteAnacreonte in Samo||dramma per musica||2 acts||schmidtGiovanni Schmidt||182008011 August 1820||Naples, Teatro San Carlo||Based on Anacréon chez Polycrate by Jean Henri Guy.|
|gelosoIl geloso ravveduto||melodramma buffo||2 acts||signoriniBartolomeo Signorini||18201000October 1820||Rome, Teatro Valle|
|scipioneScipione in Cartagine||melodramma serio||2 acts||ferrettiJacopo Ferretti||1820122626 December 1820||Rome, Teatro Argentina|
|mariaMaria Stuarda, regina di Scozia||dramma serio||2 acts||rossiGaetano Rossi||1821052929 May 1821||Bologna, Teatro Comunale||Based on Friedrich Schiller|
|elisaElisa e Claudio, ossia L'amore protetto dall'amicizia||melodramma semiserio||2 acts||romanelliLuigi Romanelli||1821103030 October 1821||Milan, Teatro alla Scala||Based on Rosella, ossia Amore e crudeltà by Filippo Casari|
|andronicoAndronico||melodramma tragico||2 acts||kreglianovicGiovanni Kreglianovich||1821122626 December 1821||Venice, Teatro La Fenice|
|adeleIl posto abbandonato, ossia Adele ed Emerico||melodramma semiserio||2 acts||romaniFelice Romani||1822092121 September 1822||Milan, Teatro alla Scala|
|amletoAmleto||melodramma tragico||2 acts||romaniFelice Romani||1822122626 December 1822||Milan, Teatro alla Scala||Based on Shakespeare play Hamlet.|
|alfonsoAlfonso ed Elisa||melodramma serio||2 acts||1822122626 December 1822||Mantua, Teatro Nuovo||Based on Filippo by Alfieri; Revised as Aminta ed Argira for Reggio Emilia, Teatro Pubblico, 23 April 1823|
|didoneDidone abbandonata||dramma per musica||2 acts||tottolaAndrea Leone Tottola||1823011818 January 1823||Turin, Teatro Regio||Based on Metastasio|
|scitiGli sciti||dramma per musica||2 acts||tottolaAndrea Leone Tottola||1823031818 March 1823||Naples, Teatro San Carlo||Based on Les scythes by Voltaire.|
|costanzoCostanzo ed Almeriska||dramma per musica||2 acts||tottolaAndrea Leone Tottola||1823112222 November 1823||Naples, Teatro San Carlo|
|amiciGli amici di Siracusa||melodramma eroico||2 acts||ferrettiJacopo Ferretti||182402077 February 1824||Rome, Teatro Argentina||Based on Plutarc.|
|doraliceDoralice||melodramma||2 acts||1824091818 September 1824||Vienna, Kärntnertortheater|
|nozzeLe nozze di Telemaco ed Antiope||azione lirica||7 acts||bassiCalisto Bassi||182411055 November 1824||Vienna, Kärntnertortheater||Pastice, with music by other composers.|
|podestaIl podestà di Burgos, ossia Il signore del villaggio||melodramma giocoso||2 acts||bassiCalisto Bassi||1824112020 November 1824||Vienna, Kärntnertortheater||Under the title of Il signore del villaggio given in Naples at Teatro del Fondo on 28 maggio 1825 (in Neapolitan dialect); Titled Eduardo ed Angelica, given in Naples at the Teatro del Fondo in 1828.|
|nitocriNitocri||dramma per musica||2 acts||piossascoLodovico Piossasco Feys||1824122626 December 1824||Turin, Teatro Regio||With recitatives by Apostolo Zeno|
|ipermestraIpermestra||dramma tragico||2 acts||ricciutiLuigi Ricciuti||1825122929 December 1825||Naples, Teatro San Carlo||Based on Eschilo|
|erodeErode, ossia Marianna||dramma tragico||2 acts||ricciutiLuigi Ricciuti||1824121212 December 1824||Venice, Teatro La Fenice||Based on Voltaire|
|cariteaCaritea regina di Spagna, ossia La morte di Don Alfonso re di Portogallo
|melodramma serio||2 acts||polaPaolo Pola||1826022121 February 1826||Venice, Teatro La Fenice|
|ezioEzio||dramma per musica||2 acts||metastasioPietro Metastasio||182702022 February 1827||Turin, Teatro Regio|
|montanaroIl montanaro||melodramma comico||2 acts||romaniFelice Romani||1827041616 April 1827||Milan, Teatro alla Scala||Based on August Lafontaine|
|testaLa testa di bronzo, ossia La capanna solitaria||melodramma eroicomico||2 acts||romaniFelice Romani||182712033 December 1827||Lisbon, Teatro privato dei Baroni Quintella a Laranjeiras|
|adrianoAdriano in Siria||dramma eroico||2 acts||metastasioPietro Metastasio||1828022424 February 1828||Lisbon, Teatro de São Carlos|
|gabriellaGabriella di Vergy||dramma tragico||2 acts||profumoAntonio Profumo||182808088 August 1828||Lisbon, Teatro de São Carlos||Based on Gabrielle de Vergy by Dormont de Belloy; Revised with a text by Emanuele Bidera for Genoa, Teatro Carlo Felice, 16 June 1832|
|rappresagliaLa rappresaglia||melodramma buffo||2 acts||sterbiniCesare Sterbini||1829022121 February 1829||Cadiz, Teatro Principal|
|donchisciotteDon Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamaccio||melodramma giocoso||1 atto||ferreroStefano Ferrero||1830021010 February 1830||Cadiz, Teatro Principal||Based on Cervantes|
|francescaFrancesca da Rimini||melodramma||2 acts||romaniFelice Romani||183100001831||Composed for Madrid but probably not performed there.|
|zairaZaira||melodramma tragico||2 acts||romaniFelice Romani||1831083131 August 1831||Naples, Teatro San Carlo||Based on Voltaire|
|normanniI normanni a Parigi||tragedia lirica||4 acts||romaniFelice Romani||183202077 February 1832||Turin, Teatro Regio|
|ismaliaIsmalia, ossia Amore e morte||melodramma||3 acts||romaniFelice Romani||1832102727 October 1832||Milan, Teatro alla Scala|
|conteIl conte di Essex||melodramma||3 acts||romaniFelice Romani||1833031010 March 1833||Milan, Teatro alla Scala|
|emmaEmma d'Antiochia||tragedia lirica||3 acts||romaniFelice Romani||183403088 March 1834||Venice, Teatro La Fenice|
|uggeroUggero il danese||melodramma||4 acts||romaniFelice Romani||1834081111 August 1834||Bergamo, Teatro Riccardi|
|gioventuLa gioventù di Enrico V||melodramma||4 acts||romaniFelice Romani||1834112525 November 1834||Milan, Teatro alla Scala||In parte Based on Shakespeare|
|duefigaroI due Figaro||melodramma buffo||2 acts||romaniFelice Romani||1835012626 January 1835||Madrid, Teatro Principe||Based on Les deux Figaro by Honoré-Antoine Richaud Martelly; Composed in 1826.|
|francescaFrancesca Donato, ossia Corinto distrutta||melodramma||3 acts||romaniFelice Romani||1835021414 February 1835||Turin, Teatro Regio||Based on Byron; Revised by Salvatore Cammarano for the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, 5 January 1845.|
|brigantiI briganti||melodramma||3 acts||cresciniJacopo Crescini||1836032222 March 1836||Paris, Théâtre-Italien||Based on Die Räuber by Schiller; Revised for Milan's Teatro alla Scala, 6 November 1837.|
|giuramentoIl giuramento||melodramma||3 acts||rossiGaetano Rossi||1837031111 March 1837||Milan, Teatro alla Scala||Uner the title of Amore e dovere given in Rome in 1839.|
|dueilustriLe due illustri rivali||melodramma||3 acts||rossiGaetano Rossi||1838031010 March 1838||Venice, Teatro La Fenice||Revised for the Teatro alla Scala, 26 December 1839.|
|elenaElena da Feltre||dramma tragico||3 acts||cammaranoSalvatore Cammarano||183901011 January 1839||Naples, Teatro San Carlo||Completed in the autumn of 1837.|
|bravoIl bravo, ossia La veneziana||melodramma||3 acts||rossiGaetano Rossi||183903099 March 1839||Milan, Teatro alla Scala||Based on La vénitienne by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and The Bravo, a Venitian Story by James Fenimore Cooper.|
|vestaleLa vestale||tragedia lirica||3 acts||cammaranoSalvatore Cammarano||1840031010 March 1840||Naples, Teatro San Carlo||Given under the title of Emilia in Rome in the autumn of 1842; As San Camillo given in Rome in 1851.|
|solitariaLa solitaria delle Asturie, ossia La Spagna ricuperata||melodramma||5 acts||romaniFelice Romani||1840031212 March 1840||Venice, Teatro La Fenice|
|proscrittoIl proscritto||melodramma tragico||3 acts||cammaranoSalvatore Cammarano||184201044 January 1842||Naples, Teatro San Carlo||Based on Le proscrit by F. Soulié.|
|reggenteIl reggente||dramma lirico||3 acts||cammaranoSalvatore Cammarano||184302022 February 1843||Turin, Teatro Regio||Based on Gustave III ou Le bal masqué by Eugène Scribe; Revised with changes for Trieste, 11 November 1843.|
|leonoraLeonora||melodramma||4 acts||Based on rienzoMarco D'Arienzo||184412055 December 1844||Naples, Teatro Nuovo||Based on Lenore by Gottfried August Bürger; Arranged as I cacciatori delle Alpi for Mantua in 1859.|
|vascelloIl Vascello de Gama||melodramma romantico||1 prologo e 3 acts||cammaranoSalvatore Cammarano||184503066 March 1845||Naples, Teatro San Carlo||Based on Le naufrage de la Meduse by Desnoyers de Biéville.|
|oraziOrazi e Curiazi||tragedia lirica||3 acts||cammaranoSalvatore Cammarano||1846111010 November 1846||Naples, Teatro San Carlo||Based on Horace by Pierre Corneille.|
|schiavaLa schiava saracena, ovvero Il campo dei crociati||melodramma tragico||4 acts||piaveFrancesco Maria Piave||1848122626 December 1848||Milan, Teatro alla Scala||Revised for Teatro San Carlo, Naples, 29 October 1850.|
|medeaMedea||tragedia lirica||3 acts||cammaranoSalvatore Cammarano
|185103011 March 1851||Naples, Teatro San Carlo|
|statiraStatira||tragedia lirica||3 acts||bologneseDomenico Bolognese||185301088 January 1853||Naples, Teatro San Carlo||Based on Olympie by Voltaire|
|violettaVioletta||melodramma||4 acts||Based on rienzoMarco D'Arienzo||1853011010 January 1853||Naples, Teatro Nuovo|
|pelagioPelagio||tragedia lirica||4 acts||Based on rienzoMarco D'Arienzo||1857021212 February 1857||Naples, Teatro San Carlo|
|VirginiaVirginia||tragedia lirica||3 acts||cammaranoSalvatore Cammarano||186604077 April 1866||Naples, Teatro San Carlo||Based on Alfieri; Composed in December 1849-March 1850.|
|orfanoL'orfano di Brono, ossia Caterina dei Medici
(Caterina di Brono)
|melodramma||3 acts||cammaranoSalvatore Cammarano||Incomplete; only the first act exists.
Composed in 1869/1870
- 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.
- Bryan, Karen M. (1988), "Mercadante's Experiment in Form: The cabalettas of Elena da Feltre", Donizetti Society Journal Number 6, London.
- 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
- 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
- Gianturco, Elio, Review of Saverio Mercadante; nella gloria e nella luce, in Notes, Music Library Association, Second Series, Vol. 7, No. 4 (September 1950), pp. 564–565. (Accessible by subscription)
- Notarnicola, Biagio (1948–49), Saverio Mercadante; nella gloria e nella luce, Rome: Diplomatica, 1948–49
- 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
- Walker, Frank, "Mercadante and Verdi", Music & Letters, Vol. 33, No. 4 (October 1952), pp. 311–321 (Accessible by subscription)
- A Mercadante discography at the Wayback Machine (archived October 27, 2009) (rather outdated)
- Free scores by Saverio Mercadante at the International Music Score Library Project
- The Mutopia Project has compositions by Saverio Mercadante
- Saverio Mercadante on enjoyaltamura.com (biog) (Italian)
- List of performances of operas by Saverio Mercadante on Operabase.