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Saverio Mercadante

Saverio Mercadante

Italian composer
Saverio Mercadante
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro Italian composer
A.K.A. Giuseppe Saverio Raffaele Mercadante
Was Musician Composer Musicologist
From Italy
Type Academia Music
Gender male
Birth 16 September 1795, Altamura, Province of Bari, Apulia, Italy
Death 17 December 1870, Naples, Metropolitan city of Naples, Campania, Italy (aged 75 years)
Star sign Virgo
The details


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.


Early years

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 best-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

Saverio Mercadante

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".

The beginnings of the so-called "reform movement", of which Mercadante was part, arose from the publication of a manifesto by Giuseppe Mazzini which he wrote in 1836, the Filosofia della musica.

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 cadences, 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

These temporarily put him in the forefront of composers then active in Italy, although he was soon passed by Giovanni Pacini with Saffo and Giuseppe Verdi with several operas, especially Ernani.

Later works

Mercadante in middle age

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.

  • Not all the concertos are for string orchestra. Some are for larger ensembles. The Concerto in E minor, is, however, for flute and strings.


Title Genre Acts Libretto Première City, theatre Notes
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
(Donna Caritea)
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 tale 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

Felice Romani
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
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