Personalities | Francesco Cilea | Turn of the Century | Opera
It was the intention of Francesco Cilea’s father that his son should enter the legal profession. It was not to be, however, and under the tutelage of Paolo Serrao, Beniamino Cesi and Giuseppe Martucci at the Naples Conservatory, he quickly made a name for himself. His first opera, Gina (1889), was performed during his final year at the conservatory and attracted the attention of the publisher Sonzogno, who commissioned La tilda (1892) from him. Another opera, L’arlesiana (1897), followed, the premiere of which starred none other than Enrico Caruso. This led to Cilea’s greatest success – Adriana Lecouvreur. Written to a libretto by Arturo Colautti, the opera is a pleasing mixture of comedy and tragedy with attractive if largely unremarkable music. Particularly noteworthy is Cilea’s use of normal, unsung, speech at the end of the third act. The opera’s longevity can in part be attributed to its vocally unchallenging title role, which gives ample chance for a prima donna to display her talents. Although a handful more works followed, none met with the same success and Cilea gradually focused his attention on teaching.
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