Personalities | Umberto Giordano | Turn of the Century | Opera
Having successfully avoided the career of fencing master intended for him by his father, Giordano studied at the Naples Conservatory and entered a one-act opera, Marina, in the Sonzogno competition in 1889. This was the year in which Mascagni blew away the competition with Cavalleria rusticana and Giordano came a respectable sixth.
Even so, Sonzogno (a music publisher and rival of Ricordi) was sufficiently taken with the work to commission a full opera from its composer. The resulting work was Mala vita (1892). Sonzogno’s next commission, Regina Diaz, was given in Naples in 1894 but failed to capture anybody’s imagination. Sonzogno, who had been providing a monthly stipend for Giordano, was beginning to lose patience when another of his composers, Alberto Franchetti, gave up the libretto to Andrea Chénier. Giordano seized on the chance to set this strong, veristic text by Luigi Illica and was rewarded with a triumphant premiere, which propelled him fame. His next opera, Fedora, was also a great success and, like its immediate predecessor, has remained in the repertoire. There followed a series of undistinguished works until La cena delle beffe (‘The Supper of Jests’), which, with its macabre conclusion, made a strong impression. Although not a repertoire piece, many regard it as Giordano’s best work and it has enjoyed a number of successful revivals.
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