Saverio Mercadante, portrait by Andrea Cefaly [it]

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 prolifically 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 illegitimate in Altamura, near Bari in Apulia; his precise date of birth has not been recorded, but he was baptised on 17 September 1795.[1] Mercadante studied flute, violin and composition at the conservatory in Naples, and organized concerts among his compatriots.[2] The opera composer Gioachino Rossini said to the conservatory Director, Niccolo Zingarelli, "My compliments, Maestro – your young pupil Mercadante begins where we finish".[2] 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.[2]

Mercadante's birthplace and house located on the street corso Federico II di Svevia, Altamura (the plaque dates back to Italy's fascist period)

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 Cádiz, 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

When Mercadante returned to Italy after living in Spain and Portugal, Donizetti's music reigned supreme in Naples,[3] 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".[3]

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.[4]

In the period after 1831 he composed some of his most important works. These included Il giuramento which was premiered at La Scala to 11 march 1837. One striking and innovative characteristic of this opera has been noted: 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.[5]

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.[5]

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[6]

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

Portrait of Saverio Mercadante, composer (1836-1870).

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.[7]

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.[2] From 1863 he was almost totally blind and dictated all his compositions.[1]

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,[a] including the grand and romantic E minor concerto, which has since gained some popularity among concert flautists.

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


Operas by Saverio Mercadante
Title Genre Acts Libretto Premiere Notes
Date Venue
L'apoteosi d'Ercole dramma per musica 2 acts Giovanni Schmidt 19 August 1819 Naples, Teatro San Carlo
Violenza e costanza, ossia I falsi monetari dramma per musica 2 acts Andrea Leone Tottola 19 January 1820 Naples, Teatro Nuovo Revised as: Il castello dei spiriti: Lisbon, 14 March 1825
Anacreonte in Samo dramma per musica 2 acts Giovanni Schmidt 1 August 1820 Naples, Teatro San Carlo Based on Anacréon chez Polycrate by Jean Henri Guy.
Il geloso ravveduto melodramma buffo 2 acts Bartolomeo Signorini October 1820 Rome, Teatro Valle
Scipione in Cartagine melodramma serio 2 acts Jacopo Ferretti 26 December 1820 Rome, Teatro Argentina
Maria Stuarda, regina di Scozia dramma serio 2 acts Gaetano Rossi 29 May 1821 Bologna, Teatro Comunale
Elisa e Claudio, ossia L'amore protetto dall'amicizia melodramma semiserio 2 acts Luigi Romanelli 30 October 1821 Milan, Teatro alla Scala Based on Rosella, ossia Amore e crudeltà by Filippo Casari
Andronico melodramma tragico 2 acts Giovanni Kreglianovich 26 December 1821 Venice, Teatro La Fenice
Il posto abbandonato, ossia Adele ed Emerico melodramma semiserio 2 acts Felice Romani 21 September 1822 Milan, Teatro alla Scala
Amleto melodramma tragico 2 acts Felice Romani 26 December 1822 Milan, Teatro alla Scala Based on Shakespeare play Hamlet.
Alfonso ed Elisa melodramma serio 2 acts 26 December 1822 Mantua, Teatro Nuovo Based on Filippo by Alfieri; Revised as Aminta ed Argira for Reggio Emilia, Teatro Pubblico, 23 April 1823
Didone abbandonata dramma per musica 2 acts Andrea Leone Tottola 18 January 1823 Turin, Teatro Regio Based on Metastasio
Gli sciti dramma per musica 2 acts Andrea Leone Tottola 18 March 1823 Naples, Teatro San Carlo Based on Les scythes by Voltaire.
Costanzo ed Almeriska dramma per musica 2 acts Andrea Leone Tottola 22 November 1823 Naples, Teatro San Carlo
Gli amici di Siracusa melodramma eroico 2 acts Jacopo Ferretti 7 February 1824 Rome, Teatro Argentina Based on Plutarch.
Doralice melodramma 2 acts 18 September 1824 Vienna, Kärntnertortheater
Le nozze di Telemaco ed Antiope azione lirica 7 acts Calisto Bassi 5 November 1824 Vienna, Kärntnertortheater Pastice, with music by other composers.
Il podestà di Burgos, ossia Il signore del villaggio melodramma giocoso 2 acts Calisto Bassi 20 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.
Nitocri dramma per musica 2 acts Lodovico Piossasco Feys 26 December 1824 Turin, Teatro Regio With recitatives by Apostolo Zeno
Ipermestra dramma tragico 2 acts Luigi Ricciuti 29 December 1825 Naples, Teatro San Carlo Based on Eschilo
Erode, ossia Marianna dramma tragico 2 acts Luigi Ricciuti 12 December 1824 Venice, Teatro La Fenice Based on Voltaire
Caritea regina di Spagna, ossia La morte di Don Alfonso re di Portogallo
(Donna Caritea)
melodramma serio 2 acts Paolo Pola 21 February 1826 Venice, Teatro La Fenice
Ezio dramma per musica 2 acts Pietro Metastasio 2 February 1827 Turin, Teatro Regio
Il montanaro melodramma comico 2 acts Felice Romani 16 April 1827 Milan, Teatro alla Scala Based on August Lafontaine
La testa di bronzo, ossia La capanna solitaria melodramma eroicomico 2 acts Felice Romani 3 December 1827 Lisbon, Teatro privato dei Baroni Quintella a Laranjeiras
Adriano in Siria dramma eroico 2 acts Pietro Metastasio 24 February 1828 Lisbon, Teatro de São Carlos
Gabriella di Vergy dramma tragico 2 acts Antonio Profumo 8 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
La rappresaglia melodramma buffo 2 acts Cesare Sterbini 21 February 1829 Cadiz, Teatro Principal
Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamaccio melodramma giocoso 1 atto Stefano Ferrero 10 February 1830 Cadiz, Teatro Principal Based on Miguel de Cervantes
Francesca da Rimini melodramma 2 acts Felice Romani 1831 Composed for Madrid but probably not performed there.
Zaira melodramma tragico 2 acts Felice Romani 31 August 1831 Naples, Teatro San Carlo Based on Voltaire
I normanni a Parigi tragedia lirica 4 acts Felice Romani 7 February 1832 Turin, Teatro Regio
Ismalia, ossia Amore e morte melodramma 3 acts Felice Romani 27 October 1832 Milan, Teatro alla Scala
Il conte di Essex melodramma 3 acts Felice Romani 10 March 1833 Milan, Teatro alla Scala
Emma d'Antiochia tragedia lirica 3 acts Felice Romani 8 March 1834 Venice, Teatro La Fenice
Uggero il danese melodramma 4 acts Felice Romani 11 August 1834 Bergamo, Teatro Riccardi
La gioventù di Enrico V melodramma 4 acts Felice Romani 25 November 1834 Milan, Teatro alla Scala In part based on Shakespeare
I due Figaro melodramma buffo 2 acts Felice Romani 26 January 1835 Madrid, Teatro Principe Based on Les deux Figaro by Honoré-Antoine Richaud Martelly; Composed in 1826.
Francesca Donato, ossia Corinto distrutta melodramma 3 acts Felice Romani 14 February 1835 Turin, Teatro Regio Based on Byron; Revised by Salvatore Cammarano for the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, 5 January 1845.
I briganti melodramma 3 acts Jacopo Crescini 22 March 1836 Paris, Théâtre-Italien Based on Die Räuber by Schiller; Revised for Milan's Teatro alla Scala, 6 November 1837.
Il giuramento melodramma 3 acts Gaetano Rossi 11 March 1837 Milan, Teatro alla Scala Under the title of Amore e dovere given in Rome in 1839.
Le due illustri rivali melodramma 3 acts Gaetano Rossi 10 March 1838 Venice, Teatro La Fenice Revised for the Teatro alla Scala, 26 December 1839.
Elena da Feltre dramma tragico 3 acts Salvatore Cammarano 1 January 1839 Naples, Teatro San Carlo Completed in the autumn of 1837.
Il bravo, ossia La veneziana melodramma 3 acts Gaetano Rossi 9 March 1839 Milan, Teatro alla Scala Based on La vénitienne by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and The Bravo, a tale by James Fenimore Cooper.
La vestale tragedia lirica 3 acts Salvatore Cammarano 10 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.
La solitaria delle Asturie, ossia La Spagna ricuperata melodramma 5 acts Felice Romani 12 March 1840 Venice, Teatro La Fenice
Il proscritto melodramma tragico 3 acts Salvatore Cammarano 4 January 1842 Naples, Teatro San Carlo Based on Le proscrit by F. Soulié.
Il reggente dramma lirico 3 acts Salvatore Cammarano 2 February 1843 Turin, Teatro Regio Based on Gustave III ou Le bal masqué by Eugène Scribe; Revised with changes for Trieste, 11 November 1843.
Leonora melodramma 4 acts Marco D'Arienzo 5 December 1844 Naples, Teatro Nuovo Based on Lenore by Gottfried August Bürger; Arranged as I cacciatori delle Alpi for Mantua in 1859.
Il Vascello de Gama melodramma romantico 1 prologo e 3 acts Salvatore Cammarano 6 March 1845 Naples, Teatro San Carlo Based on Le naufrage de la Meduse by Desnoyers de Biéville.
Orazi e Curiazi tragedia lirica 3 acts Salvatore Cammarano 10 November 1846 Naples, Teatro San Carlo Based on Horace by Pierre Corneille.
La schiava saracena, ovvero Il campo dei crociati melodramma tragico 4 acts Francesco Maria Piave 26 December 1848 Milan, Teatro alla Scala Revised for Teatro San Carlo, Naples, 29 October 1850.
Medea tragedia lirica 3 acts Salvatore Cammarano

Felice Romani
1 March 1851 Naples, Teatro San Carlo
Statira tragedia lirica 3 acts Domenico Bolognese 8 January 1853 Naples, Teatro San Carlo Based on Olympie by Voltaire
Violetta melodramma 4 acts Marco D'Arienzo 10 January 1853 Naples, Teatro Nuovo
Pelagio tragedia lirica 4 acts Marco D'Arienzo 12 February 1857 Naples, Teatro San Carlo
Virginia tragedia lirica 3 acts Salvatore Cammarano 7 April 1866 Naples, Teatro San Carlo Based on Alfieri; Composed in December 1849 to March 1850.
L'orfano di Brono, ossia Caterina dei Medici
(Caterina di Brono)
melodramma 3 acts Salvatore Cammarano Incomplete; only the first act exists.
Composed in 1869/1870



  1. ^ a b Zucker, Stefan. "Saverio Mercadante: Liszt thought him Italy's best composer". Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Michael Rose, "Mercadante: Flute Concertos", booklet accompanying the 2004 RCA CD recording with James Galway and I Solisti Veneti under Claudio Scimone.
  3. ^ a b Couling 1997, p. 6
  4. ^ Blaha, Peter 2006, (trans. Stewart Spencer), "A gratifying experience", Booklet accompanying the 1979 live Orfeo recording of Il giuramento
  5. ^ a b Kaufman, Tom, "The Neglected Bel Canto Composers", The Meyerbeer Fan Club, online at
  6. ^ Schmid, Patric April 1975, "Rediscovering Mercadante", Opera, vol. 26, No. 4, p. 332
  7. ^ Kaufman 1997: 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.


Further reading