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 prolific 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 illegitimate 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 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.
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 to 11 march 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.
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 and dictated all his compositions.
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.
|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
|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
|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