Giordano Umberto

Umberto Giordano was born in Foggia, Italy on August 27, 1867. His father was a chemist who hoped that his son would become a fencing champion, but Giordano had musical aspirations. Despite his parent’s objections, he enrolled at the Naples Conservatory in 1882, where he studied for seven years. During this time Giordano composed his first opera, Marina, for a competition sponsored by the publisher Edoardo Sonzogno. Giordano placed sixth in the competition, but this sufficed to attract the notice of Sonzogno, who commissioned the composer to write his next work, Mala vita, which premiered in Rome in 1892. Because of its unrelenting depiction of a Neapolitan prostitute’s wretched existence (“Mala vita” means “the miserable life”), the work was considered rather scandalous by Italian audiences but was popular in Austria and Germany.

Giordano began composition of his best known opera, Andrea Chénier , in 1894. The libretto had been written by Luigi Illica for Alberto Franchetti, and Franchetti gave the libretto to Giordano. Andrea Chénier  was premiered at La Scala on March 28, 1896, and was performed throughout Europe as well as in New York in subsequent years. Andrea Chénier  continues to be the best known of Giordano’s operas, and the star tenor role has made it a popular vehicle for many performers.

Giordano’s next opera, Fedora, was completed in 1898. Although it did not attain the enormous success of Andrea Chénier Fedora was well-received and is the second best known of his operas. His next work, Siberia, was also successful, but after its premiere in 1903 Giordano’s career went into decline until it was eventually resurrected with the success of La cena della buffe  in 1924. His final composition for the stage was Il re , a one-act opera that premiered in Milan in 1929. Giordano died in Milan in November 1948.

Giordano’s works are typical of the operatic style known as verismo . Verismo, which became popular during the 1890’s, was an attempt to put realistic characters, situations, and emotions on stage. Composers of this style included Mascagni, Leoncavallo and Puccini. These operas have a continuous orchestral texture rather than the distinct set numbers that were typical of earlier Italian opera, and often feature motives that are associated with specific characters. The verismo operas involved contemporary settings and costumes, with characters drawn from everyday life (especially the lower classes). Andrea Chénier Fedora, and Siberia also demonstrate many of the characteristics of works by the giovane scuola, or “young school, ” which referred to a group of Italian opera composers born after 1850, including Catalani, Franchetti, Puccini, and Mascagni. With its roots in verismo, the giovane scuolo strove for overt emotionalism in settings that combined local and historical color, such as the French Revolutionary songs in Andrea Chénier  and the Russian rhythms and songs of Fedora.