Born from the noble Giuseppe Orazio Mercadante of Altamura in the Bari
province, southern Italy, baptised Giuseppe Saverio Raffaele Mercadante
was an Italian composer, particularly of operas and of instrumental, sacred and
Mercadante composed impressive number of works and his
development of operatic structures, melodic styles and orchestration significantly
contributed to the foundations upon which Giuseppe Verdi built
his dramatic technique.
Mercadante has shown his talent for music since a very young age, when he studied flute, violin and
composition at the Conservatory in
Naples. The opera composer Gioachino Rossini said to Niccolo Zingarelli, the Conservatory Director "My
compliments Maestro – your young pupil
Mercadante begins where we finish".
In 1817 at the age of 22 Mercadante was made conductor of the College
orchestra, where he composed a huge number of symphonies, and
concertos for various instruments – including six for flute in about 1818–1819,
and whose autograph scores are held in the Naples Conservatory archives,
where they were presumably first performed with him as a soloist.
The encouragement of Rossini led him to compose for the opera, where he gained
considerable success with his second work Violenza e Constanza, in 1820.
His first public opera, Elisa e Claudio,1821 was a huge success at La Scala
of Milan and brought about interest from an international audience.
He worked for a time in Vienna, in Madrid, in Cadiz, and in Lisbon, and reestablished
himself in Italy in 1831. Invited by Rossini to join him in Paris in
1836, he composed there I Briganti for four of the most-known singers of that
time, Giulia Grisi, Giovanni Battista Rubini, Antonio Tamburini and Luigi
Lablache, who all worked closely with Bellini. While there, he had the
chance to hear operas by Meyerbeer and Halévy, which imparted a
strong influence on him, especially the La Juive, composed by the latter. This influence took
the form of greater emphasis on the dramatic side.
When Mercadante returned to Italy after directing important theatres in Spain
and Portugal, his style began to shift with the presentation of I Normanni a
Parigi at the Teatro Regio in Turin in 1832. With this play Mercadante
entered on the process of development in his musical dramaturgy which, to some extent,
presaged Verdi, and launched him into the so-called "reform
opera" movement, of which Mercadante was part, it arose from the
publication of the manifesto by Giuseppe Mazzini which he wrote in 1836
"Filosofia della musica".
Since 1831 he has composed some of his most important works including "Il
giuramento" whose first play was performed at La Scala Theatre in Milan in
November 1837. This opera was innovative in that it was
the first successful attempt in an Italian opera that saw the "prima donna"
of her until-then inalienable right of having the stage to herself.
Introducing the antagonist figure represented by the contralto as well as the
setting of the vocal standardization of all the other characters, it was the main
innovation by Mercadante. By doing this, Mercadante sounded what
the future of bel canto was to be.
While composing Elena da Feltre , Mercadante wrote out his ideas about how
opera should be structured:
"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 cadances, 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."
A harmonic reconstruction work subtlety and originally orchestrated, which
explains the many quoted comparisons between Mercadante and Verdi and
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 stylistic innovations put him in the forefront of the Italian composers of
his time and of all times.
This is is taken from a summary by Gian Luca Petrucci written on the occasion of the concert held on March
16th, 2010 in Rome, at Santa Maria in Aquiro. The concert was organized by Mercadante Foundation to deliver
a first for pieces of music by the great master from Altamura. In it, performances by soprano Min Ji Kim and
the Orchestra "I Flauti di Toscani" (Director: Paolo Totti; viola: Carolina Leon Paez; violin:
Giovanni Michele De Rossi; flute: Ginevra Petrucci; cello: Francesco Parente) were shown