12 November 2015

Umberto Giordano - opera composer

Death of the musician remembered for Andrea Chenier


Umberto Giordano was a contemporary of Mascagni and Puccini, among others
Umberto Giordano was a contemporary
of Mascagni and Puccini, among others
Composer Umberto Giordano died on this day in 1948 in Milan at the age of 81.

He is perhaps best remembered for his opera, Andrea Chenier, a dramatic work about liberty and love during the French revolution, which was based on the real life story of the romantic French poet, André Chenier.

The premiere of the opera was held at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1896. At the time, its success propelled Giordano into the front rank of up-and-coming Italian composers alongside Pietro Mascagni, to whom he is often compared, and Giacomo Puccini.

Another of Giordano’s works widely acclaimed by both the public and the critics, is the opera, Fedora.

This had its premiere in 1898 at the Teatro Lirico in Milan. A rising young tenor, Enrico Caruso, played the role of Fedora’s lover, Loris. The opera was a big success and is still performed today.

Some of Giordano’s later works are less well-known but they have achieved the respect of the critics and music experts and are occasionally revived by opera companies.

The Teatro Argentina in Rome, which staged the first production of Giordano's debut opera, Mala vita
The Teatro Argentina in Rome, which staged the first
production of Giordano's debut opera, Mala vita
Giordano was born in Foggia in Puglia in August 1867. He studied under Paolo Serrao at the Conservatoire of Naples.

He wrote his first opera, Marina, for a competition organised by the music publishers Casa Sonzogno for the best one-act opera. It was placed sixth of 73 entries. The competition, which is seen as marking the beginning of verismo movement in Italian opera, was won by Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana. 

There was much interest in Marina, nonetheless, and Sonzogno commissioned Giordano to develop the idea further. The result was Mala vita, a gritty verismo opera about a labourer who vows to reform a prostitute if he is cured of his tuberculosis. 

The audience at the Teatro Argentina in Rome were somewhat scandalised when it played there in February 1892 but it was greeted with acclaim by audiences in Vienna, Prague and Berlin.


Giordano tried a more romantic topic with his next opera, Regina Diaz, but this was a failure and was cancelled after just two performances.

He moved to Milan and it was there he returned to verismo with Andrea Chenier and Fedora.

The theatre in Piazza Cesare Battisti in Foggia, the town where Giordano was born, has been renamed Teatro Giordano in his memory. There is also a large statue of the composer in Piazza Umberto Giordano in Foggia.

Teatro alla Scala opened in 1778, having been built to replace the Teatro Regio Ducale, which had been destroyed in a fire
Teatro alla Scala opened in 1778, having been built to replace
the Teatro Regio Ducale, which had been destroyed in a fire 
Travel tip:

Opera lovers should visit Teatro alla Scala in Milan and go round the theatre’s museum to see the fantastic costumes and memorabilia from the history of opera on display. The museum in Largo Ghiringhelli, just off Piazza Scala, is open every day except the Italian Bank Holidays and certain days in December. Opening hours are from 9.00 to 12.30 and 1.30 to 5.30 pm.  The theatre opened in 1778 as the Nuovo Regio Ducale Teatro alla Scala, having been commissioned by the Empress Maria Theresa of the House of Hapsburg, of which the Duchy of Milan was at the time a part, as replacement for the Teatro Regio Ducale following a fire in 1776.  It was built on the site of the former church of Santa Maria alla Scala.

The statue of Umberto Giordano in Piazza Umberto Giordano
The statue of Umberto Giordano in
Piazza Umberto Giordano
Travel tip:

Foggia, where Umberto Giordano was born in 1867, is an important city in Puglia in the south of Italy. As well as the Teatro Giordano and Piazza Umberto Giordano, which honour the composer, Foggia has a Cathedral dating back to the 12th century well worth visiting. The city was once known as the ‘granary of Italy’, thanks to its proximity to a large plain, known as the Tavoliere delle Puglie, which enabled the growing of wheat and other grain plants on a large scale. There are many pasta factories, although productivity in the area is not limited to grains, being a significant producer of olives, grapes and cheeses too.  The old centre of the city is a network of narrow streets, at the heart of which is the part-Romanic, part-Baroque cathedral of Santa Maria de Fovea.




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