B0124. (LEONCAVALLO) Konrad Dryden. Leoncavallo, Life and Works. Lanham, MD, Scarecrow Press, 2007. 349pp. Index; Bibliography; Photos. (Pictorial thick paper covers) - 9780810858732
"The son of a police magistrate, Leoncavallo was educated at the Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella in his native city, Naples (the date 1858, given for his birth in older histories of music, is incorrect). After some years spent teaching and in ineffective attempts to obtain the production of more than one opera, he saw the enormous success of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana in 1890, and he wasted no time in producing his own verismo hit, Pagliacci. (According to Leoncavallo, the plot of this work had a real-life origin: he claimed it derived from a murder trial over which his father had presided.) Pagliacci was performed in Milan in 1892 with immediate success; today it is the only work by Leoncavallo in the standard operatic repertory. Its most famous aria Vesti la giubba ("Put on the trappings" or, in the better-known older translation, "On with the motley") was recorded by Enrico Caruso and it is said eventually to become the world's first record to sell a million copies (although this is probably a total of Caruso's various versions) The next year his I Medici was also produced in Milan, but neither it nor Chatterton (1896)—both early works—obtained any favour, and it was not until La bohème was performed in 1897 in Venice that his talent obtained public confirmation. (Its two tenor arias are still occasionally performed, especially in Italy, yet it was outshone by Puccini's opera of the same name and on the same subject (albeit a better libretto), which was premiered in 1896.) Subsequent operas by Leoncavallo were Zazà (1900) (the opera of Geraldine Farrar's famous farewell performance at the Met), and Der Roland Von Berlin (1904). He had a brief success with Zingari which premiered in Italian in London in 1912. (It had a long run at the Hippodrome). Zingari reached the United States (or at least Philadephia: see http://www.frankhamilton.org/ph/ph0.pdf ) then disappeared from the repertoire. After a series of operettas (whose titles, below, perhaps suggest much of their depth), Leoncavallo tried for one last 'serious' effort (Edipo Re), but he died before he could finish the orchestration. It has only been occasionally revived, although live recordings of performances exist. Little or nothing from Leoncavallo's 'other' operas is heard today, but the baritone aria from Zazà was a great favourite among baritones and Zazà as a whole is sometimes revived. Leoncavallo also composed songs, most famously Mattinata, which he wrote for the Gramophone Company (which became HMV) with Caruso in mind. He was the librettist for all of his own operas. Many considered him the greatest Italian librettist of his time after Boito. Among Leoncavallo's libretti for other composers is his contribution to the libretto for Puccini's Manon Lescaut. He died in Montecatini, Tuscany, in 1919."
- Z. D. Akron