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ALS Defending “I Medici” Despite “Pagliacci’s” Success

$1295 net
Item: 22583
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LEONCAVALLO, RUGGERO. (1858-1919). Italian composer; his most enduring work is the one-act opera Pagliacci. ALS. (“R. Leoncavallo”). 3pp. Large 4to. Berlin, February 7, 1894. Written in Italian on highly decorative Berlin Central Hotel stationery; the last page of stationery is filled with printed advertisements for businesses in Berlin. To Mr. Bernard (?).

“The premiere of I Medici will take place on the 8th of this month since Sylvia is feeling better. So, I will think of getting two seats for you and in the loge for Mrs. Bernard. Now I must tell you something that will surprise you. Boch, the editor, received a letter from Eirich that tells him that the manager Borrice Bezenski, having received bad news from I Medici show in Rome, has decided that we will not take I Medici to the Vienna theater unless it is really a big success. So, the director of the Vienna theater treats me like a late comer. And one sees this fact abnormal that the theater has not hesitated to stage Fritz and Rantzau, hesitates to set up the work of the author of Pagliacci when their work was a veritable triumph in Milan, and I can assert that it was the same in Rome and for the premiere. But everyone knows that Mrs. Stehle fell from the elevator the day before the second show, that the theater remained closed for 8 days, to leave time to Mrs. Torresella to learn the part quickly, to give Tamagno the shows that the impresario had guaranteed him, and that naturally the execution of the work suffered from it. That the enemies of Sonzogno (political enemies and journalists) and the partisans of Ricordi had taken advantage of Stehle’s misfortune to be malevolent, that is understandable. But that Mr. Jahn, who is a first-class artist, and a master could think that he must think twice before showing a work like I Medici, hurts me. You can read this letter to Mr. Jahn or to Mr. Eirich and tell them that I am sure that for I Medici in Vienna, it will be like Pagliacci that this theater will show my work after it has been in Germany. How strange! When I think that the Viennese public loves me and is so good to me! Now it is I who asked Mr. Boch his word not to deal with anybody before seeing the show in Berlin. You will be seeing the show in Berlin. You will be there and will be able to judge if the success will be true and if the work deserves to be treated with such mistrust. Present my best regards to Mrs. Bernard and accept a strong handshake from your devoted friend…”

Portrait of Leoncavallo

Ruggero Leoncavallo

Both in style and form Leoncavallo was strongly influenced by the work of German composer Richard Wagner. He wrote his first opera, Chatterton, in 1876 and set to work on a Wagnerian trilogy entitled Crepusculum of which I Medici, the first part, was the only portion completed. The prominent Milanese music publisher Giulio Ricordi (1840-1912) optioned Chatterton and I Medici but was “more impressed with Leoncavallo as a librettist than a composer,” and asked him to write a libretto for Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, (The New Grove Dictionary). Puccini, however, was not satisfied with the result and broke off his collaboration with Leoncavallo who then finished I Medici, only to have it rejected by Ricordi.

Score of PagliacciLeoncavallo’s next project was the opera Pagliacci which he deliberately took to Ricordi’s rival, publisher Edoardo Sonzogno (1836-1920). Sonzogno was “a passionate opera lover and bon vivant” who purchased the Italian rights to many French operas and became the manager of Rome’s Costanzi Theatre, (The Autumn of Italian Opera, Mallach). His company, Casa Musicale Sonzogno, searched for new composers, discovering such talent as Mascagni and Cilèa. “By the end of 1890, Sonzogno had on commission at least four works in progress. In addition to the operas by Cilèa and Giordano, they included two works by Mascagni, L’amico Fritz and I Rantzau [mentioned in our letter]. With his activities widely known in the small world of Italian opera, it was all but inevitable that Leoncavallo, his ambitions frustrated by Ricordi, would turn to Sonzogno with his proposal for Pagliacci. It was equally inevitable that Sonzogno would accept the proposal with alacrity,” (ibid.).

The May 1892 premiere of Pagliacci, conducted by Toscanini in Milan, was a smashing success and catapulted Leoncavallo to fame. “Hoping to capitalize on the success of Pagliacci, Sonzogno arranged for performances of I Medici… [and] after much advance publicity, I Medici was given at the Dal Verme on 9 November 1893. With few exceptions an undigested gallimaufry of Wagner and Meyerbeer, it was an embarrassing failure, the critics treating Leoncavallo’s pretentiousness with pitiless irony,” (op. cit., New Grove). Of it the London Times said “‘that the music is not original – it is, in fact, a mass of plagiarism – would not matter so much (witness the success of Pagliacci!) if the plot were not hopelessly undramatic and the characters mere shadows.’ The Atheneum says that ‘the libretto is not good and the music adds nothing at all to its composer’s reputation,’” (“A Week’s Musical Topics,The New York Times, December 10, 1893). Nonetheless, after the work’s Berlin premiere in February 1894, probably the performance discussed in our letter, Kaiser Wilhelm II was so taken with I Medici that he commissioned Leoncavallo to write an opera that would celebrate the Hohenzollern dynasty. The resulting Der Roland von Berlin was extremely well received when it premiered in 1904.

Our letter, in which Leoncavallo discusses his frustration with Ricordi and the difficulty to stage I Medici in Vienna, was written the day before the Berlin premiere and mentions Italian soprano Fanny Torresella (1856-1914), who was a member of Sonzogno’s company; Austrian soprano Adelina Stehle (1860-1945), who created the role of Nedda in Pagliacci; celebrated Italian tenor Francesco Tamagno (1850-1905), who created the lead role in I Medici; Otto Eirich of the Viennese publishing house Theaterverlag Eirich, founded in 1865; and Vienna Court Opera Director Wilhelm Jahn (1835-1900), who was at the helm of the Court Opera for 17 years and a Leoncavallo supporter.

A meaty letter, folded with two inexpert tape repairs on a closed tear; other, minor closed tears remain untouched. In very good condition.

ALS Defending “I Medici” Despite “Pagliacci’s” Success

$1295 net • item #22583

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