Gaspare Luigi Pacifico Spontini
Gaspare Luigi Pacifico Spontini (14 November 1774 – 24 January 1851) was an Italian opera composer and conductor, extremely celebrated in his time, though largely forgotten after his death.
Born in Maiolati in the province of Ancona, now Maiolati Spontini, he spent most of his career in Paris and Berlin, but returned to his place of birth at the end of his life. During the first two decades of the 19th century, Spontini was an important figure in French opera. In his more than twenty operas, Spontini strove to adapt Gluck's classical tragédie lyrique to the contemporary taste for melodrama, for grander spectacle (in Fernand Cortez for example), for enriched orchestral timbre, and for melodic invention allied to idiomatic expressiveness of words. His single great masterpiece and success was La Vestale.
As a youth, Spontini studied at the Conservatorio della Pietà de' Turchini in Naples. In 1803, he went to Paris, where he was appointed court composer in 1805.
In 1807, Spontini wrote La Vestale, his best known work. Written with the encouragement of Empress Joséphine, its premiere at the Opéra in Paris established Spontini as one of the greatest Italian composers of his age. His contemporaries Cherubini and Meyerbeer considered it a masterpiece, and later composers like Berlioz and Wagner admired it.
During the Peninsular War, “Napoleon promoted works such as Gasparo Spontini’s Fernand Cortez (1809),” which concerned the Spanish conquest of Mexico under the reign of Charles V. Spontini's later opera Olimpie (1819, revised 1820, 1826) met with indifference, leading him to leave Paris for Prussia, where he became Kapellmeister and chief conductor at the Berlin Hofoper. There he showed hostility toward the young Mendelssohn.
During the 20th century, Spontini's operas were only rarely performed, although several had their first revivals in years. Perhaps the most famous modern production was the revival of La vestale with Maria Callas at La Scala at the opening of the 1954 season, to mark the 180th anniversary of the composer's birth. The stage director was famed cinematic director Luchino Visconti. That production was also the La Scala debut of tenor Franco Corelli. Callas recorded the arias "Tu che invoco" and "O Nume tutela" from La vestale in 1955 (as did Rosa Ponselle in 1926). In 1969, conductor Fernando Previtali revived the opera, with soprano Leyla Gencer and baritone Renato Bruson. (An unofficial recording is in circulation.) In 1993, conductor Riccardo Muti recorded it with a cast of lesser-known singers.
Other revivals of Spontini include Agnese von Hohenstaufen at the Maggio Musicale festival in Florence in 1954, starring Franco Corelli and conducted by Vittorio Gui, and in Rome in 1970, with Montserrat Caballé and Antonietta Stella, conducted by Riccardo Muti. Fernando Cortez was revived in 1951, with a young Renata Tebaldi, at the San Carlo in Naples, conducted by Gabriele Santini. The premiere of the integral version of the work took place at the Erfurt (Germany) opera house (2006, Jean-Paul Penin, conductor).
Li puntigli delle donne was performed at the Putbus Festival 1998, conducted by Wilhelm Keitel (recording Arte Nova 74321591982).
See List of operas by Spontini.
- ^ On La Vestale, Fernand Cortez and Etienne de Jouy, see Les aventures militaires, littéraires et autres de Etienne de Jouy de l'Académie française by Michel Faul (Editions Seguier, France, 2009 ISBN 978-2-8404-9556-7). Infos on E.de Jouy and his biography on E. de Jouy site
- ^ Silke Leopold, “The Idea of National Opera, c. 1800,” Unity and Diversity in European Culture c. 1800, ed. Tim Blanning and Hagen Schulze (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 22.