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Saverio Mercadante

September 17, 1795 - December 17, 1870
born in Altamura, Italy, composed during the Romantic period
Saverio Mercadante was a prolific composer of opera during the nineteenth century, and was influential in his day for his "reformed" operas of the 1840s. Reacting to excesses in both bel canto style and grand-opera effects, he purposely restrained himself from those tendencies to arrive at a more effective drama on stage. These reforms were critical for the kinds of operas Verdi pursued early in his career.

Mercadante was born in Naples and studied with Niccolò Zingarelli between 1816 and 1820. While some of his earliest music was for various instrumental ensembles, he began to compose operas around 1819. With an opera buffa in Rossini's style, Elisa e Claudio (1820), his seventh opera, Mercadante achieved notice in Italy, and he followed that work with many others.

From 1829 to 1830, Mercadante lived in Spain and Portugal, where he continued to compose. With no long-term contracts emerging at the time, Mercadante returned to Italy. He served as maestro di cappella at the Cathedral in Novara from 1833 to 1840, and it was then that Mercadante reconsidered his approach to opera. His "reformed" style begins with his most famous opera, Il giurnamento. In this work he avoided any effects that did not serve the drama directly, and purposely varied the forms used in set pieces. This prevented his resorting to strings of da capo arias or diva-based scenas. Such self-imposed restrictions were part of Mercadante's style for the rest of his career.

In 1839 Mercadante became director of the Liceo musicale in Bologna, and in 1840 he was offered the post that his teacher Zingarelli had held in Naples. He took the post in Naples and remained there for the rest of his life. While his compositional output during the latter part of Mercadante's career lessened, it was nonetheless impressive for the workmanship present in the later works. For a while Verdi associated with Mercadante, but the two parted company soon after Mercadante assisted the younger composer with finding singers for a production of Macbeth in Naples in 1848. Soon Verdi's career eclipsed that of Mercadante, and the dramaturgy that Verdi pursued was regarded as more effective than that of the older Mercadante. While Mercadante's reputation declined, his operas are nonetheless interesting for the quality of the music in them. Mercadante also was a prolific composer of religious music, and those compositions bear consideration for their refined and elegant style. ~ James Zychowicz, Rovi
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