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Alfredo Catalani - Composer of Lucca by Domenico Luigi Paradini (publ. 1935) including:-
a. Puccini’s Great Rival (David Chandler)
b. In Memory of Alfredo Catalani (Giovanni Battista Nappi) (publ. 1918)
c. The Sorrowful Star of Alfredo Catalani (Raffaello Barbieri) (publ. 1926)
Translated: Valentina Relton
Edited: David Chandler
Durrant Publishing (2nd edition 2010) 153 pages
Hardback: ISBN 978-1-905946-29-7
Paperback: ISBN 978-1-905946-28-0
ePub: ISBN 978-1-905946-16-7

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The First Lives of Alfredo Catalani
Comprising:-
a. David Chandler – Introduction, Genius and Illness
b. Alfredo Soffredini - Alfredo Catalani (Milan 1890) and Obituary (August 1893)
c. Giuseppe Depanis - Alfredo Catalani, Notes and Memories (1893). A late memoir (1915)
d. Catalani - Letters to Stefani Stampa - 1875-1885
e. Stanley Henig - Catalani on record - The 78 Era
f. Toscanini valediction
Various translators
Durrant Publishing (First edition 2011) 164 pages
Hardback: ISBN 978-1-905946-25-9
Paperback: ISBN 978-1-905946-26-6
ePub: ISBN 978-1-905946-27-3

Experience Classicsonline

 
I have spent some weeks addicted to these two books. Two issues arose. The first was: could lightning strike twice with both Puccini and Catalani being born in the same town? Given the proliferation of opera composers in Italy, this was more than a possibility depending on how obscure the other composer might be … but in the same generation? They were more or less contemporaries. Puccini was born only four years later than Catalani. The odds against become somewhat lengthy with all of these conditions. Then add the intimate connection with Toscanini and the odds go wayward. It was the great conductor who championed Puccini and conducted the premiere of his unfinished final opera, Turandot. Further, in a well documented account, reproduced as a postscript to Book 2, comes Toscanini’s eulogy. There he states that not only did he name his daughter after Catalani’s opera La Wally, but also goes on to assert that Catalani “was the most simpatico of the composers - refined – he wasn’t as crude as the others, Puccini, Mascagni, Giordano, or even Franchetti.”
 
It was the latter comment that took me to my extensive music library - too extensive in terms of shelf-space my wife contends. There are twelve books on Verdi. He spoke fondly of Catalani following his premature death in 1893. There’s a clutch on Puccini, even more on Mozart and many others. Bizet and Beethoven are strongly represented. My speciality of bel canto also features, but there’s nothing on the verismo composers. Whilst I know La Wally I knew little of the contemporary scene in Italy at the time those composers lived. I had some details on Mascagni and Leoncavallo, for example. These are of the type that sometimes used to be found in the detailed essays accompanying flagship CD releases and now seem only to appear in those by Opera Rara. This is not to forget Budden’s chapter, titled a Problem of Identity (Italian Opera 1870-1890) in The Operas of Verdi. Vol. 3 (Cassell 1981. pp. 263-292) and from which a quotation is used in Book 1. Beyond Verdi and his life in Milan, my library keeps me well versed in the operatic and social milieu of the first decades of the primo ottocento via Philip Gossett’s Divas and Scholars (Chicago, 2006) and those Opera Rara issues. But there’s much less about the later decades and the turn of the nineteenth century. An important subsidiary virtue for me, of these two books lies not only in their introduction to Catalani but also in the manner and detail in which they fill much of that gap. This is mainly achieved by editor David Chandler via the detailed, extensive and scholarly introductory chapters to both books. Things are also significantly aided by the explanatory footnotes appended, by him, throughout the various chapters of the two volumes.
 
Reading these books one comes to know the composer quite intimately. The reader feels for his frustration at his physical limitations consequent on suffering from tuberculosis with its frequent debilitating set-backs. As well as his other operas such as La Falce (1875), with its libretto by Boito, using his standard pseudonym of Tobio Gorrio, there are Dejanice (1883), Edmea (1886) and Lorely (1889/90 revision of Elda 1880) to go alongside La Wally (1891). He was a member of the Scapigliateura, or tousle-haired - the group of young bloods whose criticism of the state of Italian opera so got up Verdi’s nose and which he took as a personal attack. Boito’s connection with that group was initially a problem when Ricordi broached the latter’s name at the time the great Italian master was considering a re-write of Simon Boccanegra (1880-81). Catalani and others such as Boito also met at Countess Maffei’s salon in Milan. She was a significant confidante of Verdi who wrote her many letters. She played some part in bringing Ricordi, Boito and Verdi together in the manoeuvring that brought Otello to fruition.
 
More than many of his contemporaries, Catalani was diverse in his compositions. There are for example widely admired string quartets and piano music. After tortuous consideration because of his poor health, Catalani was appointed Director of the Milan Conservatory, by Royal Decree, on 11 April 1888. He succeeded Ponchielli in that prestigious post. Illica, Giacosa, Toscanini, G Ricordi, Boito, Leoncavallo and Teresa Stolz - great soprano and friend of Verdi - attended his funeral. In a letter Verdi castigated the lack of a eulogy from Milan or its Conservatory. Ricordi filled that gap.
 
These two books are of considerable value to those interested in or curious about Catalani’s music and milieu. They contain details of that which is on record. Chandler’s chapter in Book 2 titled Catalani on CD gives credit to the Bongiovanni label in this respect. It also offers the hope of a general DVD release of La Wally derived from a performance in Buenos Aires in June 2010.
 
The ready availability in English of these first-hand accounts of Catalani and his life, alongside Chandler’s evident immersion in the life and works fills many important gaps in the composer’s literature and period. At their very modest cost I have no hesitation in commending them to opera-lovers in particular. They will also appeal to students of the musical context in Italy during Catalani’s all-too-brief lifetime.
 
There we have it: two complementary, well-presented and researched books, modestly priced. They offer details and insights into a composer who, if he had lived a normal span, would undoubtedly have set Italian opera on an exciting path.
 
Robert J Farr
 
Two complementary, well-presented and researched books, modestly priced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 


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