Alberto Franchetti (1860 – 1942)

Leggenda in quattro atti
Libretto by Ferdinando Fontana

A production as part of Fokus ’33

Photographs: Thilo Beu

Alberto Franchetti came from a very wealthy family of Turin bankers whose fortune enabled the kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont to build their railway. He studied with Rheinberger in Munich and with Draeseke in Dresden and felt a close bond with German (musical) culture – not for nothing did he agree to become president of the Richard-Wagner-Association in Bologna. And in order to obtain a divorce from his first wife, impossible in Catholic Italy, he summarily (and temporarily) bought a villa in Baden-Baden, purchasing German citizenship in the process. He left the country a divorced man.

His first opera, ASRAEL, with a libretto by Ferdinando Fontana (based on Thomas Moore), premiered in Reggio Emilia on 11 February 1888 and was largely financed by his father. However, it turned out to be such a hit that Italy’s largest music publishers, Ricordi, promptly offered to publish the piece. And one celebrated spectator in particular, Guiseppe Verdi, was immensely impressed: When the city of Genoa approached him and asked him to compose the celebratory opera for the fourth centennial celebrations of the discovery of America by Genoese Christopher Columbus, he referred them to the gifted young man whose ASRAEL had recently been such a great success. 

Franchetti was mentioned in the same breath with his contemporaries Puccini, Leoncavallo and Mascagni and was considered to be a true bearer of hope for Italian music. His final real success was the world premiere of his liberation opera GERMANIA (with Enrico Caruso in the tenor role of Federico Loewe, a fighter against Napoleon). Afterwards, Franchetti’s star began to wane and his fame began to pale in comparison with that of his colleagues.

When the Italian fascists gave in to political pressure in 1938 and adopted the German Race Laws, Alberto Franchetti found himself in a situation toward the end of his life where he was endangered even in his native Italy by criminal measures perpetrated by the very country that he had loved so much and with whose culture he felt such a close bond. His friends Pietro Mascagni and Umberto Giordano, both of them quite close to the regime, advocated for him until his death in Viareggio on 4 August 1942.

Performances of his works worldwide since then can be counted on no more than two hands. ASRAEL was never produced after 1945.

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