Spotlight on: Franco Alfano

Spotlight on: Franco Alfano

Franco Alfano (1875-1954) undisputedly played a leading role in early 20th century Italian music – an era that was heavily influenced by the music of Wagner and Strauss, the early works of Debussy and the rise of neo-classicism. He, along with the other members of the 'generazione dell’ottanta', a group which also included Pizzetti and Respighi, came to dominate the Italian classical music scene after the death of Puccini and invited extended tonality into Italian classical music. This marked a substantial departure from the works of the beloved Italian composers – Verdi, Donizetti and Bellini – of earlier generations.

Born in Naples in 1876, he began his musical studies at the San Pietro a Majella Conservatory. In 1895 he moved to Leipzig, where he had the opportunity to continue his study of the violin and composition under Hans Sitt and Salomon Jadassohn.

After the successful 1899 performances of his ballets, Napoli and Lorenza, at the Les Folies Bergère in Paris, Alfano began work on what would turn out to be his most successful opera, Resurrezione, which was premiered at the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele in Turin on 30th November 1904. The piece reveals his exuberant style and his sense of realism for which he was internationally recognized. This opera was followed by two more: Il principe di Zilah (1909) and L’ombra di Don Giovanni (1914).

From 1918 to 1939 Alfano served as director at Conservatory of Music in Bologna and in Turin. While there, at the suggestion of Arturo Toscanini, he was charged by the Puccini family and music publisher Ricordi with completing the opera Turandot, which had remained unfinished due to Giacomo Puccini’s untimely death.

La leggenda di Sakuntala (afterwards renamed Sakuntala), premiered in Bologna in 1921, is the opera in which the composer, both in his handling of the complexity of the tessiture and in realising the exotic atmosphere of the subject, gave clearest evidence of his mastery. Here too the influence of Debussy remains fundamental, but essentially as a background on which the composer weaves a harmonic design of a wholly original nature. Cyrano de Bergerac, the other important opera, saw its premiere in Rome in 1936. It marks a turning point from Alfano's first verismo manner, an achievement already anticipated in Sakuntala, and here definitively consolidated. This passage is evidenced by rich orchestration (with reminiscences of Tristan),echoes of Debussy (in an attenuated form) and above all the deft symphonism of some of Strauss's work (particularly Rosenkavalier). Other notable works include: Sinfonia n.1, la Sinfonia Classica, both for orchestra, and his works for voice and orchestra on Rabindranath Tagore’s poems.

After leaving Turin in 1939, Alfano became superintendent at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, a position he held until 1942 and from 1947 to 1950 he directed the Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro.

Franco Alfano died in San Remo on 27th October 1954.

Selected Works

Cyrano de Bergerac (1936)
Opera in four acts and 5 scenes
(libretto by E. Cain, after E. Rostand’s drama - orig. in French)
Texts also available in Italian, German
3sop.2ms.2ten.6bar.3bass.choir (S/A/T/B) - dancers - - timp.perc.xyl. - hp.cel. - strgs
Premiere: Rome, Teatro Costanzi, 22.1.1936
Duration: full evening
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Risurrezione (1904)
Opera in 4 acts
(libretto by C. Hanau, after Tolstoj’s drama)
Texts also available in French and German
3sop.4ms.4alto.2ten.2bar.4bass.choir (S/A/T/B) - - timp.perc.xyl. - - strgs
Premiere: Turin, Teatro Vittorio Emanuele, 30.11.1904
Duration: full evening
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(previously as La leggenda di Sakuntala)
Opera in 3 acts
(libretto in Italian by the composer after Kalidasa)
Texts also available in German
2sop.1ms.3ten.1bar.3bass.choir (S/A/T/B) - - timp.perc.xyl.bell - - strgs
Premiere as La leggenda di Sakuntala: Bologna, Teatro Comunale, 10.12.1921
Premiere as Sakuntala: Rome, Teatro dell’Opera, 09.01.1952
Duration: full evening
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Sinfonia classica
for orchestra
Remaking of Sinfonia in Mi - - timp.perc.xyl.hand bells - - strgs
Premiere: Turin, April 1953
Duration: 30’
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Symphony Nr. 2
for orchestra - - timp.perc.xyl.hand bells - - strgs
Premiere: Rome, April 1933
Duration: 32’
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work list