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Francesco Cilea

Francesco Cilea (Palmi, 23 July 1866 – Varazze, 20 November 1950) was an Italian composer. Today he is particularly known for his operas L'arlesiana and Adriana Lecouvreur.

Born in Palmi near Reggio di Calabria, Cilea gave early indication of an aptitude for music when at the age of four he heard a performance of Vincenzo Bellini's Norma and was greatly affected by it. He was sent to study music at the Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella in Naples, where he quickly demonstrated his diligence and precocious talent, earning a gold medal from the Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione (Department of Education).

In 1889, for his final examination at the end of his course of study, he submitted his opera Gina, with a libretto by Enrico Golisciani which was adapted from the old French play Catherine, ou La Croix d'or by Baron Anne-Honoré-Joseph Duveyrier de Mélésville (1787–1865). This melodramma idilico was performed in the college theatre, and it attracted the attention of the publishers Sonzogno, who arranged for a second production, in Florence, in 1892.

Sonzogno also then commissioned from Cilea La Tilda, a verismo opera in three short acts along the lines of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana. With a libretto by Angelo Zanardini, La Tilda had a successful first performance in April 1892 at the Teatro Pagliano in Florence, and after performances in a number of Italian theatres, it arrived at the Vienna Exhibition on 24 September 1892, alongside other works from the firm of Sonzogno. The composer never showed much sympathy for this work, the subject of which he reluctantly agreed to set to music in order to please Sonzogno and to avoid throwing away a rare professional opportunity. The loss of the orchestral score has prevented the modern revival of this work, whose fresh and catchy melodies can nevertheless be discovered in the transcription for voice and piano.

In his last years Cilea's eyesight failed but his mind was active enough to encourage and work with singers of the day. Among his last musical activities was his championship of the soprano Magda Olivero (1910–2014), whose performances in the title role of Adriana Lecouvreur he especially admired. Cilea died on 20 November 1950 in Varazze, a town near Savona in Liguria which offered him honorary citizenship and where he spent the last years of his life. The Conservatorio di Musica and the Teatro Communale of Reggio di Calabria were renamed in his memory, and his native town of Palmi built a mausoleum in his memory, decorated with scenes from the myth of Orpheus.



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