Composer Profile: Francesco Cilea’s Brief Opera Career & His Singular Masterpiece

By David Salazar

Francesco Cilea, born on July 23, 1866, is yet another Italian composer of the Verismo era that is known today for one major work.

He was born in Palmi and was destined for a musical career from the moment he heard “Norma” at the age of four. He studied at the Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella, earning a gold medal for his tremendous work.

It is during his studies, and specifically for his final exam, that he created his first opera “Gina” and his opera career was off to a solid start.

His “L’Arlesiana” had its premiere in 1897 with Enrico Caruso in the cast, and five years later, “Adriana Lecouvreur” provided him with his first major success. Here again, the composer had Caruso in the lead role of Maurizio.

His final opera, “Gloria,” premiered at La Scala in 1907 under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. It was withdrawn after two performances, causing him to abandon interest in composing for the opera stage. Many other works were left unfinished by the time the composer died on Nov. 20, 1950.

Major Works

Today, Cilea is known for one work – “Adriana Lecouvreur.” The work, one of the touchstones of the Verismo repertoire, is noted for the fascinating melodic depth it provides its three leads. The soprano title role is associated with the greatest divas of recent eras and remains a measuring stick for dramatic sopranos.

Watch and Listen

Here is a performance of “Adriana Lecouvreur” from Toyko featuring an all-star cast of Montserrat Caballé, José Carreras, and Fiorenza Cossotto.


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