April 23, 1857, Naples - August 9, 1919, Montecatini Terme
Ruggero Leoncavallo was born in Naples in the family idolized fine arts. The ancestors of the future composer were involved in painting and sculpture. Only his father, breaking the family tradition, worked as a judge of the court martial. At the age of eight, Ruggero entered the Conservatories of Naples and graduated from it at the age of sixteen. The young composer had to give music lessons and work as accompanist since there were no money in the family. Later, Ruggero began to perform as a conductor.
For the advanced study of literature, Ruggero attended lectures at the University of Bologna for about two years. He received the degree of Doctor of Literature at the age of 20. This fact influenced his fate. For a long time he could not decide whether to pursue literature or music. He always was the author of libretti for his own operas.
Leoncavallo taught singing in Italy and abroad, gained fame as a pianist-accompanist. A recording of the joint performance with Enrico Caruso has been preserved up to our days. They traveled with tours almost through all Europe. Leoncavallo toured as accompanist in England, France, Germany, Holland and Egypt. For some time, while continuing to compose music, he worked as a teacher of singing.
In 1877, Leoncavallo met Richard Wagner and, under his influence, began to write his first opera, "Chatterton". Unfortunately, the work did not resonate with listeners, one of the reasons for this is the fact that the libretto was written in very complicated language.
After the failure of the epic poem "Twilight" Leoncavallo dipped his toe into a new style - verismo.
Verismo as a creative direction that originated in Italian literature in the late 70s of the 19th century. Its essence is merciless truthfulness in the depiction of reality, life as it is, with all its unattractive and cruel sides without romantic embellishments. Following the experience of writers, verismo composers turned to depicting the life of the disenfranchised poor. The opera “Pagliacci” by Leoncavallo turned to be a classic of verismo trend. This opera is the most significant creative achievement of Leoncavallo. Its content is based on a life story that Ruggiero remembered from his childhood. Once, in the court where his father was the chairperson, a murder case was brought to court: an artist of a wandering troupe, in a fit of jealousy, killed his wife right during the performance. In the opera, this story is played out during one festive day (the Annunciation).
It was this story of a theater actress’ murder during public performance that gave the author a pass into the world of art and captivated the cultural community. It took Leoncavallo only five months to create the music and libretto. The premiere was held in Milan with resounding success, and the opera immediately gained worldwide fame. The prologue to the opera “Pagliacci” was proclaimed the Verismo manifest. As critics noted, the success of the opera was largely due to the fact that the composer had an outstanding literary talent. The libretto of “Pagliacci” is very concise, dynamic, contrasting, and the characters are thoroughly outlined. And all this bright theatrical action is embodied in memorable, emotionally open melodies. Instead of the usual extended arias, Leoncavallo created dynamic ariosos of such emotional power that Italian opera did not know before him.
Leoncavallo went on tour in Europe and America as the conductor of “Pagliacci”. The plot of the opera so affected the feelings of society that it outlived the author for a long time and was repeatedly implemented feature films all over the world. This opera immortalized Ruggiero. It has become a masterpiece. The composer was also lucky with the first performers: they were Enrique Caruso, as well as the conductor Arturo Toscanini.
The opera "Pagliacci" became the pinnacle of the composer's creative heritage. The resounding success and popular recognition inspired him, but subsequent works did not repeat the success of the “Pagliacci”. Later the composer created 19 more operas, but none of them was became famous. Leoncavallo wrote in different genres -- historical dramas, dramatic comic tragedies and, of course, the verismo operas “La Bohème” (1896) and “Zaza” (1900). However, they were not so successful as the “Pagliacci”, so they quickly began to be removed from the repertoires of theaters. In the last years of his life, Ruggiero enthusiastically created musical drama relying on folk art. The large-scale work conceived by the composer was to be called “The Tempest”. The composer could not complete it. He died in 1919 not far from Florence. Following the will, his widow Berta ordered to bury the body in Florence at the cemetery "Holy Gates".