Franco Alfano


(08 März 1876 — 27 Oktober 1954)

Franco Alfano was born in Posillipo (Naples) on 8th March 1876. He began studying music in Naples under Alessandro Longo and later enrolled in the San Pietro a Majella Conservatory, where his teachers included Camillo de Nardis and Pietro Serrao. 

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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. Then, the following year, he settled in Berlin, where he embarked upon a career as a pianist and had his debut as a composer for the theatre with the opera Miranda (1898).

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In Breslau (Wroclaw, Poland) his opera La fonte di Enschir (1898) did not meet with success and so Alfano decided to move to Paris, where in 1899 he managed to have two of his ballets, Napoli and Lorenza, performed at the Les Folies Bergère. After the favourable reception accorded to these works by Parisian audiences Alfano began to work on what would turn out to be his most successful opera, Resurrezione. Completed while the composer was moving between Moscow and Naples, the opera was performed at the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele in Turin on 30th November 1904. This work reveals the salient characteristics of Alfano’s style - in particular the exuberance and full-bloodedness of his ideas - which brought him great international notoriety and resulted in his being categorised as a verista (realist).

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After this there followed in the opera field Il principe di Zilah (1909) and L’ombra di Don Giovanni (1914), works which clearly show the influence of Claude Debussy and Richard Strass.

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In 1916 Alfano settled in Bologna, where he became first a teacher at the conservatory and then the director up until 1923, when he transferred, in the same role, to the Giuseppe Verdi Conservatory in Turin. It was in this context that at the suggestion of Arturo Toscanini Alfano was charged by the Puccini family and by the music publisher Ricordi with completing the opera Turandot, which had remained unfinished on account of Puccini’s untimely death.

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La leggenda di Sakuntala (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. In 1936 the opera Cyrano de Bergerac is performed in Rome. This opera marks a turning point from Alfano's first verismo manner, an achievement already anticipated in La Leggenda di 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). His symphonic works as Sinfonia n.1, la Sinfonia Classica  but also the works for voice and orchestra on Rabindranath Tagore’s poems are important pieces in his output.

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After leaving Turin in 1939, Alfano became superintendent at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo up until 1942 and later, between ’47 and ’50, he directed the Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro. 

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He died in San Remo on 27th October 1954.