Riccardo Zandonai

(28 May 1883 — 05 June 1944)

Riccardo Zandonai was born in Borgo Sacco near Rovereto. As a young man, he showed such aptness in his musical studies that he entered the Pesaro Conservatorio in 1899 and completed his studies in 1902; he completed the nine-year curriculum in only three years. Among his teachers was Pietro Mascagni, who regarded him highly.

His essay for graduation was an opera named Il ritorno di Odisseo, based on a poemby Giovanni Pascoli, for singers, choir and orchestra. In 1908, in Milan, he was heard by Arrigo Boito at a soirée, and Boito introduced him to Giulio Ricordi.

Zandonai’s fame rests largely on his opera Francesca da Rimini, a free adaptation of a tragedy which Gabriele D’Annunzio had written expanding a passage from Dante’s Inferno; it has never fallenentirely from the repertoire, and has been recorded several times.

Other successful operas are: Conchita (Milan1911), after Pierre Louÿs; La Femme et lepantin; Giulietta e Romeo (Rome 1922), after Shakespeare; I cavalieri di Ekebù (Milan 1925) after La leggenda di Gösta Berling by Selma Lagerlöf (the premiere was conducted by Toscanini at Teatro alla Scala); the opera had  great success in North Europe.

Other works are: La coppa del re (1906, not staged), L’uccellino d’oro (Rovereto 1907), Melenis (Milan 1912), La via della finestra (Pesaro 1919), Giuliano (Napoli 1928), Una partita (Milan 1933), La farsa amorosa (Rome 1933), Il bacio (Milan, post. 1954).

Zandonai’s production also consists of symphonic works, chamber and vocal music less known but artistic high levelled: symphonic poems (Primaverain Val di Sole, Quadri di Segantini), film music, instrumental solo pieces (Concertoromantico for violin and orchestra); choral music (Messa da Requiem).

When Puccini died without completing the music for the last act of Turandot, Zandonai was among several composers the Ricordi publishing firm considered for the task of finishing it. Puccini himself, in his final illness, seems to have supported the choice of Zandonai – certainly Toscanini looked with approval on this choice – but his son, Tonio Puccini, for reasons still obscure, vetoed it. Ultimately Franco Alfano was chosen to complete Turandot.

Zandonai alternated composition and conducting as long as was appointed director at Pesaro Conservatorio in 1940.