The Kennedy Center

Francesco Cilea


Despite family pressure to become a lawyer, operatic composer Francesco Cilea entered the Naples Music Conservatory at the age of thirteen.  He produced his first opera “Gina” ten years later. It was not a success. Fortunately one editor, willing to overlook the work’s poor libretto, commissioned young Cilea to write an opera about a popular young lady of the evening- “LaTilda”.  Opera fans in Florence gave the performance a standing ovation, which more than justified his editor’s gamble on an unknown composer.
More commissions followed, including “L’Arlesiana”, whose incidental music was written by Bizet.  Cilea’s most famous opera, “Adriana Lecouvreur”, exhibits the spontaneity and melodic style of the Neapolitan school as well as the harmonic and tonal shading of French composers like Massenet. With the legendary Enrico Caruso singing the male lead, the opera was hugely popular throughout Europe. But several flops followed  in quick sucession.
In 1932  a discouraged Cilea vowed to do no more composing for the stage. He decided to devote the rest of his life to teaching keyboard and composition and was immediately offered a position at his alma mater, the Naples Conservatory.  Though a talented and gifted teacher he frequently told friends that composing opera had been his only real career.
Cilea died  November 20, 1950, believing to the end that  his operatic career had been blighted by the intrigues and jealousy of envious fellows composers.
His  aria from the still often performed “L’Arlesian”,  “Lamento di Federico” is still  considered a knock-em-dead ,  show-off piece for all modern tenors.  
Francesco Cilea