I first got interested in Saverio Mercadante a little over 35 years ago, when a recording of his Il Giuramento was released on a "private label" LP. In the ensuing decades, there have been several performances of that opera in New York City, including a wonderful staged production at Juilliard, and a concert performance by the Opera Orchestra of New York (Eve Queler). The Giuramento at Juilliard was in honor of the centenary of his death, an event celebrated in Italy with excerpts from Elena da Feltre, and complete performances of Elisa e Claudio, Le Due Illustri Rivali, La Vestale and Il Reggente. Opera Rara, a London based organization specializing in the revival of forgotten works, took an interest, and produced Orazi e Curiazi in 1974, followed by Virginia in November 1976. One month later, the Rome opera gave Il Bravo. The Mercadante revival came to a temporary halt, but then gained new impetus with several more performances of Il Giuramento, another La vestale (Split, 1987), Elisa e Claudio (Wexford, 1988), a second Il Bravo (Martina Franca, 1990), and a Caritea, Regina di Spagna in 1995, also at Martina Franca for the bicentenary of his birth. Elena da Feltre (almost complete, this time) was given in Wexford in October 1997, and Lugo after that. More recently (2002), Il giuramento has been given at Wexford, which production has supposedly been recorded and will hopefully be released in due course, but has not yet materialized. This was followed by an Emma d'Antiocchia in 2003 by Opera Rara, with a Vestale given in autumn 2004 by Wexford. The most recent revival of a Mercadante opera was a Pelagio in Gijon in 2005. Almost all these performances, with the exception of the Wexford Elisa e Claudioand Giuramento, the Lugo Elena da Feltre and the Gijon Pelagio, have been recorded.
There have been rumours for several years that somebody is considering I Normanni a Parigi, and neither that work nor I Briganti would surprise me.
A fair amount has been written on Mercadante in the past few years, including a biography in the "Opera Grove", an assessment in the International Dictionary of the Opera, and countless "liner notes" to accompany these recordings. The most important of these will be listed separately in the bibliography.
Unfortunately, it seems difficult for any scholar to write about Mercadante without dredging up three key points:
a. The fact that an Italian advocate of Mercadante's named Notarnicola had written a book claiming that Verdi stole most of his ideas from Mercadante. Sheer nonsense, of course, but still brought up much too often, almost as if Notarnicola's hand had been guided by the composer from his grave.
b. A remark made over 100 years ago by the noted Italian musicologist Amintore Galli, to the effect that Mercadante was "lo sgabello di Verdi". The correct translation, if taken in context, is that Mercadante was used by Verdi as a stool (or better yet, stepping stone)--but this remark has usually been mistranslated to say that Mercadante was Verdi's footstool, and sometimes even described as withering, which it certainly was not intended to be (actually, as part of the same discussion of Mercadante, Galli referred to him as the Italian Meyerbeer; high praise at any time, but especially during the late 19th century).
c. That Mercadante, after writing the frequently quoted letter outlining his reforms retrogressed, gave up on these reforms, and delved into mannerisms and self-repetition.
The truth is that the later works available on recordings (especially Orazi e Curiazi) show as many signs of further progress than they do of retrogression. The recent Pelagio in Gijon is living proof of this fact. One suspects that some scholars, rather than wanting to do their own research, simply took the easy way out, and just paraphrased what was already stated in the literature.
Regrettably, if a reader wants to explore a work by Mercadante, he or she can?t simply buy tickets. Revivals of his operas are too few and far between to be able to do just that. This leaves no choice but to get, play, and enjoy the many CDs and LPs of his operas.
A summary of what is available, had been available, or is planned, is given in the Discography, with links to pages providing more detail on each work.