Temistocle Solera

Written by  Adriano Cavicchi

The versatile and controversial figure of the author of the Verdi " Va pensiero " versesTemistocle Solera

Temistocle Solera was born in Ferrara on Christmas Day 1815 to a middle class family. His father was a lawyer who was involved with the moti carbonari [charcoal burners] and was sent to Spilburk prison in Moravia along with Pellico, Maroncelli and Confalonieri in 1821. The Austrian authorities therefore took it upon themselves to provide for his education, and sent him to an imperial boarding school in Vienna. He studied literature, music and the martial arts with great success there. However he was unable to take the discipline, and aware that the Austrians were holding his father in prison, Temistocle escaped from the school to join a circus. He was captured at the Hungarian border and was sent back to the Longone boarding school in Milan to complete his studies. His musical education was completed at the Milan Conservatory. He published his first book of poems when he was only eighteen. It was called I miei primi canti [my first verses] and written inThe title-pages of some of the librettos by Solera. the style of Manzoni. Solera became part of a group of talented young artistes who gravitated around La Scala theatre led by the impresario, Bartolomeo Merelli. Solera's relationship with the young Verdi dates back to that time. In 1838 the Canti publishers of Milan published a magnificent book of arias by Verdi, with the text of L'esule written by Solera. Merelli, who was always on the look-out for promising new librettists or composers, had made Solera refashion an old libretto Oberto conte di San Bonifacio, which Verdi staged as Oberto at La Scala (November 1839), achieving a degree of success. Merelli paid Temistocle six hundred Austrian schillings for this which the poet squandered with his friends on a night on the town. Solera's operatic career gained momentum after Oberto, and having understood his genius, Merelli immediately engaged Solera to write an opera. The first work of the poet-musician was not put on the season's calendar, but formed part of a secondary calendar. This was how Ildegonda came about, composed by Temistocle Solera and performed by two artistes of the renown of Erminia Frezzolini and Napoleone Moriani. Its success gave great encouragement to Solera and heThe title-pages of some of the librettos by Solera. resented his opera in two parts Il Contadino d'Agliate at La Scala the following year. It would have been in that atmosphere that Solera wrote the libretto for Nabucco on commission by Merelli, with the music to have been written by the German composer Otto Nicolai. Nicolai was not happy with Nabucco, so Merelli managed to convince Verdi to write it, even though Verdi had vowed never to write for the theatre again after the flop of Un giorno di regno: "Just imagine" wrote Merelli to Verdi "a libretto by Solera, marvellous!! [..] magnificent [...] extraordinary! [...]". The melodramatic exasperation of Solera was enough to win over the reluctant Verdi from his avowal never to write for the theatre again – igniting the inventive energy of an emotional power in the musician which would act as an important stimulus to the creation of masterpieces. Above all "Va pensiero" which would become the most emblematic and beloved song of the Risorgimento [rebirth (of Italy)]. But let's look briefly at the opera career of Temistocle. He presented La Fanciulla di Castel-Guelfo at the Corte di Modena theatre in 1842, with his wife, Teresa Rosmini as the prima donna. This opened the doors of the Brescia and Padua theatres to him (Genio e Sventura) and he worked with many composers as a librettist, including Verdi again for whom he wrote I LombardiThe title-pages of some of the librettos by Solera. alla prima Crociata. Despite his success as a librettist and composer in Lombardy, the multi-talented Solera left Italy to go to Spain as an orchestra conductor, opera impresario, poet, fencer and counsellor to the queen of Spain. He also wrote a libretto in Spanish called La Hermana de Palayo, with the music composed by Juan Arrieta, and an Italian libretto Isabella la Cattolica. Naturally his influence on the queen - with whom he seemingly had a relationship – aroused jealousy in the courtiers, erupting into challenges and duels. At the same time in Italy, the 1859 Risorgimento revolts were taking place, and Temistocle became a secret courier between Napoleon III and Vittorio Emanuele II through high-ranking acquaintances. His adventurous spirit, backed up by physical attractiveness, led him to taking on the role of police deputy in Basilicata in the struggle against the brigandage in 1860. Solera managed to achieve sensational results even here, with wholesale slaughtering of the brigands. His success led to his appointment as the chief of police in Florence, and then in Palermo, Florence and Bologna, but he wasn't cut out for a long term clerical career, and so accepted an invitation by the Khedive of Egypt to organise the police for him as well as the famous Ismailia parties. In his spare time, he continued to write-especially opera librettos. He wrote two prestigious ones for Verdi, Giovanna d'Arco and the uneven Attila. His lifestyle embodied that of the typical poet-musician with alternating periods of financial prosperity and poverty. During one of his lean periods, Clarina Maffei asked Verdi to help him. The great musician answered "It's his own fault if he didn't have a great career and didn't become the leading operatic poet of our times. If he had bothered to mend his ways and make himself indispensable, he could have been paid 3 or 4 thousand francs for each libretto and got performing rights in the countries where his works were being performed". As proof of his incredible versatility, Solera's final profession was that of an antique dealer. He went to live in Paris with the money he earned in Cairo, however his new business did not meet with much success apparently. He returned to Milan, poor and sick, and died on Easter morning 1878.

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