He and his brother composed an opera once as popular as Barbiere or Elisir
by Stefan Zucker
Born in Naples, October 22, 1809, Federico Ricci was the son of Pietro Ricci, pianist, and the brother of Luigi Ricci, composer, Gaetano Ricci, piano teacher, and Adelaide and Vincenzo Ricci, singers. After lessons with his father, in 1818 he entered the San Sebastiano conservatory, studying under Zingarelli and Raimondi, as well as his brother Luigi and Bellini, then maestrini (assistant teachers). After composing two masses and a symphony, he dropped out of school, following Luigi to Rome. Florimo urged Bellini to try to secure a contract for Federico at La Scala, without result. To compose his first opera, Federico teamed up with Luigi, already established, for the comedy Il colonnello, Naples, 1835. On his own later that year he composed Monsieur de Chalumeaux for Venice. The 1838 La prigione di Edimburgo, Trieste, was a smash hit, with Rita Gabussi creating a furor as the mad seconda donna, the baritone barcarolle “Nella poppa del mio brick” remaining popular for years. Federico’s La Scala debut, Un duello sotto Richelieu, 1839, evoked little enthusiasm; however, Luigi Rolla e Michelangelo, Florence, 1841—written for and dedicated to tenor Napoleone Moriani—redeemed his fortunes. Also in 1841, Federico’s major triumph with a tragedy premiered in Milan, Corrado d’Altamura. As a result the king of Savoy commissioned him to furnish a cantata for the wedding of Crown Prince Vittorio Emmanuele. Two operas written for Milan, two for Venice and one for Trieste, 1842-50, all foundered. Another collaboration between the brothers, their most enduring success, together or separately, Crispino e la comare, Venice, 1850, came to rival Il barbiere di Siviglia and L’elisir d’amore in popularity, in the second half of the century. Federico’s Il marito e l’amante, a melodramma comico, inebriated the Viennese, beginning June 9, 1852, at the Kaertnerthor-theater; given there and in St. Petersburg the following season, Il marito was revived in Paris in 1872 as Une Fête à Venise, with added selections by the composer. However, Il paniere d’amore, Vienna, 1853, failed.
Federico became the maître de chapelle of the imperial theaters at St. Petersburg, supervising vocal studies at the conservatory. Over the next 16 years, he wrote a cantata, vocal duets, songs and solfeggios but no operas. In 1869 Verdi asked him to compose a romanza for the Album Piave, to be published as a benefit for the paralyzed librettist, and with Verdi’s approval a Milan committee asked him to provide a Recordare for the projected Rossini requiem. His Une Folie à Rome ran for 77 consecutive performances, in Paris, in 1869.
He died in Conegliano, December 10, 1877, leaving Don Quichotte unfinished. His output totaled—not counting revisions—19 operas (four in collaboration with Luigi), seven volumes of songs as well as individual titles, three cantatas, two masses and other sacred works.
Thought to have been born in Naples, June or July 8, 1805, Luigi Ricci studied with his father, then at the San Sebastiano with Furno and Zingarelli as well as privately with Generali. His first opera, a student work, was the comic L’impresario in angustie, 1823, to a libretto previously set by Cimarosa. Eight years of checkered career followed. Then came his greatest early successes, Chiara di Rosemberg, Milan, 1831, and Un avventura di Scaramuccia, Milan, 1834 (later arranged for the French stage by Flotow). Between 1831 and ’38 Chiara di Rosemberg was performed at La Scala 70 times, more often than Norma, premiered there the same year. However, his Le nozze di Figaro, Milan, 1838, was hissed. Rossini told him, “My dear, it had to go like that for you; you wanted to be too learned.”
Luigi wrote no operas for seven years, serving as maestro di cappella at Trieste and maestro concertatore at the Teatro Grande, in 1848 directing the premiere of Verdi’s Il corsaro. He directed the 1844-45 Odessa opera season, living openly with twin sopranos Franziska and Ludmilla Stolz, causing confusion and scandal. He is said to have fallen in love with them both at first sight. For them he premiered La solitaria delle Asturie there, in 1845. After trips à trois to Copenhagen and Constantinople on account of the sisters’ careers, he married Ludmilla in Trieste, in 1849—maintaining the relationship with Franziska. Ludmilla’s daughter Adelaide, 1850-71, appeared at the Théâtre-Italien, in 1868-69. Franziska’s son Luigi Jr., 1852-1906, besides conducting, composed at least eight operas, sacred music, songs and a string quartet. After becoming the heir of soprano Teresa Stolz, his aunt and Luigi Sr.’s pupil, he took the name Luigi Ricci-Stolz.
Luigi Sr.’s later successes included Il birraio di Preston, Florence, 1847, Crispino, and La festa di Piedigrotta, Naples, 1852, given more than 300 times, the ending celebrating womens’ equality with men in love and flirtation. To me the opera seems like weak tea.
He died December 31, 1859, in a Prague asylum, of syphilis, like his idol Donizetti—over the years Luigi had said, “I’ll finish up like him.” He wrote 30 operas (including the four with Federico), at least 23 masses as well as other sacred music, two collections of vocal chamber music and songs, individual songs and the Gran concertore for the opening of Odessa’s Teatro Italiano, in 1844.