Alberto Franchetti was a famous personality during his lifetime due to his fondness for dogs, automobiles, fashion, fine dining, mountaineering, and magic. He was one of the original promoters of the Italian Automobile Club and subsequently became its President. He never travelled without his own personal chef and he often prepared delicious meals with his own two hands, before turning up to official events with his clothes covered in stains. He was extremely superstitious and never embarked on any activities without consulting a soothsayer beforehand. He could hardly ever be found in his magnificent villas in Milan, Santa Margherita, and Baden-Baden because he preferred to spend almost all of his time in hotels. Although he was very wealthy, he lived beyond his means due to his love of the finer things in life and his father had to pay off his debts on a number of occasions.
“I’m on my way back to Baden-Baden after a little wine tasting tour. It’s fair to say that I made the most of it: I tasted so many types of wine on the banks of the Moselle that I had to stop off for a day in Trier to get my brain back in working order.” (Letter sent from Baden-Baden, 24 September 1902)
“I’m writing to you from the Pesce d’Oro, where I’ve just had some delicious tagliatelle for lunch.” (25 July 1898)
“It’s wonderfully cool here. The mountain hut is a stone’s throw from the Pasterze Glacier… one of the most spectacular sights in the natural world. It’s just a shame that such a wonderful atmosphere is ruined by the dreadful food up here on the slopes, in the very place where you really work up an appetite. Ever-dependable Rindfleisch is the only thing that keeps me going.” (from the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe, 28 July 1895)
“I keep my gout medicine with me but it’s a homeopathic remedy so it contains poisonous substances and must be used with the utmost caution.” (from Maloja, 30 July 1899)
“I drove two people up Monte dei Cappuccini in Turin (13%) in my little two-door car, making it the first automobile to reach the top.”
After three years studying composition in Munich, Alberto was supposed to return to the family home in Venice but he begged his father to let him continue with his education abroad:
“You know that my passion for music grows every day. My gratitude would be as immense as my love for my art if you were to give me the means to become a real musician one day. It is my greatest and only desire and with one word you could make it possible for me to achieve my goal… My city of choice would be Dresden, partly because it would give me the chance to have lessons with the famous Professor Wüllner and partly because it is a very quiet place where there would be very little to distract me from my studies. In Italy, there are no musicians who can compare to Rheinberger, Wüllner or Rheinecke in Leipzig. This is underlined by the fact that there are almost as many foreigners as German students in German conservatories. No American or German would ever contemplate going to Italy to study composition. The few proficient musicians that can be found in Italy are figures who learned their trade in other countries, such as Scontrino, Bonamici, Sgambati and Catalani: the Italian government paid for the latter to spend five years studying abroad… I implore you once again, my Dear Father, to offer me the same opportunity.”
From a letter sent by Alberto Franchetti to his father Raimondo from Munich on 16 June 1884:
“I have started my exams and the first one went very well. I even won special praise from Rheinberger. The first performance of Parsifal will take place in Bayreuth on 21 July and I really want to watch it, so I think I’m going to postpone my little hike in the mountains until after I’ve seen Parsifal. I should be in Viù by the 15th of August…”.
Viù is a town in the Alpine foothills near Turin where Alberto’s mother Louise Rothschild had a villa. At the age of 24, Alberto walked almost all of the way across the Alps from Germany.
As well as the librettist for Alberto Franchetti’s operas, Luigi Illica was also one of his closest friends. However, their relationship could sometimes be stormy and at these times Illica would vent his feelings with Alberto’s father, whom he held in the highest esteem. His letters reflect the nature of the generation that produced the “Giovane Scuola” (“Young School”), walking the line between an earnest, passionate approach and an unconventional, irreverent outlook.
“Alberto must have told you about the new libretto (Germania) by now. I would add that if it proves to have any merit, first and foremost it will lie in the fact that it has guided your son out of the cul-de-sacs formed by Fior d’Alpe and Pourceaugnac back to the main road that he mapped out with Asrael and Cristoforo Colombo, which his mind, heart and destiny have made straight, bright and safe.”
“Noblesse oblige. Franchetti remains Franchetti… Alberto is very disheartened by the state of his relationship with Sonzogno [his publisher at the time]. I am familiar with Sonzogno and his methods, so I can safely say that they are not right for Alberto. Sonzogno’s musicians are like trained poodles that have to wait for their owner’s permission before they can wag their tails. You can imagine how Alberto feels in a kennel like that, wearing a collar and only wagging his tail when it pleases Sonzogno. It is a kennel where even dogs with names such as Leoncavallo can be found barking, growling, whining and kicking out, at the expense of good music and common sense!” (Winter 1893).
“Alberto is here and he seems – indeed he is – happy, partly because he is getting on very well with you. This is an ideal time to get a good chain of things going… Do not miss this opportunity… A good, solid chain.” (August 1894)
“Yesterday Puccini wrote me a message on a plane tree bark sheet: “Tosca’s finished!” (October 1899).
On one occasion, Alberto’s father gave a very stern reply to Illica. Straight after the success of “Germania”, the latter asked the former to make a contribution to a fund for the “Friends of La Scala”. With the donation form, he enclosed the following words:
“A son who brings the Franchetti name such great success in Lombardy is a relative and connection to cherish. When the colours of the family stables are triumphantly flown by Franchetti horses on the tracks of Lombardy, winning prizes and celebrating the breeds from Canedole, it makes them genuine, outstanding assets in both virtual and commercial terms.”
Raimondo Franchetti sent the form back to him with the following telegram:
“Dear Mr Illica. I like to think that Alberto’s successes are down to his talent and gifts, rather than La Scala, Milan or Lombardy. I abhor comparisons between the achievements of my horses and those of my son, which would require me to say the same thing about them as I have said about Alberto. Best regards, Franchetti”.
“You know that I have the greatest respect for you, but I really must protest with all my heart against the way you chose to interpret my letter. I mentioned the colours of the Canedole stables because they represent the tangible sense of the term ‘assets’, just as I referred to the success of ‘Germania’ because the words ‘relative’ and ‘connection’ enable me to call attention to the most significant occurrence right now. One is in material terms and the others are moral in nature! That is all. It is thanks to you – Baron Raimondo – that I worked in tandem with Alberto Franchetti on this project because you were the one who got us to patch things up. There is no need to send back such a curt reply about talent. You could have written to me: ‘Dear Illica, do you expect an old republican like me to donate to the old moderates of La Scala?!! Jamais de la vie!!!’. Perhaps I would have said ‘He’s right!’, just as I may have said to myself ‘And yet!!… And yet!!…!’ And that is all!” (27 March 1902).
Even after his wife left him in August 1894, Luigi Illica still had the same free and easy tone, as can be seen in the following letter to Alberto’s father:
“Both my home and my habits have changed. I no longer have Cragnotti [his wife], I no longer have livestock, I no longer have railways… I am totally, completely, utterly alone. I really could not tell you how this change came about. Cragnotti is a good, modest person and outstanding in the kitchen. Her only faults are her overly feminine disposition, which sometimes makes her bothersome like the flies or mosquitoes of the River Po… With all of these good and bad qualities, and I think a few serious failings, Cragnotti has divorced me. The reason? I would like a record to be kept of every penny spent… and Cragnotti refused to do it! This barefaced act of rebellion led to one of those domestic scenes… Basically, the accounting book was torn up and hurled at me!… She was joined in her insurrectionary yelling by the budgerigar, with Mimì barking in support!… It was a flagrant insult to my dignity and her home (Via Ippolito, etc.)… but most importantly… most importantly I am hungry. It is our lot, fate and destiny to be divorced. She might not believe it, but she has to realize that everything in the world is down to fate – for good or bad – happiness or misfortune – health or lack thereof – coming together and separating… There is – or rather there are – people in this world who for better or for worse have the power to influence the lives of those who come into contact with them in that particular branch of fate. For example, it is Tellarin’s fate to ask for money. The destiny of Mondino – or rather the Great Mondino, or better yet the former Mondino – lies in separation. Mondino would enter my home and after two minutes an irrational, wild force would take hold of Cragnotti, the budgerigar, Mimì, the blackbird, the pigeons… everyone: and a separation would occur in my home precisely because Mondino had come in, just as in another home new ties would be forged because Mondino had left.”
From Alberto’s letters to his father:
“Today Illica read me and Ricordi the plot of the libretto that he is writing for me. The reading of a piece for the theatre has never made such a strong, powerful impression on me. It is a remarkable creation and I do not think that Illica has ever produced anything so great, compelling and sublime. Ricordi also went into raptures… My dear father, I am truly grateful to you for bringing about this reconciliation with Illica. If I finally manage to produce a significant work of art, I will owe it to you, and nothing would bring me greater joy.” (Milan, 16 June 1897)
“In recent days I have tried to get back to work but unfortunately I am short on ideas and I have yet to find inspiration! Nonetheless, I am not overly concerned. It is not the first time that I have had to go through an extended barren spell as an artist. After Cristoforo Colombo I went two years without writing a note and the same happened after Fior d’Alpe. You can rest assured that there is no lack of willingness to work on my part. If it were up to me, Germania would already be finished. Unfortunately, to write music there needs to be a spark. Without it, you are only left with musical notes. There is no way to force yourself to be inspired. It can be influenced by circumstances in life; sometimes the tiniest things can set it in motion, but you cannot bring it about by yourself, no matter how hard you try.” (Milan, 21 July 1898)
“The first performance was due to take place on Saturday. Unfortunately our plans went awry when our tenor Caruso suddenly came down with a cold and now we do not know when it will be staged.” (Milan, 5 February 1902)
“At the start of rehearsals I had a rather sharp exchange with Toscanini, but once the air had cleared everything went – and continues to go – marvellously, so we look set for an exceptional performance.” (Milan, 21 February 1902)
From his letters to his father
“As I have already told you, I have given up Tosca and instead I would like to write the music for Maria Egiziaca… However, it cannot be set to music in its current form and I tried in vain to have it sorted out by a number of poets before eventually being forced… to go back to old Ferdinando Fontana! I met him today and Fontana looks exactly the same as he did eight years ago, with just a few more grey hairs…” (Milan, 20 April 1895).
“As for the newspapers saying that I have finished Maria Egiziaca, I can tell you that they are wrong because I have only just started. However, at the same time I am working on a comic opera based on Molière’s Monsieur de Pourceaugnac. It is something that I am doing by myself, whereas Maria is Ricordi’s.” (Milan, 22 January 1896)
“…to avoid any bad blood, I am having to hand out countless tickets… All the same, the premiere of Pourceaugnac tomorrow will be a big occasion, with all of the leading names in Rome in attendance, including Crispi and Bacelli.” (Rome, 14 July 1898)
“It is only in the peace and solitude of San Trovaso that I can work as I have done in recent days. I wrote a description of the Black Forest which is the best thing I have ever done.” (Villa Franchetti in San Trovaso near Treviso, 5 September 1899)
“Giordano and I have been working tirelessly on our opera for days and the third act is already almost finished. If we could only carry on like this for a month or so, we would finish the whole job and we would be ready to go on stage before Le Maschere by Mascagni, which I think would benefit us enormously. Unfortunately, there is a “but”… Giordano cannot bear to spend more than a few days away from his wife, whom he loves very much. He is already starting to get irritable and restless, to the extent that he is struggling to work… I was like that once, too! Luckily I don’t have any concerns of that nature anymore and the fact that my heart is free of bonds of any kind helps to compensate for everything that I went through.” (San Trovaso, 11 September 1890)