Joseph Vella Bondin

Maltese Composers of Opera - Part 7 Francesco Schira

In the seventh blog is about Maltese composers of opera Mr. Joseph Vella Bondin talks about the life and works of Francesco Schira. Since Francesco's Schira's life is quite extensive his life isbe divided in 2 parts. Today we shall take at the second part of Schira's life.

Schira is unique among established Maltese composers, whether working in Malta or abroad, in that there is no evidence of his ever having written even a single liturgical piece. His few orchestral and instrumental works include a violin concerto in G, six waltzes and two pastorales for piano. Then there are his impressive ballets, of which he wrote about 9, often working with famous choreographers such as Bernardo Vestris and Giuseppe Villa. The rest is all vocal music – operas, a vast number of songs of various forms and three cantatas.

His songs, about 52, composed to Italian, French, and English texts, showcase a graceful melodic vein and an underlying gentle sentimentality. A number still are popular, and are suitable both as concert pieces and as salon music.

It is, however, his operas, composed for various theatres in Lisbon, London and Italy, that define his importance to posterity. Selvaggia (1875), considered by many his masterpiece, took audiences by storm, and had 15 performances in La Fenice, the highest number for a work performed there during a Carnival Season. Its powerful and ingenious through-composed score delighted by its polished melody that is never trivial, by its ingenious handling of the plot, by its exact correspondence between music and dramatic situations, and by an orchestration harmonically articulated.

In the early 1880s, Arrigo Boito, who provided Verdi with the texts for Otello and Falstaff and for his own opera Mefistofele, promised Schira a libretto for his new opera. In September 1883, Schira visited Boito in Milan to confer about it. While there, he contracted a fever, the effects of which manifested themselves precipitously only after his return to London. His sudden death on Monday, 15 October 1883, had not been expected, and his friends had not even been given the time to gather around him to support him in his last defining moments on earth.

A merited obituary for this exceptional Maltese composer should include The New Grove Dictionary’s assessment of his historical importance: Schira was, after Verdi, one of the outstanding Italian opera composers of his generation… [Selvaggia’s] through-composed texture sustains a consistent dramatic tension which clearly foreshadows the methods of Puccini.

Francesco Schira List of Operas


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