Leonardo VinciTuesday, August 08, 2017
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Leonardo Vinci

1690 - 27 May 1730
A composer whose music turned the heads of Vivaldi and Handel, he became an overnight success in comic opera at age 29 and died from poison at the height of his fame. Was it a jilted lover or a jealous rival?
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Leonardo Vinci's life would have been fine fodder for one of his own operas. A composer whose music turned the heads of Vivaldi and Handel, he became an overnight success in comic opera at age 29. As a composer of dramatic works, he was an early collaborator with librettist Metastasio, and developed a long-running professional feud with composer Nicola Porpora. At one point Vinci even sabotaged one of Porpora's productions. He died young, perhaps poisoned because of an illicit love affair.

Vinci entered a conservatory in Naples in 1708; within three years his tuition was waived because he was already working as a student teacher. After 10 years of study and a brief stint working for a local prince, Vinci made a splendid debut as an opera composer in 1719 with his comedy Lo cecato fauzo at the Teatro Fiorentini in Naples. He quickly became the theatre's dominant composer, specialising in comic works in Neapolitan dialect. In 1722 he tried his hand at a more serious opera, Publio Cornelio Scipione, at the Teatro San Bartolomeo, and its immediate success led him to devote most of his energy to dramatic opera thereafter.

His first commission from a Roman theatre came in 1724, and from that point he would write one to three operas each year for Rome alone, while also composing for Venice, Parma, and Naples. In 1726 came the first of his collaborations with Metastasio; their work was regarded as a model of the interdependence of words and music. Meanwhile, an old rivalry between Vinci and Porpora intensified through their competing productions in Rome and Venice.

Vinci succeeded Alessandro Scarlatti as vice-director of the royal chapel in Naples in 1725; these duties initially limited his opera activity, but by 1728 he was again cranking out stage works at something resembling his former pace. He also took on extra, short-time work at his old conservatory, where he taught Pergolesi, and the monastery of Santa Caterina a Formiello, where he wrote some sacred works. In 1729 he added impresario at the Teatro delle Dame to his duties, also serving as that theatre's principle composer. Meanwhile, Vinci masterminded the sabotage of Porpora's new work being presented in Rome, which was hardly necessary because Vinci was by then and by far the more popular composer. Not for long, though; he died in Naples, rumoured to have been poisoned not by the jealous Porpora, but in relation to a romantic misadventure.

James Reel

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