Composers Datebook®

Leoni in San Francisco

Composers Datebook for June 28, 2016


A decidedly UN-politically correct opera had its premiere at London’s Covent Garden on today’s date in 1905. It was entitled “L’Oracolo” or “The Oracle” by the Italian composer Franco Leoni. Here’s a witty one-sentence précis of the opera prepared by Nicolas Slonimsky for his chronology “Music Since 1900”:

“L’Oracolo, an opera in one long act, dealing with multiplex villainy in San Francisco’s Chinatown, wherein a wily opium-den keeper kidnaps the child of the uncle of a girl he covets, kills her young lover, and is in the end strangled by the latter’s father, with a local astrologer delivering remarkably accurate oracles; an Italianate score tinkling with tiny bells, booming with deep gongs, and bubbling with orientalistic pentatonicisms.”

Another wag described “L’Oracolo” as “Puccini-and-water,” suggesting that if Puccini were whisky, Leoni music was definitely a less potent brew.

But when a touring Italian opera company announced a performance of “L’Oracolo” in San Francisco in 1937, the city’s Asian residents protested, demanding they cut the most racially offensive scenes or, better yet, stage a different opera altogether. A compromise was reached, whereby the House manager preceded the performance with a speech assuring the capacity audience that the opera’s locale and action were pure fiction, and bore no resemblance to San Francisco’s Chinatown past or present.

Music Played in Today's Program

Franco Leoni (1864 – 1937) L'Oracolo Tito Gobbi, baritone; National Philharmonic; Richard Bonynge, cond. London OSA-12107 (LP)

On This Day


  • 1491 - English monarch, instrument collector and part-time composer Henry Tudor(as King Henry VIII he reigned 1509-1547) in Greenwich;

  • 1712 - Swiss author, philosopher and composer Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in Geneva;

  • 1831 - Hungarian violinist and conductor and composer Joseph Joachim, in Kittsee (now Köpcsény), near Poszony;

  • 1902 - American composer Richard Rodgers, in Hammels Station, Long Island, N.Y.;

  • 1913 - English composer George Lloyd, in St. Ives, Cornwall;

  • 1946 - American composer Robert Xavier Rodriguez, in San Antonio, Texas;


  • 1745 - French composer and gamba virtuoso Antoine Forqueray, age 74,in Nantes;

  • 1979 - East German composer Paul Dessau, age 85, in Königs Wusterhausen, near (then) East Berlin;


  • 1905 - Leoni: opera, "L'oracolo" (The Oracle), in London; The opera's story of opium and crime is set in San Francisco, and caused protests from that city's Chinese community when it was revived in San Francisco in 1937;

  • 1916 - Hindemith: Cello Concerto, Op. 3, by the Frankfurt Conservatory Orchestra, with the composer conducting and Maurits Frank the soloist;

  • 1951 - Leroy Anderson: "Blue Tango" at a Decca recording session in New York City, with the composer conducting; This recording reached No. 1 on the pops charts and earned Anderson a Gold Record award in 1952 when it became the first instrumental record to sell over one million copies (see also June 29);

  • 1959 - Hovhaness: Symphony No. 4 for wind band, in Pittsburgh.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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