Showing posts with label Cimarosa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cimarosa. Show all posts

9 May 2018

Giovanni Paisiello - composer

Audience favourite with a jealous streak

Giovanni Paisiello was one of the most  popular Italian composers in the 18th century
Giovanni Paisiello was one of the most
popular Italian composers in the 18th century
The composer Giovanni Paisiello, who wrote more than 90 operas and much other music and was enormously popular in the 18th century, was born on this day in 1740 in Taranto.

Paisiello was talented, versatile and had a big influence on other composers of his day and later, yet he was jealous of the success of rivals and is remembered today primarily as the composer whose passionate fans wrecked the premiere of Gioachino Rossini’s opera Almaviva, which was based on the same French play as Paisiello’s Il barbiere di siviglia, which was regarded as his masterpiece.

Rossini’s opera would eventually be more commonly known as Il barbiere di siviglia, but not until after Paisiello had died.

Nonetheless, Paisiello’s supporters still felt Rossini was attempting to steal their favourite’s thunder and many of them infiltrated the audience at Almaviva’s opening night in Rome and disrupted the performance with constant jeers and catcalls.

History has shown that perhaps they were right to be worried: today, Rossini’s Barber of Seville is one of the world’s most popular operas, yet Paisiello’s is rarely performed.

Paisiello was educated at a Jesuit school in Taranto. His father wanted his son to become a lawyer but noted the beauty of his singing voice and enrolled him at the Conservatory of San Onofrio at Naples.

A poster advertising the premiere of Paisiello's opera Nina
A poster advertising the premiere
of Paisiello's opera Nina
There he displayed a talent for composing too, and the quality of some intermezzi he wrote for the conservatory’s theatre led to him being invited to write his first operas, La Pupilla and Il Marchese Tulissano. These brought him instant recognition and he settled in Naples, producing a series of successful operas, popular for being simple, dramatic, and always fast moving.

He set himself up in rivalry with the established giants of the Neapolitan school, Niccolò Piccinni, Domenico Cimarosa and Pietro Guglielmi. He was known for being bitterly outspoken when one or another of the trio staged a work that received public acclaim, but he enjoyed his own triumphs, in particular with his 1767 comic opera L'ldolo cinese. 

Paisiello left Naples only when he was invited in 1776 by the Russian empress Catherine II to St. Petersburg, where he remained for eight years. It was there that he produced Il barbiere di siviglia, with a libretto by Giuseppe Petrosellini, based on the play by Pierre Beaumarchais.

Il barbiere premiered in St Petersburg in 1782 and its fame spread quickly around Europe. Among those influenced by the artistry of his score and the beauty of the melodies was Mozart, whose Marriage of Figaro made its debut four years later as a sequel to Paisiello’s Barbiere.

Paisiello left Russia in 1784, initially going to Vienna before returning to Naples to enter the service of King Ferdinand IV, where he enjoyed more success, composing what many regard as his best operas, including Nina and La Molinara, the latter featuring perhaps the best-known tune that Paisiello wrote in his lifetime, the duet Nel cor più non mi sento, which inspired works by Beethoven, Paganini and many others.

Domenico Cimarosa was a target for  Paisiello's outspoken comments
Domenico Cimarosa was a target for
Paisiello's outspoken comments
His decline began after he was invited to Paris in 1802 by Napoleon, for whom he had composed a march for the funeral of General Hoche. This time his rivals were Luigi Cherubini and Etienne Méhul, towards whom he displayed similar jealousy to that he once aimed at Cimarosa, Guglielmi and Piccinni.

However, the Parisian public was unimpressed and in 1803 he obtained permission to return to Italy, citing his wife's ill health. He kept his job in Naples even after the fall of Ferdinand IV, who was replaced as king by Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, and in turn by Joachim Murat.

But by then he was beginning to lose his touch and his fortunes declined just as the power of the Bonapartes was collapsing. His wife died in 1815 and his own health failed quickly thereafter. He died in 1816 at the age of 76.

In addition to his operas, Paisiello wrote a good deal of church music and instrumental works that include symphonies, harp and piano concerti, string quartets, sonatas for harp, violin and cello.

The 20th century saw his Barbiere and La Molinara revived along with a number of other operas and instrumental pieces.

The Castello Aragonese is a landmark in Taranto
The Castello Aragonese is a landmark in Taranto
Travel tip:

Taranto, situated at the top of the inside of the ‘heel’ of Italy, where Paisiello was born, is a large city - population in excess of 200,000 - of two distinct sections, divided by a swing bridge. The bridge links the small island containing the Città Vecchia, the old city, guarded by the imposing 15th century Castello Aragonese castle, which protects an area of Greek origins which has not been overdeveloped and has an authentic atmosphere of old southern Italy.  On the southern side of the bridge is the modern, new city, full of wide boulevards and carrying a much more prosperous air.  The city is heavily industrialised with a huge steel industry and a large naval base but its National Museum contains one of the most important collections of Greek and Roman artefacts in Italy.

The Conservatorio of San Onofrio
The Conservatorio of San Onofrio
Travel tip:

The Conservatorio of San Onofrio a Porta Capuana was one of the four original Naples conservatories, founded in 1588 and developed first as an orphanage. Almost one fifth of the students at the Conservatory of San Onofrio were castrati, which gave it a different identity.  Its popularity declined during the Napoleonic period, and only 30 students remained when the conservatory merged with that of Santa Maria di Loreto in 1797.


6 December 2017

Luigi Lablache – opera star

19th century giant was Queen Victoria’s singing coach

Luigi Lablache appeared in his first major role at the age of 18
Luigi Lablache appeared in his first
major role at the age of 18
The singer Luigi Lablache, whose powerful but agile bass-baritone voice and wide-ranging acting skills made him a superstar of 19th century opera, was born in Naples on this day in 1794.

Lablache was considered one of the greatest singers of his generation; for his interpretation of characters such as Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Geronimo in Domenico Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto, Gottardo the Podestà in Gioachino Rossini’s La gazza ladra, Henry VIII in Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena and Oroveso in Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma he had few peers.

Donizetti created the role of Don Pasquale in his comic opera of the same name specifically for Lablache.

Lablache performed in all of Italy’s major opera houses and was a star too in Vienna, London, St Petersburg and Paris, which he adopted as his home in later life, having acquired a beautiful country house at Maisons-Laffitte, just outside the French capital. 

Lablache was a man of not  inconsiderable girth
Lablache was a man of not
inconsiderable girth
He was approached to give singing lessons to the future Queen Victoria a year before she inherited the English throne, in 1836.  He found the future queen to have a clear soprano voice and a keen interest in music and opera and they developed a close bond, establishing an arrangement that would continue every summer for 20 years, coming to an end only when Lablache’s health began to decline.

Lablache’s father was a French merchant, Nicolas Lablache, who had fled Marseille during the Revolution.  His mother was an Irish woman.  They were well connected, and when his father died Luigi and his mother were helped by Joseph Bonaparte, a French diplomat whose elder brother, Napoleon, would eventually make King of Naples.

Luigi was sent to the Conservatorio della Pietà de’ Turchini in Naples, where he was taught singing and became proficient at playing the violin and cello.  His burning ambition at the time was to act and several times he ran away from the conservatory, hoping to join a theatre troupe, but each time was brought back, not least because he had revealed himself to have a wonderful voice, at that time a contralto.

Before it broke, he sang the solos in Mozart’s Requiem at the funeral of Joseph Haydn.  Later in life, he would sing at the funerals of Beethoven, Chopin and Bellini.

Once it had broken, his voice developed rapidly. In 1812, at just 18 years of age, he was engaged at the Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, and appeared in Valentino Fioravanti's La Molinara.

Lablache in Donizetti's Don Pasquale
Lablache in Donizetti's Don Pasquale
He sang in Palermo from 1812 to 1817, when he moved to Teatro alla Scala in Milan to take the part of Dandini in Rossini's La Cenerentola.

His reputation spread throughout Europe.  From Milan he went to Turin, back to Milan in 1822 and then to Vienna via Venice. Returning to Naples after 20 years away, he gave a sensational performance as Assur in Rossini's Semiramide. In March 1830 he was first heard in London as Geronimo in Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto and from that year forward he would visit London annually.

Despite his physical size and the natural power of his voice, Lablache had the dexterity to produce comic, humorous, tender or sorrowful effects when requred and was versatile enough as an actor to be equally convincing in comic and dramatic parts.

While his size was arguably an asset to his vocal power, he was naturally of a lazy disposition and it is said he would have been content had he been nothing more than a provincial singer.

He was cajoled and encouraged to realise his potential largely by his wife, the singer Teresa Pinotti, whom he married when he was just 18 and who bore him 13 children.  Several of his children became singers themselves.  His descendants include the English-born Hollywood actor, Stewart Granger, who was his great-great-grandson.

His health began to deteriorate in around 1857 and he returned to Naples, taking a house in Posillipo in the hope that the warm southern Italian climate might reduce his tendency to develop chest infections.  The relief was only temporary, however, and he died in Naples in 1858 at the age of 64.

His body was returned to France and he was buried at Maisons-Laffitte in accordance with his wishes.

Villa Donn'Anna was built right on the sea's edge
Villa Donn'Anna was built right on the sea's edge
Travel tip:

Posillipo is a residential quarter of Naples that has been associated with wealth in the city since Roman times. Built on a hillside that descends gradually towards the sea, it offers panoramic views across the Bay of Naples towards Vesuvius and has been a popular place to build summer villas. Some houses were built right on the sea’s edge, such as the historic Villa Donn’Anna, which can be found at the start of the Posillipo coast near the harbour at Mergellina.

Teatro San Carlo has been open for business since 1737
Teatro San Carlo has been open for business since 1737
Travel tip:

The Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, where Lablache made his debut at the age of 18, is the oldest continually active venue for public opera performances in the world, having opened in 1737, more than 40 years ahead of both La Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice.  It was also, when it opened, the largest opera venue in the world, with the capacity to accommodate 3,000 spectators, a large number of whom would be standing but of whom 1,379 would have seats, including those occupying the 184 boxes, arranged in a six-tier horseshoe around the stage.

17 April 2017

Graziella Sciutti - operatic soprano

Vivacious performer who became a successful director

Graziella Sciutti became an opera star in the 1950s
Graziella Sciutti became an opera star in the 1950s
The operatic soprano Graziella Sciutti, a singer known for a vivacious stage presence and engaging personality who excelled in the work of Mozart, Puccini and Verdi, was born on this day in 1927 in Turin.

The daughter of an organist and pianist, she grew up in a bilingual household, speaking both Italian and her mother’s native tongue, French. Her early childhood was spent in Geneva in Switzerland before the family moved to Rome, so that she could attend the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, which is one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious musical institutions.

Sciutti wanted to play the piano like her father but it became clear she had a notable voice and she caught the eye as a soloist when she was still a student.

She was asked at the last moment to appear in a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, the up-and-coming Austrian who would become one of the greatest conductors in the world.  It was a daunting prospect, forced on her at short notice after another singer became ill, but she rose to the challenge and won accolades as a result. 

It led her to be spotted by Gabriel Dussurget, founder and leading light of the Festival at Aix-en-Provence Festival, who had enough confidence in his new discovery to cast her in 1951 in the one-woman opera, Menotti's The Telephone, a role regarded as a test for a young, immature singer.

Sciutti's vivacious character made her a popular performer in Italy and beyond
Sciutti's vivacious character made her
a popular performer in Italy and beyond
Her ambition at that stage was to be a concert singer and she was unsure at first whether she could master the dramatics of opera, yet she was to return to Aix many times. It was there, in fact, that she began to acquire her association with the heroines of Mozart, singing Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), Despina in Così Fan Tutte and Zerlina in Don Giovanni with distinction.  

In 1954, she made her debut at the Glyndebourne Festival in England, playing Rosina in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville). In subsequent years she enchanted audiences as Nannetta in Verdi's Falstaff and again visited the Mozart roles of Susanna and Despina.

Sciutti undertook the role of Carolina in Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto (The Secret Marriage) in the inaugural performances of the Piccola Scala, the small theatre in Milan that adjoined the famous Teatro allaScala, in 1955.  At one stage she was nicknamed ‘the Callas of the Piccola Scala’.

Some critics felt her voice to be too thin for her to be seen as one of the great sopranos but she had the technique to project to all corners of the theatre and, for all her early doubts, she had the acting skills to make up for any shortcomings in her voice. Pretty and petite in comparison with many singers, the innocence, perkiness and coquetry demanded of many of her roles seemed to come naturally.

Her debut at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden followed in 1956. In 1961 she appeared on stage in America for the first time at the San Francisco Opera, going on to make her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York soon afterwards.

Sciutti excelled in the arias of Mozart, Bellini and others
Sciutti excelled in the arias of Mozart, Bellini and others
At the Vienna State Opera she sang many of her best roles, including Nannetta in a staging of Falstaff conducted by Leonard Bernstein and directed by Luchino Visconti.

Sciutti was a regular at the Salzburg Festival for 20 years, her Mozart interpretations always in demand. Her final appearance there came in 1972 as Norina in Donizetti's Don Pasquale, conducted by Riccardo Muti.

Her voice proved enduring enough to appear at Glyndebourne even at the age of 50 as Elle in Poulenc's La Voix Humaine. This was a production she also directed, paving the way for a new career.

She directed Figaro and L'Elisir d'Amore for Canadian Opera and in 1983 her production of Puccini’s La Bohème at the Juilliard School won praise.  A year later she directed at the Met for the first time. Her 1995 staging of La Bohème at the New York City Opera won her an Emmy Award after it was broadcast on live television.

Always eager to pass on her knowledge to opera students and would-be performers, she taught at both the Royal College of Music in London and the Lyric Centre in Chicago.

She married an American singer, Robert Wahoske, in 1955, but they divorced in 1960.  She died in Geneva in 2001, a few days before what would have been her 74th birthday, and was survived by her daughter, Susanna.

The historic headquarters of the Accademia was in central Rome, near Piazza di Spagna
The historic headquarters of the Accademia
was in central Rome, near Piazza di Spagna
Travel tip:

Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia is one of the oldest musical institutions in the world, founded by a papal bull (public decree) issued by Pope Sixtus V in 1585. Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music. Its historical headquarters was in Via Vittoria, not far from Piazza di Spagna, but since 2003 it has been headquartered in Viale Pietro de Coubertin at the Renzo Piano-designed Parco della Musica in Rome. It has had a permanent symphony orchestra and choir since 1895. Alumni include Beniamino Gigli, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Ennio Morricone and Cecilia Bartoli.

An audience at the Piccola Scala in 1978
An audience at the Piccola Scala in 1978
Travel tip:

The Piccola Scala, next to Teatro alla Scala, the opera house in Milan considered to be one of the world’s great opera venues, was opened in 1955 as a theatre dedicated to ancient works that were suited to a fairly intimate setting.  It had room for no more than 600 people. As well as Cimarosa's Matrimonio Segreto, early productions included works by Handel and Monteverdi. Later it staged operas by contemporary composers, including Nino Rota, who was better known for his film music but actually wrote the score for 11 operas.  Sadly, the theatre closed in 1985 after the capacity was reduced to 350 because of new regulations, too small to make it economically viable.

More reading:

How mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli has helped revive lesser-known composers

Giacomo Puccini - musical genius who assumed Verdi's mantle as Italy's greatest

Maestro Muti shows no signs of slowing down

Also on this day:

1598: The birth of astronomer Giovanni Riccioli