Showing posts with label Musicians. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Musicians. Show all posts

30 March 2023

Faustina Bordoni - mezzo-soprano

Brilliant career overshadowed by infamous on-stage fight

A portrait of Faustina Bordoni by the Venetian painter Rosalba Carriera
A portrait of Faustina Bordoni by the
Venetian painter Rosalba Carriera
Faustina Bordoni, a feted mezzo-soprano ranked as one of the finest opera singers of the 18th century, was born on this day in 1697 in Venice.

Such was her popularity that when she joined her husband, the German composer Johann Adolf Hasse, in the employment of the Court of Saxony, where Hasse was maestro di cappella, her salary was double his.

Yet for all her acting talent and vocal brilliance, Bordoni is more often remembered as one half of the so-called ‘rival queens’ engaged by George Frideric Handel to join the company of the booming Royal Academy of Music in London in the 1720s, where she and the Italian soprano Francesca Cuzzoni allegedly came to blows on stage.

Born into a respected Venetian family, Bordoni’s musical talent was nurtured by the composers Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello and by her singing teacher, Michelangelo Gasparini. 

She made her debut in Venice at the age of 19 in Carlo Francesco Pollarolo's Ariodante. The quality of her voice excited the critics, while audiences were instantly charmed by her youthful beauty and stage presence.

Fame came quickly. As well as continuing to perform in her home city, where she performed for composers such as Tomaso Albinoni and Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, Bordoni sang in venues across Italy and in both Vienna and Munich. Her fans began to refer to her simply as ‘Faustina’.

Bordoni's singing rival, Francesca Cuzzoni
Bordoni's singing rival,
Francesca Cuzzoni
Her rivalry with Cuzzoni, a soprano from Parma of approximately the same age, probably began in Venice, although it was not until Bordoni arrived in London in 1726 that it came to a head in dramatic fashion.

Cuzzoni had been in London since 1722, establishing herself as one of the stars of the Royal Academy alongside the celebrated castrato, Senesino. Already known for a fiery temper, she had once allegedly refused to perform a role when she discovered Handel had initially written it for someone else.

When Handel, under pressure from the theatre management to engage more singers so they could meet a growing demand for performances as opera’s popularity soared, announced that Bordoni would be joining them in London, Cuzzoni was said to be furious.

After Bordoni’s debut alongside Cuzzoni in Handel’s Alessandro, London opera fans began to divide into factions who favoured Faustina and others who preferred Cuzzoni.

Watching opera in the 1700s was very different from today. Although theatres had wealthy patrons, they also provided entertainment for the masses and audiences did not necessarily conduct themselves with decorum, even to the extent of booing a singer considered a rival to their favourite. 

Johann Adolf Hesse, to whom Bordoni was married in 1730
Johann Adolf Hesse, to whom
Bordoni was married in 1730
The Cuzzoni-Bordoni rivalry came to a head when they were cast to appear alongside one another in a performance of Giovanni Bononcini’s opera Astianatte at the King's Theatre, Haymarket, in June 1727.

Despite the presence of Caroline, Princess of Wales in the audience, rival factions took turns to jeer and catcall whenever one or the other began to sing and when the two singers appeared on the stage together a fight broke out in the stalls.

Although accounts in the newspapers were almost certainly exaggerated for dramatic effect, Cuzzoni was reported to have turned on Bordoni, sparking an exchange of insults. Soon they were said to have begun pulling at each other’s hair and tearing pieces from their costumes. After they were separated, the performance was abandoned.

Bordoni left England the following year after the Royal Academy was forced into closure with unsustainable debts, driven partly by the high salaries commanded by the singers.  She married Hasse in 1730 and they remained with the Saxon Court in Dresden for 30 years, enjoying the status of a celebrity couple. Bordoni sang in 15 operas written by her husband, as well as continuing to travel regularly to the major opera houses of Italy.

She and Hasse left Dresden for Vienna in 1763 and ultimately to Venice in 1773. Bordoni is said to have continued to sing into her 70s before settling into a comfortable retirement. She died in Venice in 1781 at the age of 84.

Teatro La Fenice staged its first performances in 1792
Teatro La Fenice opened
its doors in 1792
Travel tip:

Opera was so popular in Venice in the 18th century that the city boasted no fewer than seven opera houses. The biggest of these, the Teatro San Benedetto in San Marco, was destroyed in a fire in 1771. Rebuilt, it became the object of a legal dispute involving the Venier family, who owned part of the land on which the theatre was built. The Venier family won the case and the company running the theatre had to sell up. On a different site, they built another opera house and called in Teatro La Fenice - the Phoenix Theatre - to symbolise its rise from the flames. Work was completed in April 1792 and the new opera house inaugurated on 16 May with a performance of I giochi di Agrigento by Giovanni Paisiello, to a libretto by Alessandro Pepoli.

Travel tip:

Faustina Bordoni and her husband Johann Adolf Hasse are buried within the Church of San Marcuola in the Cannaregio district of Venice, overlooking the Grand Canal, opposite the Fontego dei Turchi, between Santa Lucia railway station and the Rialto.  The church is actually dedicated to Saints Ermagora and Fortunato. The name San Marcuola is thought to be rooted in Venetian dialect. The church is thought to have been built originally in the 12th century. It was restructured in the 18th century by Giorgio Massari in accordance with plans drawn up by Antonio Gaspari, but the fa├žade remained unfinished.  The interior is notable for a Last Supper by Jacopo Tintoretto, thought to be one of the Venetian painter’s earliest works.  

Also on this day:

1282: Sicily rises up against the French

1815: The Proclamation that began the Risorgimento movement

1892: The birth of Futurist painter and graphic artist Fortunato Depero

1905: The birth of urban engineer and architect Ignazio Gardella


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8 February 2021

Giuseppe Torelli – violinist and composer

Brilliant musician could both perform and write beautiful music

Torelli is ranked alongside Arcangelo Corelli
as a developer of the Baroque concerto
Talented musician Giuseppe Torelli, who played the viola and violin and was a composer during the late Baroque era, died on this day in 1709 in Bologna in Emilia-Romagna.

He is remembered for contributing to the development of the instrumental concerto and for being the most prolific Baroque composer for trumpets and he is ranked with Arcangelo Corelli as a developer of the Baroque concerto and concerto grosso.

Torelli was born in Verona in 1658. He learnt to play the violin and studied composition with Giacomo Antonio Perti.

At the age of 26 it is known that he was a member of the Accademia Filarmonica as a violinist. Two years later he was employed as a viola player at the Basilica di San Petronio in Bologna. He stayed there for about ten years until the orchestra was disbanded because of financial constraints.

His first published works were ten sonatas for violin and basso continuo and 12 concerti da camera for two violins and basso continuo.

Around 1690 Torelli began writing his first trumpet works. It is considered unusual for a strings player to compose works for the trumpet but it is thought Torelli may have been inspired by the virtuoso trumpeter Giovanni Pellegrino Brandi, who occasionally performed with the San Petronio orchestra.

In 1687 it went on record that Torelli’s music was being played at the Sanctuary Maria della Steccata in Parma in Emilia Romagna by Giuseppe Corsi da Celano, a composer and teacher.

Francesco Antonio Pistocchi, with whom Torelli collaborated
Francesco Antonio Pistocchi, with
whom Torelli collaborated
By 1698, Torelli had become maestro di concerto at the court of Georg Friedrich II, Margrave of Brandenburg Ansbach. He conducted the orchestra for Le pazzie d’amore e dell’interesse, an idea drammatica composed by the maestro di cappella, his friend Francesco Antonio Pistocchi, the composer and castrato singer 

After 1701, Torelli was known to be back in Bologna, where he is listed as a violinist in the newly reformed cappella musicale at San Petronio, directed by his former composition teacher, Perti.

Torelli and Pistocchi appeared in a number of concerts together in the early years of the 18th century. At around this time Torelli composed 12 concerti grossi con una pastorale, Op 8, which features one of his most popular pieces, the Christmas Eve concerto No 6.

Torelli died, aged 50, on 8 February 1709 in Bologna. His manuscripts were conserved in the San Petronio archives. He had composed many sonatas, concertos and symphonies, including more than 30 concertos for trumpets.

He had many pupils, the most notable being Francesco Manfredini. His brother, Felice Torelli was a painter with a good reputation in Bologna.

The unfinished facade of the Basilica di San Petronio, one of Europe's largest churches
The unfinished facade of the Basilica di San
Petronio, one of Europe's largest churches
Travel tip:

The Basilica di San Petronio, which dominates Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore, is a huge structure, 132m (144yds) long, 60m (66yds) wide and 47m (154ft) tall, which makes it the sixth largest church in Europe and is seen as a symbol of the city, even if it is not actually Bologna’s cathedral (that being the nearby Duomo di San Pietro). Indeed, despite construction starting in 1380, it was not consecrated as a church until 1954, having been built as a civic temple and not transferred from the city to the diocese until 1929.  It is notable for its unfinished facade, the red and brick marble of Domenico da Varignana’s design abandoned when it had barely reached one third of the building’s height, following the intervention of Pope Pius IV, who considered the project too expensive and ambitious and ordered that the city’s focus switch instead to the building of the Archiginnasio, the official seat of the University of Bologna.

The balcony of the Casa Giulietta, which remains one of Verona's most visited attractions
The balcony of the Casa Giulietta, which remains
one of Verona's most visited attractions
Travel tip:

Verona, where Torelli was born, is now the third largest city in the northeast of Italy, with a population across its whole urban area of more than 700,000. Famous now for its wealth of tourist attractions, of which the Roman amphitheatre known the world over as L’Arena di Verona is just one, the city was also the setting for three plays by Shakespeare – Romeo and Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew  - although it is unknown whether the English playwright ever actually set foot in the city.  Nonetheless, Casa Giulietta in Via Cappello, about five minutes’ walk from the Arena, is still promoted as the balcony where Shakespeare’s famous scene with Romeo took place.

Also on this day:

1591: The birth of painter Guercino

1751: The death of Trevi Fountain architect Nicolo Salvi

1848: Uprising in Padua

1945: The death of Olympic fencer Italo Santelli


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