Showing posts with label Teatro La Fenice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Teatro La Fenice. Show all posts

1 October 2023

Sylvano Bussotti - composer, writer and painter

The productive life of a Renaissance man with many strings to his bow

Sylvano Bussotti was described as a modern Renaissance man
Sylvano Bussotti was described as a
modern Renaissance man
The multi-talented Sylvano Bussotti, a leading composer who was part of Italy’s avant-garde movement, was born on this day in 1931 in Florence.

Bussotti was also a painter, set and costume designer, opera director and writer. His operas and ballets were performed at the most prestigious theatres in Italy and abroad and he served as artistic director of Teatro La Fenice in Venice, the Puccini festival in Tuscany and the music section of the Venice Biennale.

Before he was five years old, Bussotti was learning to play the violin and he soon became a prodigy. He was also introduced to painting early in his life by his older brother and uncle.

At the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Florence, he studied harmony and counterpoint and learnt the piano, but he was unable to complete his studies and receive any official qualifications because of the start of World War II.

However, Bussotti continued to study composition on his own and, from 1958, he took private composition lessons with Max Deutsch in Paris.

Bussotti embarked on what has been described as an important editorial relationship with music publishers Casa Ricordi in 1956. His first composition to be performed in public, entitled Breve, was heard at a gallery in Dusseldorf in 1958.

The American mezzo-soprano Cathy  Berberian with Bussotti at a performance in 1960
The American mezzo-soprano Cathy  Berberian
with Bussotti at a performance in 1960
His compositions employed the use of graphic notation, which represented music through the realm of visual symbols instead of traditional music notation.

The composer received many awards and prizes for his music, both in Italy and abroad. In the 1960s he was invited to the United States to visit Buffalo and New York, by the Rockefeller Foundation.

His first opera, La passion selon Sade, was premiered in Palermo in 1965. Along with other composers of the time, Bussotti experimented with the interaction between sound, sign, and vision.

Bussotti also acted and sang himself and he directed films. He was a painter and graphic artist and his art works have been exhibited in many different countries. He wrote novels and poems and he was able to write most of the librettos for his own operas.

Later in life, Bussotti taught composition, analysis, and the history of musical theatre at academies in L’Aquila, Fiesole, and Stuttgart.

He served as the artistic director of La Fenice in Venice, directed the Puccini festival in Torre del Lago in Tuscany, and became director of opera at La Scala in Milan. He was head of the music section of the Venice Biennale from 1987 to 1991.

Bussotti was openly gay and his partner, the ballet dancer and choreographer Rocco Quaglia, collaborated with him on many of his projects.

The composer died at a nursing home in Milan after a long illness just before his 90th birthday. A five-day cultural event in Florence, which had been planned to celebrate Bussotti’s birthday, still went ahead in the city to celebrate his artistic achievements instead.

Bussotti has been sometimes described as a Renaissance man because of his many talents, which enabled him to combine different art forms creatively.

The Luigi Cherubini Conservatory is one of the most important in Italy
The Luigi Cherubini Conservatory is one
of the most important in Italy
Travel tip:

Sylvano Bussotti received his early musical education at the Luigi Cherubini Conservatory in Piazza delle Belle Arti in Florence, one of the most important music conservatories in Italy. The conservatory, which is not far from La Galleria dell’Accademia, is named after the 18th century composer, Luigi Cherubini, who was born in the city. The conservatory occupies part of a former nunnery, which was closed in the 18th century by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold II, who would go on to become Holy Roman Emperor.

Teatro La Fenice has risen from the  ashes more than once in its history
Teatro La Fenice has risen from the 
ashes more than once in its history
Travel tip:

Teatro La Fenice in Venice, where Bussotti served as artistic director, has had a fascinating history. The theatre, in Campo San Fantin, which is not far from Piazza San Marco, was named La Fenice, the Phoenix, when it was originally built in the 1790s, to reflect the fact it was helping an opera company rise from the ashes after its previous theatre had burnt down. But in 1836, La Fenice itself was destroyed by fire, although it was quickly rebuilt. Then in 1996, when the theatre burnt down again, arson was suspected, leading to a long criminal investigation. La Fenice had to be rebuilt once more at a cost of more than 90 million euros and was not able to reopen for performances until 2003.


Also on this day:

1450: The death of Leonello d'Este, Marquis of Ferrara

1910: The birth of cycling champion Attilio Pavesi

1961: The birth of football coach Walter Mazzarri


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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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