BEING CLEOPATRA: Cleopatra's Voice: Giovanni Pacini

Friday, September 9, 2011

Cleopatra's Voice: Giovanni Pacini

Non mi vantar gli allori from Cesare in Egitto by Giovanni Pacini (Catania, Italy February 17, 1796 - December 6, 1867 Pescia, Italy)

During his lifetime, Pacini wrote an impressive 74 operas. Pacini held his own during the reign of Italian opera. It was Pacini, not Donizetti or Bellini, that presented Rossini with the stiffest competition in Italy during the 1820s. Pacini also composed during the time of Verdi and had influence over the young Puccini.

Giovanni Pacini was born in Catania on February 17, 1796. His family was very artistic. One of his uncles was a ballet dancer and and the other, a choreographer. Isabella Paulillo and Luigi Pacini, his parents, were both opera singers. Luigi Pacini was a well-known tenor who later became a basso buffo. He created the role of Geronio in Gioachino Rossini's (1792-1868) Il Turco in Italia and would later premiere five roles in his son's operas.

Even though Pacini was born in Catania, his parent were really Tuscan and the family just happened to be in Catania at the time of Pacini's birth. Pacini, being very sick during early childhood, was left with a couple for three years and his parents would visit him in Catania. Pacini started studying dance first and then singing but, because of his lack of commitment, he was sent to the music conservatory in Bologna to study singing under the guidance of celebrated castrato Luigi Marchesi (1754-1829). Turning later to composition where he studied with Rossini's teacher Padre Stanislao Mattei (1750-1825) at the Liceo Musicale and later with the composer Bonaventura Furlanetto (1738-1817) in Venice.

In 1812 he finished his studies and the following year, at the age of 16, Pacini debuted his first opera, a farsa, Annetta e Lucindo, in Milan. It was a success, and over the next four years he composed about a dozen others. However, it was his 1817 opera, a semiseria, Adelaide e Comingio that established him as a composer to watch. Even with his instant success, in his memoirs, he reflects on how difficult it was for a young composer to move from small theaters to major ones. When basso buffo, Nicola de Grecis, was injured during rehearsal of La Scala's production of Il finto Stanislao by Adalbert Gyrowetz (1763-1850), the impresario asked Pacinis father to take the role. Luigi Pacini agreed, provided that "my son be hired to give one of his works this season." This resulted with Pacini's La Scala debut with his opera Il Barone di Dolsheim in 1818. It was given an astounding 47 performances, and his reputation spread throughout Italy and abroad. He moved to Rome in 1820 and kept composing and also started a love affair with Princess Pauline Borghese (1780-1825), Napoleon's sister. At this time, she was almost forty years old and sickly, but still beautiful and charming.

In 1820 he moved to Naples and, not yet being a threat to Rossini, he helped Rossini with three arias for Matilde di Shabran, and was the music director of the Teatro San Carlo for two years which is when Bellini came to dislike him. In 1821, his Cesare in Egitto was well received in Rome.

His first 25 or so operas were written when Gioacchino Rossini dominated the opera world so Pacini followed Rossini's style, which he even admits to in his memoirs, "Everyone followed the same school, the same fashions, and as a result they were all imitators of the great luminary [Rossini]....If I was a follower of the great man from Pesaro, so was everyone else" Certainly, Pacini recognized Rossini's strengths and his dominance during this period: It was widley known, even by Pacini himself, that he didn't pay enough attention to harmony and instrumentation. Rossini said, "God help us if he knew music. No one could resist him". At a performance of an early opera of Pacini, Donizetti exclaimed to Rossini, "It's a pity he lacks the real technique of composing!" "It's too bad, you say?" responded Rossini, "If he didn't lack the technique, that one would have left all the others behind, with the ease he has of writing." Bellini wrote that Rossini was reported to have said, "The composer with the most genius in Italy is Pacini, and for the working out of pieces Donizetti."

After Rossini moved to Paris in 1824, Pacini and his contemporaries Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864), Nicola Vaccai (1790-1848), Michele Carafa (1787-1872), Carlo Coccia (1782-1873), Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835), Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), the brothers Federico Ricci (1809-1877) and Luigi Ricci (1805-1859) and Saverio Mercadante (1795-1870) collectively began to change the nature of Italian opera and took bel canto singing away from light orchestration and extreme coloratura passages. Furthermore, romantic leads, which were usually sung by contralti or mezzo-soprani in Rossini's time, were now assigned to tenors; villains, which were often tenors in Rossini's time, now became basses or baritones. Over time, far more emphasis was placed on the drama. This change in attitude can be credited to two key works: Vaccai's Giulietta e Romeo and Pacini's L'ultimo giorno di Pompei, both composed in 1825 within a few weeks of each other. His fame only increased with the instant successeses of Alessandro nell'Indie and Il Convitato di Pietra in 1832, an operetta based on the plot of Mozart's Don Giovanni.

Pacini was married three times and with each wife he had three children. Of those children, five girls and one boy, Luigi, survived past childhood. In 1825, he entered into his first marriage, marrying Adelaide Castelli of Naples. However, only a short three years later, in 1828, his wife, who he refers to as his "best friend," died of puerperal fever after giving birth to her third son Louis. But Pacini did not waste anytime, and began an affair with the wealthy and powerful Russian Countess (Julia) Giulia Samoilov. Samilove, known for her active "social life," a reason her ex-husband Count Nicholai Samoilov, captain of the Preobrazhenskii Guards, was only married to her from 1822 to 1824. She left Russia to live in her family villa near Milan in 1824. Establishing herself as a hostess in 1828, she became known as the "Russian Lady of Milan", entertaining writers and musicians. Her affair with Pacini was predominantly from 1828 to 1831. Not having any children herself, she adopted the two children that were still living from Pacini's previous marriage, Amacilia and Giovannina. Because of Samilova's great interest in the arts, the two girls were featured in many famous paintings such as the 1830 painting Countess Samilova and the 1832 painting Horsewoman: Portrait of Giovanina and Amacilia Pacini both by Karl Bryullov (Brulloff) (1799-1852). He then married Marietta Albini, but still remained intimate with Samilova. Albini was a celebrated soprano who appeared in many of Pacini's operas including creating the role of Gulnara in Il corsaro. They had three children, but only one daughter, Giulia, survived. In 1849 his second wife died and, in 1865, he married his third wife, Marianna Scoti, in Pescia. They had three children Isabella, Luigi and Paolina. Scoti compilled Pacini's writings after his death and Le mie memorie artistiche, Pacini's autobiography, was published.

A competition with Belllini began. That is why it is a bit comical that when Pacini was still living, and Bellini had already died, a statue of Pacini was errected next to one of Bellini. Pacini's Gli arabi nelle Gallie in 1827 reached many of the world's most important stages and was the first Pacini opera to be performed in the United States. It was staged frequently in Italy, and it was not until 1830 that Bellini's first success, Il pirata, written in 1827, surpassed Gli arabi nelle Gallie in number of performances at the Teatro alla Scala. In addition, in 1828 he also accepted an offer to write for the carnival season in Turin and Venice, but, unfortunately, the librettist Felice Romani (1788-1865) got seriously sick, causing Pacini to lose the two commissions. This gave the opportunity to Bellini who wrote I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Even with the successes during this period, many operas that followed are almost completely forgotten and many, such as Carlo di Borgogna of 1835, were failures. Pacini recognized this as he noted in memoirs, "I began to realize that I must withdraw from the field. Bellini, the divine Bellini, has surpassed me."

It was at this time that he left composing for a while and retreated to Viareggio, where his mother lived, and focused his attention onto teaching. Italy gave him free land in 1835 and he built, at his expense, l'Istituto Musicale Pacini which was a musical training program for high school students, complete with a theater . The theater could hold an audience of 800 and was designed by architect from Viareggio, Bernardo Giacometti, and was built in 90 days. It provided esteemed musical training and students from all over Italy flocked to study there. He wrote the History of Music, a Treatise Counterpoint and another on Harmony as textbooks for the school. Noted students to have graduated include baritone Ottavio Bartolini, composer Giovanni Lucantoni (1825-1902), composer Filippo Marchetti (1831-1902), bass Agostino Papini and Director of the Conservatoire of Mont pellier M. Selleri. In 1842, Pacini created another l'Istituto Musicale Pacini (now called l'Istituto Musicale Boccherini) in the nearby town of Lucca. The most noted student at this school would have to be none other than Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924). While it is unclear if Puccini studied directly with Pacini, it is said that Puccini had daily contact with Pacini during his early years. Pacini even delivered the oratation at the funeral of Michele Puccini (1813-1864), Puccini's father who was also a composer and music instructor at l'Istituto Musicale Pacini.

During this period of hiatis from composing, he took time re-studying the masterpieces of great German composers. He wrote "In the works of Beethoven are to be found and sublime formulas; those of Haydn contain a sweetness mixed with artifices which are always agreeable; whilst Mozart shows his unequalled genius in everything: I can only compare them to Michael Angelo, Guido and Raphael." He was determined to come back strong, and furthermore create something fresh and new:

"During my period of repose, I had meditated on new developments, on the changing taste of the audience, and on what should be the path to follow. Rossini after 1829 had ceased to grace the musical world with further masterpieces. Bellini, the touching Bellini, had been stolen from art in 1835. . . . The versatile Donizetti and the severe Mercadante were the only ones who dominated the stage, since Verdi had just appeared on the horizon in that year 1839 with this Oberto di San Bonifazio. The others, such as Coccia, Ricci, Lauro Rossi, rarely gave their works on our stages. All this made me seriously consider on what path to begin anew. If my compositions were to have any hope for long life, I had to develop that esthetic sense I had previously sought but rarely achieved. I set to work, with the firm intention of putting aside the procedures I had followed in my earlier career, and I looked for characteristic ideas from the diverse melodies of different peoples, drawing them from traditional sources, so that I could inform my works with that truth so difficult to achieve in our art."

In 1839 he returned to composing with the In 1839 he returned to composing with the opera seria Furio Camillo which was dedicated to the Countess Samoilov. He then moved to Naples in 1840 where he wrote his greatest triumph, Saffò. Known for completing his works at a fast pace, Saffò was completed in a mear 28 days. At a performance of Saffò on July 3, 1858, Dwights Journal of Music recalled "One could hear all over the house whisperings about its greatness and sublimity." While writing this masterpiece, he put a lot of pressure on himself:

"All of a sudden I saw the poet of Saffo grow pale and full of emotion at the words "Di sua voce il suon giungea." He did not let me finish, but threw his arms around my neck: My Maestro (he exclaimed), for heavens sake continue the work; you will give Italy a masterpiece...Reading and rereading, the story of that people, which opened a path to all human understanding, and seeking to discover what music was used by that heroic nation, whose sons included Euripedes, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristoxenus, Homer, Tyrtaeus, and Aristides (who in his Trattato musicale gives a precise idea of the principles that governed music in those times, and particularly speaks of rhythm), I learned that the Greeks attributed a more ample meaning to the word music, consisting not only of the art which excites various sentiments through sound, but also poetry, aesthetics, rhetoric, philosophy, and that science the Romans called politior humanitas. Giving heed to the modes they (the Greeks) employed, Doric, Ionic, Phrygian, Aeolian, Lydian, and of their related forms, Hypodoric, Hyperdoric, etc., I gained an understanding of their system. Keeping always before me what Aristides said about the qualities of the three genera, Diatonic, Chromatic, and Enharmonic (the first noble and austere, the second very sweet and plaintive, the third both gentle and exciting), I attempted, as I said, to approximate their art of melody. I set to work with a joy that I cannot explain. . . ."

After Saffò, Pacini entered into another period of great fame. Donizetti was in Paris, Bellini had died, and Mercadante's major successes were behind him. It would now be Verdi that would present the biggest competition to Pacini. During this time, Pacini's successeses included La fidanzata corsa in 1842, Maria, regina d'Inghilterra in 1843, Medea in 1843, Lorenzino de' Medici in 1845, Bondelmonte in 1845, Stella di Napoli in 1845 and La regina di Cipro in 1846. Allan Cameron is particularly noteworthy because it deals with the youth of King Charles II, before he was crowned King of England.

A critic confirms his relevancy even alongside Verdi in this review from the Dwights Journal of Music on July 2, 1858, "The Carnival season of 1857-8 opened on Tuesday, the 26th of November, with [Lorenzino de' Medici], a superb opera by Pacini, and one that for a time made me stagger in my Verdi faith...It is so fresh, so original, and combines musical science so well with ear-haunting and simple melody, that it appears to me astonishing that it has not obtained a reputation out of Italy." However, by 1844 Verdi had already written Nabucco, I Lombardi and Ernani, thus outshining Pacini. His relationship with Countess Samoilov, and her pro-Austrian sympathies, also turned Italy against Pacini and toward Verdi. However, his 1845 Italian based operas Lorenzino de' Medici and Buondelmonte renewed his patriotism in Italy.

Verdi described that "Pacini was a very prolific extemporizer,...good in appearances, but not always in content. It can be said of him that he was in music what in literature is called an old versifier. In this respect he had many points in common with Petrella, to whom he remained always superior because of his dramatic power. In fact, in all his operas Petrella has not a single piece to compare with the finale of Saffò.

This period of accomplishments was followed by a long but slow decline, marked only by the moderate successes of La punizione in 1854, Il saltimbanco in 1858 and Niccolò de' Lapi. The Grand Duke appointed Pacini the Director of the Scuole di musica di Firenze which was a part of the Accademia delle Belle Arti where he was awarded the Cross of Santo Stefano. He spent the remainder of his life in Pescia writing instrumental music and his memoirs. He died on December 6, 1867, survived by five of nine children and a brother, Emilio Pacini (1810-1898), a librettist.

Pacini wrote 74 operas (it was originally estimated had written from 80 to 90 opera, but many just had alternate titles), seven operas still remain unpublished. More than 70 other compositions such as masses, oratorios and cantatas where particular attention should be paid to his Quartet in C and the Cantata for Dante's Centenary. He also wrote articles for the music gazettes of Florence, Milan and Naples as well as for the newspapers Boccherini, La scena, L’arpa and Il pirata.

Pacini was known as “il maestro della cabaletta.” The beauty and endless musical ideas of Pacini's cabelatte demonstrate how well he deserved this praise. He also made his recitatives melodic. However, he himself admitted, "I gave little thought to honoring myself and my art as I should have done...My instrumentation was never careful enough...I often neglected the strings, nor did I bother much about the effects that might be drawn from the other instrumental groups." His written manuscripts show his carelessness hurried nature, though, he prided himself in tailoring his music to showcase each individual singer.

Cesare in Egitto is a Melo-dramma eroico in two acts that was first performed on December 26, 1821 at the Teatro Argentina, Rome with libretto by Jacopo Feretti. Soprano Ester Mombelli sang the role of Cleopatra and tenor Domenico Donzelli (1790-1873) sang the role of Giulio Cesare. During a performance, tenor Americo Sbigoli, who sang the role of Tolomeo, burst a blood vessel in his throat when attempting, in the the Act II quintet, to sing a phrase "closely resembling one sung just previously by Donzelli." Attempting to match Donzelli's powerful voice, Sbigoli overstrained himself. Sbigoli died a few days later. Not only did he leave behind his pregnant wife and four young children, but this event also changed musical history a bit. Sbigoli was scheduled to sing the role of Abenamet in the premiere of Gaetano Donizetti's opera Zoraida di Granata but, since no other tenors were available to replace Sbigoli only a week before the premier, Donizetti had to revise the opera by transforming the tenor Abenamet, a military general, into a role for female contralto.


-By Lisa Algozzini

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