Brief Italian entry 1, 2022
This Week in Classical Music: October 31, 2022. Brief Italian entry 1. A short hiatus with Italian flavor calls for an Italian theme for this week’s entry, and history, so rich on Italian music, obliges. Vincenzo Bellini, the creator of La sonnambula, Norma, and I puritani, was born on November 3rd of 1801 in Catania, Sicily. Just last week we wrote about the great soprano sfogato Giuditta Pasta: she sung at the premier performances of two of these operas, as Anna in La sonnambula, in Milan’s Teatro Carcano, in March of 1831, and in December of the same year, the role of Norma, also in Milan but in Teatro alla Scala. Bellini was 33 when he died of dysentery. His first opera was written when he was 23, still a student at the Naples San Sebastiano Conservatory – Bellini had only ten creative years but still left us some of the most memorable bel canto operas.
And also this week, two historical Italian singers were born: the great castrato Senesino, on October 31st of 1686, and Tarquinia Molza on November 1st of 1542. Senesino, an Italian alto castrato, born Francesco Bernardi in Siena (thus Senesino), was one of Handel’s favorite singers. He came to London in 1720, became enormously popular and was paid equally enormous fees (after leaving London, he built a fancy house in Siena, which carried an inscription: “the folly of the English had laid the foundation of it.” Senesino sung in 20 Handel operas, of which 17 were written for his voice; his performance in Giulio Cesare was called “beyond all criticism.” Here, from a 2012 Salzburg production of Giulio is Andreas Scholl, the German countertenor, as Cesar, singing the aria Va tacito e nascosto (Silently and stealthily). This, alas, is only an approximation of Senesino’s voice. And from the same production, here’s Cleopatra’s aria E pur così in un giorno (And even so in a day) sung by Cecilia Bartoli. We suspect that she’s not worse than the famous Fancesca Cuzzoni who premiered the role in February of 1724.
Tarquinia Molza was an extraordinary woman: a brilliant singer, a virtuoso player on bass viol in a style called “viola bastarda,” and poet. She was born in Modena and around 1583, already a widow, moved to Ferrara, one of the musical centers of Italy, as a lady-in-waiting to the Duchess Margherita Gonzaga d’Este. In Ferrara she served as an advisor to the famous Concerto delle donne, of which we’ve written several times, for example, here. While at the court, she had a tryst with the composer Giaches De Wert, deemed inappropriate (she was a minor nobility while composers were considered of a serving class) and had to leave Ferrara. She moved to Rome and died there in 1617.