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Aspirate  

J.B. Steane

When a syllable is sung to more than one note, some singers are in the habit of inserting a light aspirate, as in ‘Cele-heste Aida’. In Italy, Spain and Latin America this appears not to be considered a major stylistic fault (if one at all), but in Britain and, on the whole, the USA and Germany the practice is generally condemned. Gramophone records suggest that in standard operatic work the habit grew during the first half of the century, and that criticism has subsequently had some effect: Domingo and Pavarotti, for instance, are not habitual aspiraters, unlike their predecessors such as Gigli and Pertile. More insidious are the means used to ‘separate’ notes in the florid music of Baroque composers, where on the one hand they are defended as ensuring greater clarity, and on the other attacked as the makeshift devices of a defective technique....

Article

Assoluto, assoluta  

John Rosselli

(It.: ‘absolute’)

As applied to a singer, the term crept into opera bills and contracts with the general inflation of titles that set in towards the end of the 18th century. In theory it meant ‘unique’: a particular singer was the only member of the company engaged for a season entitled to be called prima donna (or primo tenore, primo basso etc.), and she or he could refuse parts that did not fit the description. In practice, nearly every leading singer now wished to be called ‘absolute’, however illogically; in Naples the impresario Domenico Barbaia, backed up by Rossini, was still resisting the trend in the 1820s, but in vain. By 1877 the tenor-impresario Italo Campanini could write of parti assolute, meaning simply leading parts; these included Marguerite de Valois in Les Huguenots, one of two leading women’s parts in that work (letter of 29 July 1877, I-Ms Coll. Casati 233). Thus devalued into meaninglessness, the term seems to have vanished from opera by the early 20th century. It is still occasionally used– in its original sense–of an outstanding ballerina....

Article

Baglioni [Poggi], Clementina  

Barbara Dobbs MacKenzie

Member of Baglioni family (opera)

(fl 1753–88). Italian soprano, daughter of Francesco Baglioni. In 1753–9 she toured northern Italy with her father and one or two sisters, appearing in five comic operas at Venice in 1754–5. She also performed there in 1760–65 and 1775–8. Although best known for comic roles, she also sang in opera seria, appearing at Turin in 1759–60 (Galuppi’s La clemenza di Tito, Traetta’s Enea nel Lazio) and at Parma in 1761 and 1763 (J. C. Bach’s Catone in Utica). In 1762 she was in Milan and Vienna (Hasse’s Il trionfo di Clelia) and in 1767 in Naples, by which time she had married Domenico Poggi. She returned to Vienna where, in 1768, Mozart wrote for her the elaborate part of Rosina in La finta semplice, which however she never performed. She sang in Vienna in 1772–4 with her sisters Costanza and Rosina, and may have done so in Paris in ...

Article

Baglioni, Francesco  

Barbara Dobbs MacKenzie

[Carnace]

Member of Baglioni family (opera)

(fl 1729–62). Italian bass and impresario. He was a comic opera singer who began singing intermezzos in the late 1720s in Foligno and Pesaro. He launched his comic opera career in Rome in 1738 with Gaetano Latilla’s La finta cameriera and Madama Ciana and Rinaldo da Capua’s La commedia in commedia. Productions throughout northern Italy of these operas along with another first performed in Rome, Rinaldo da Capua’s La libertà nociva (1740), dominated Baglioni’s career for the next decade. In 1749 he appeared in the dramma giocoso L’Arcadia in Brenta in Venice, the first collaboration between Galuppi and Goldoni, and for the remainder of his career he primarily sang texts written by Goldoni, in cities along the axis from Venice to Turin. According to the libretto of Lo speziale (1755, Venice; music by Vincenzo Pallavicini and Domenico Fischietti), Baglioni was a member of Girolamo Medebach’s opera troupe. Three of his daughters appeared in productions with him: Giovanna from ...

Article

Baglioni, Giovanna  

Barbara Dobbs MacKenzie

Member of Baglioni family (opera)

(fl 1752–1770s). Italian soprano, daughter of Francesco Baglioni. She began her career singing with her father in productions of comic opera. Her first role was Eugenia, a serious part in Galuppi’s comic Arcifanfano, re dei matti (1752, Parma). She continued to sing serious roles in productions of comic opera in northern Italy with her father and her sisters in the early 1760s; by ...

Article

Bannister, Charles  

Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson

Member of Bannister family

(b Newland, Gloucs., 1741; d London, Oct 19, 1804). English bass and actor. He had a fine, untaught voice and sang roles including Macheath and Hawthorne in Norwich before his Drury Lane début as Merlin in Michael Arne’s Cymon (1767). In 1768 he created Don Diego in The Padlock and for over 20 years was given leading roles in musical pieces by Dibdin, Shield and Arnold. Tom Tug in The Waterman and Steady in The Quaker were two of his successes; he was also admired for his Grimbald (King Arthur), Hecate and Caliban. According to the Thespian Dictionary his voice ‘was a strong, clear bass, with one of the most extensive falsettos ever heard’. In the early 1780s he was an incomparable Polly in travesty performances of The Beggar’s Opera. There, as in his famous imitations of the castratos, the humour lay in brilliantly accurate mimicry and not in exaggerated burlesque. Convivial, improvident, witty and good-natured, he was said to attribute his vocal stamina to gargling with port wine....

Article

Bannister, Elizabeth  

Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson

[née Harper]

Member of Bannister family

(bap. Bath, Nov 22, 1757; d London, Jan 15, 1849). English soprano. She was admired as a charming woman with a pure voice and unadorned singing style. Most of her stage career was spent in summer seasons at the Haymarket, where she sang from 1778 and created many roles in operas by Shield and Arnold, including Eliza in The Flitch of Bacon and Laura in The Agreeable Surprise. She also sang in concerts and was at Covent Garden from 1781 to 1786, creating the title role in Shield’s Rosina. She married the actor John Bannister in 1783, reputedly teaching him to sing and turning him into a model husband and father. She retired in 1792 to ‘trim Friendship’s lamp round her family fire’.

BDALSA. Pasquin [pseud. of J. Williams]: The Children of Thespis, 2 (London, 1787,13/1792)‘Mrs Bannister’, Thespian Magazine, 1 (1792),117–18J. O’Keeffe...

Article

Bannister, John  

Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson

Member of Bannister family

(b Deptford, London, May 12, 1760; d London, Nov 7, 1836). English actor and baritone, son of Charles Bannister. During his career he played, according to his Memories, well over 400 different parts. He became a favourite comic actor and after his marriage to the soprano Elizabeth Harper in 1783 he began to take singing roles. Robson praised his voice as ‘full, round, clear, manly, and intelligible’ and declared: ‘everybody loved Jack Bannister’. In Storace’s operas, from The Haunted Tower (1789) onwards, he and Nancy Storace were frequently paired as the secondary lovers and Kelly later wrote roles for him. In Storace’s exuberant afterpiece The Three and the Deuce (1795) he played identical triplets, while as Walter, the saviour of the babes in Arnold’s The Children in the Wood, he delighted audiences from 1793 until his farewell performance in ...

Article

Baryton Martin  

J.B. Steane

A term used to characterize a particular type of Baritone voice. It owes its origin to (Nicolas-)Jean-Blaise Martin (1768–1837), a baritone with a remarkably extensive upper range, sufficiently famous and distinctive for his name to continue in use long after his death to denote a high, lyric baritone, almost a tenor, usually bright of timbre and light of weight, but with a free, unthroaty production characteristic of the French school. Jean Périer, the first Pelléas, was probably typical, with Gabriel Soulacroix a distinguished predecessor and Camille Maurane (...

Article

Bass  

Owen Jander, Lionel Sawkins, J.B. Steane, and Elizabeth Forbes

(Fr. basse; Ger. Bass; It. basso)

The lowest male voice, normally written for within the range F to e′, which may be extended at either end.

Italian composers in the late 16th century often wrote highly ornate parts for the bass voice, and this continued into the first three decades of the 17th. In opera, however, where bass roles were few and generally unimportant, ornate writing was relatively rare; the emphasis lay rather on dramatic portrayal. In the surviving operas of Monteverdi the bass already appears in some of what were to be its most important historical role types: as a god (particularly a god of the underworld: Pluto in Orfeo, 1607, Neptune in Il ritorno d’Ulisse, 1640), or as a sepulchral figure (Charon in Orfeo). In Orfeo Monteverdi called for special instrumentation (the regal, a trombone choir) which was itself to become a tradition in much operatic scoring associated with the bass voice. A further impressive use of the voice is for the role of Seneca in ...

Article

Brambilla, Giuseppina  

Elizabeth Forbes

Member of Brambilla family

(b Cassano d’Adda, 1819; d Milan, 1903). Italian contralto, sister of Marietta Brambilla. She made her début in Trieste in 1841 and sang in Rome, Milan and Barcelona; then in 1846 she was engaged at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, where she appeared as Maffio Orsini, the part created by her eldest sister. In ...

Article

Brambilla, Marietta  

Elizabeth Forbes

Member of Brambilla family

(b Cassano d’Adda, June 6, 1807; d Milan, Nov 6, 1875). Italian contralto. After studying at the Milan Conservatory with Secchi, she made her début in 1827 at the King’s Theatre, London, as Arsace in Rossini’s Semiramide. During the season she sang two more travesty roles, Adriano (Meyerbeer’s Il crociato) and Romeo (Zingarelli’s Romeo e Giulietta), becoming a specialist in such parts. She sang Paolo at the first performance of Generali’s Francesca di Rimini in 1828 at La Fenice. At La Scala (1838) she sang Cherubino and Arsace (Semiramide). Donizetti composed two trouser roles for her, Maffio Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia, first given at La Scala in 1833, and Pierotto in Linda di Chamounix, which had its première at the Kärntnertortheater, Vienna, in 1842. He also adapted the second tenor role of Armando di Gondi in Maria di Rohan...

Article

Brambilla, Teresa  

Elizabeth Forbes

Member of Brambilla family

(b Cassano d’Adda, Oct 23, 1813; d Milan, July 15, 1895). Italian soprano, sister of Marietta Brambilla. She made her début in Milan in 1831 and sang throughout Italy with great success for 15 years. In 1846 she appeared in Paris as Abigaille in ...

Article

Brambilla-Ponchielli, Teresa  

Elizabeth Forbes

[Teresina]

Member of Brambilla family

(b Cassano d’Adda, April 15, 1845; d Vercelli, July 1, 1921). Italian soprano, niece of Marietta Brambilla. She studied with her aunts Marietta and Teresa. She made her début in 1863 as Adalgisa at Odessa, afterwards singing in Lisbon, Madrid, Paris, St Petersburg and Italy. In ...

Article

Chest voice  

J.B. Steane

(Fr. voix de poitrine; Ger. Bruststimme; It. voce di petto)

A term that is used in two connections (leaving aside the anatomical conditions under which the chest voice functions): the lower part of the female vocal range and the upper part of the male. In both instances it applies to a certain type of voice production and its resulting sound, which is quite distinct from that of the head voice (voce di testa).

A male singer can extend his upward range by using the head voice or the Falsetto (opera) (opera), which may be strengthened and developed as a mixed tone so that the falsetto element is to a greater or lesser extent disguised. Alternatively he may use the chest voice, which produces the ringing high notes of the characteristic modern operatic voice. The tenor roles in operas by composers such as Bellini have high notes which are sometimes so frequent and beyond normal reach of the non-falsetto male voice that it seems likely that they would have been sung originally with the head voice. Tenors would not then have extended their chest voice much beyond ...

Article

Covered tone  

J.B. Steane

(Fr. voix sombrée; Ger. gedeckte Ton; It. voce cuperta)

Although ‘open’ and ‘covered’ would seem to be layman’s terms and their manifestations in singing easy to recognize, the technique of ‘covering’ and the need for it are probably understood properly only by singers themselves. As voices ascend in the scale, reaching the higher notes of the singer’s range, the method of voice production is gradually modified, partly so as to ensure a musically pleasing sound rather than a shout, partly to protect the voice, and also to secure a greater concentration of tone. This may involve modifications of the vowel sound, shading the brighter vowels towards those that are ‘darker’ and less open. It will also be a difficult exercise, during the course of which the singer seems to him or herself to be producing thinner, less powerful and excitingly resonant sounds in the upper notes than would otherwise have been possible. A further difficulty lies in the areas of the voice called the ...

Article

Devriès, David  

Elizabeth Forbes

Member of Devriès family

(b Bagnères-de-Luchon, 1881; d Neuilly-sur-Seine, 1934). French tenor of Dutch extraction, son of Maurice Devriès. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire and made his début in 1904 as Gérald (Lakmé) at the Opéra-Comique, where he was engaged for many years. In 1906 he created Philodemus in Erlanger’s Aphrodite, and he was particularly successful as George Brown in the 1909 revival of Boieldieu’s La dame blanche. His roles included Almaviva (Il barbiere), Don José, Julien (Louise), Pinkerton, Des Grieux (Manon), Vincent (Mireille), De Nangis (Le roi malgré lui), Jean Gaussin (Sapho), Armand (Thérèse), Werther, Araquil (La Navarraise), Cavaradossi, Rodolfo and Alfredo. In 1909–10 he sang with the Manhattan Opera Company in New York and Philadelphia, making his début as Ange-Pitou (La fille de Madame Angot). He also sang Strauss’s Aegisthus and Narraboth and, with the permission of ...

Article

Devriès, Fidès  

Elizabeth Forbes

Member of Devriès family

(b New Orleans, April 22, 1851; d 1941). Dutch soprano, daughter of Rosa de Vries-van Os. She studied in Paris and made her début in 1869 at the Théâtre Lyrique in Halévy’s Le val d’Andorre. After singing at the Théâtre de la Monnaie, in 1871 she was engaged at the Paris Opéra, making her début as Marguerite, later singing Isabelle (Robert le diable), Inès (L’Africaine) and Ophelia, which she sang in the 100th performance of Hamlet (1874). At the Théâtre Italien she sang Amelia (Simon Boccanegra) and Salome (Hérodiade), then in 1885 she created Chimène in Massenet’s Le Cid at the Opéra. She sang Elsa in the first Paris performance of Lohengrin at the Eden-Théâtre in 1887. In Monte Carlo she added Aida, Violetta and Leïla (Les pêcheurs de perles) to her repertory and in ...

Article

Devriès, Hermann  

Elizabeth Forbes

Member of Devriès family

(b New York, Dec 28, 1858; d Chicago, Aug 24, 1949). Dutch baritone, son of Rosa de Vries-van Os. He studied with J.-B. Faure in Paris, where he made his début in 1878 at the Opéra as Méru in Les Huguenots. He sang other minor roles such as Wagner (...

Article

Devriès, Jeanne  

Elizabeth Forbes

Member of Devriès family

(b New Orleans, before July 1850; d 1924). Dutch soprano, daughter of Rosa de Vries-van Os. She studied with Duprez in Paris, making her début there in 1867 at the Théâtre Lyrique as Amina (La sonnambula). The same year she created Catharine in Bizet’s ...