Sep 10, 2007

Early tenors: Domenico Donzelli


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Following the footsteps of Andrea Nazzari (1775-1832) who studied with the castrato Giuseppe Aprile (1732-1813) in Napoli, Domenico Donzelli, the first so-called "baritenore", devised a method to sing from the chest (very unusual then, where tenors were using falsetto), with a more powerful sound but extreme strains to the throat, the lungs and the cardiovascular system.

He is said to have been a factor in the demise of castrati in Italian opera, as composers began to cast their male first roles to tenors.

He premiered in many operas, including in Bellini's Norma, where the role of Pollione was written for him; he even sent a letter to Bellini explaining how his voice worked. He sung up to G, he wrote, in chest voice, and above that in head voice. When coming to coloratura, he preferred downward scales.

Bellini gave him precisely what he asked for. The few quick scales he's asked to sing go downward, and the melodies of his aria and cabaletta in the first scene fit exactly the voice he described. Both melodies have opening phrases arching precisely to the high G that marked the limit of Donzelli's head voice. When they go higher, they do so as a special effect, giving Donzelli time to shift gears. The high C in the first aria, approached in a jump from the G, shows off the difference between Donzelli's two registers.

The premiere of Norma was not a success, mainly due to problems with the whole cast; Donzelli is said to have not know his part well.

He retired from the stage in 1841, returning briefly in 1844 to sing in Napoli.

The dangers of Donzelli's method: Americo Sbigoli

In 1831, while singing Pacini's Cesare in Egitto in Rome (alongside Domenico Donzelli), Americo Sbigoli had to repeat a phrase that Donzelli had powerfully articulated just moments before. He stepped towards the foot-lights where he declaimed his piece with all the force he could, but overstrained himself. As he reached the peak of tension, a blood vessel burst in his neck and he fell down dead in front of the audience.

  • 1815, Dec.25: Torvaldo e Dorliska (Torvaldo), Giacomo Rossini, Teatro Valle, Roma
  • 1821, Dec.26: Cesare in Egitto (Giulio Cesare), Giovanni Pacini, Teatro Argentina, Roma
  • 1825, June 19: Il viaggio a Reims (Belfiore), Giacomo Rossini, Théâtre Italien, Paris
  • 1828, Dec.9: Clari, Jacques Fromenthal Halévy, Théâtre Italien, Paris (libretto in italian)
  • 1831, Dec.26: Norma (Pollione), Vincenzo Bellini, Teatro alla Scala, Milano
  • 1832, March 13: Ugo, Conte di Parigi (Ugo), Gaetano Donizetti, Teatro alla Scala, Milano
  • 1834, March 8: Emma d'Antiocha (Ruggiero), Saviero Mercadante, Teatro La Fenice, Venezia
  • 1835, Feb.21: Carlo di Borgogna (Carlo di Borgogna), Giovanni Pacini, Teatro La Fenice, Venezia
  • 1839, March 9: Il Bravo (Carlo, Il Bravo), Saviero Mercadante, Teatro alla Scala, Milano
  • 1839, Dec.26: Il furio Camillo (Camillo), Giovanni Pacini, Teatro Apollo, Roma
  • 1841, Dec.26: Maria Padilla (Don Ruiz), Gaetano Donizetti, Teatro alla Scala, Milano

Sources on the web:

Pages wikipedia en français:

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