Matteo Antonio Babini (19 February 1754 – 22 September 1816), also known by the family name of Babbini, was a leading Italian tenor of the late 18th-century, and a teacher of singing and stage art.
Life and career
Matteo Babini was born in Bologna on 19 February 1754.
After studying in his town with Arcangelo Cortoni, he made his début at Modena probably in 1770 or 1771, at the age of 16 or 17, as a second tenor. It is likely he sang in a revival of Paisiello’s Demetrio.
After performing in several Italian theatres, most notably Venice’s San Benedetto, Babini was engaged, between 1777 and 1781, to appear at Berlin’s Court and, later, to perform works by Paisiello in Saint Petersburg. While there he was popular performing in the Apulia composer’s operas, even some in the comic genre with which he was not associated while in Italy.
His career in Italy continued successfully through the nineties, with highlights including his part in the premiere of Cimarosa’s Gli Orazi e i Curiazi, where he played the part of the villainous hero Marcus Horatius.
Having settled again in his native town, after an Italian career based almost wholly around Venice, he then proceeded to teach. In addition to singing, he also taught the stage art by which he had so much distinguished himself. One of his pupils was a teenaged Gioachino Rossini, who would recount, to Ferdinand Hiller in his old age, the story of his juvenile fancies to become a singer and of his meeting the great tenor.
Babini died in Bologna on 22 September 1816.
Matteo Babini played a key part in the recovery, towards the end of the 18th century, of the expressive character of operatic singing which, had been losing favour to the vocal acrobatics of the castrati and the higher notes of the sopranos. Being a baritonal tenor with a very narrow range, and not being particularly versed in coloratura, Babini felt at ease in only one octave (although, eventually, Orazi’s only virtuoso aria was assigned to him).
Babini's main contributions to the renaissance of operatic art were through his role of actor-singer, and he became known for the exuberant style of his recitals, the realism of his acting, and his imposing stage presence - he was said to be tall, blond, and slender, and with a very fine countenance.
According to Giovanni Morelli, Babini's repertoire developed following his stays in Paris during the crucial moments of the French Revolution, in the years 1787-9, and in 1792, and shifted towards the new-fashioned historical drama and the Rousseau monodrama cantata, especially Pimmalione, which he performed around the major Italian theatres with a huge success.
In his interpretations, Babbini endeavoured to portray "peoples' customs and heroes' vicissitudes", and in the Venetian premiere of Cimarosa’s Oriazi he went on the stage wearing historical costume, "which the audience remained so much satisfied with, that thenceforth theatres turned it into an invariable standard".
The following list is not complete:
|Giocondo||L'astratto||Dramma giocoso||Niccolò Piccinni||Bologna, Teatro Formagliari||autumn 1772|
|Anassandro||Merope||Dramma per musica (opera seria)||Giacomo Insanguine||Venice, Teatro (Grimani) San Benedetto||26 December 1772|
|Osmino||Solimano||Dramma per musica||Johann Gottlieb Naumann||Venice, Teatro (Grimani) San Benedetto||3 January 1773|
|Clearco||Antigono||Dramma per musica (opera seria)||Pasquale Anfossi||Venice, Teatro (Gallo) San Benedetto||23 May 1773|
|Amenofi (or Amasi)||La Nitteti||Dramma per musica||Giovanni Paisiello||Saint Petersburg, Court Theatre (Oranienbaum Palace)||c 17/28 January 1778|
|Licomede||Achille in Sciro||Dramma per musica||Giovanni Paisiello||Saint Petersburg, Court Theatre (Oranienbaum)||26 January/6 February 1778|
|Valerio||Lo sposo burlato||Dramma giocoso-pasticcio||Giovanni Paisiello||Saint Petersburg, Court Theatre (Peterhof Palace)||13/24 July 1778|
|Phenive||Demetrio||Opera||Giovanni Paisiello||Tsarskoye Selo, Court Theatre||13/24 June 1779|
|Gelino||La finta amante||Opera comica||Giovanni Paisiello||Mogilëv, Theatre (name unknown)||24 May/5 June 1780|
|Fronimo||Alcide al bivio||Festa teatrale||Giovanni Paisiello||Saint Petersburg, Court Theatre (Hermitage)||25 Novembre/6 December 1780|
|Artaserse (not verified)||Artaserse||Dramma per musica (opera seria)||Giacomo Rust||Perugia, Teatro Civico (inauguration)||1781|
|Sarabes||Zemira||Dramma per musica||Pasquale Anfossi||Venice, Teatro (Gallo) San Benedetto||26 December 1781|
|Scitalce-Sardanapalo||Arbace||Dramma per musica (opera seria)||Giovanni Battista Borghi||Venice, Teatro (Gallo) San Benedetto||3 January 1782|
|Ormondo||Il disertore francese||Dramma per musica (opera seria)||Francesco Bianchi||Venice, Teatro (Gallo) San Benedetto||26 December 1784|
|Alessandro Magno||Alessandro nell'Indie||Dramma per musica (opera seria)||Francesco Bianchi||Venice, Teatro (Gallo) San Benedetto||28 January 1785|
|-||Giulio Sabino||Dramma per musica (opera seria)||Luigi Cherubini||London, King's Theatre||30 March 1786|
|Porsenna||Il trionfo di Clelia||Dramma per musica||Angelo Tarchi||Turin, Nuovo Teatro Regio||26 December 1786|
|Volodimiro||Volodimiro||Dramma per musica||Domenico Cimarosa||Turin, Nuovo Teatro Regio||20 January 1787|
|Artabano (not verified)||Artaserse||Dramma per musica (opera seria)||Francesco Bianchi||Padua, Teatro Nuovo e della Nobiltà||11 June 1787|
|Bruto||La morte di Cesare||Dramma serio per musica||Francesco Bianchi||Venice, Teatro (Grimani) San Samuele||27 December 1788|
|Amenofi (or Amasi)||Nitteti||Dramma per musica (opera seria)||Ferdinando Bertoni||Venice, Teatro (Grimani) San Samuele di Venezia||6 February 1789|
|Giasone||Gli Argonauti in Colco ossia La conquista del vello d'oro||Dramma per musica||Giuseppe Gazzaniga||Venice, Teatro (Grimani) San Samuele||26 December 1789|
|Pimmalione||Pimmalione||Scena drammatica in musica ||Giovanni Battista Cimador||Venice, Teatro (Grimani) San Samuele||26 January 1790|
|Alessandro||Apelle||Dramma serio per musica (1st version)||Nicola Antonio Zingarelli||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||18 November 1793|
|Virginio||Virginia||Tragedia per musica (opera seria)||Felice Alessandri||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||26 December 1793|
|Alcéo||Saffo o sia I riti d'Apollo Leucadio||Dramma per musica||Giovanni Simone Mayr||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||17 February 1794|
|Ulisse||Penelope||Dramma per musica||Domenico Cimarosa||Naples, Teatro del Fondo||26 December 1794|
|Marco Orazio||Gli Orazi e i Curiazi||Tragedia per musica (1st version)||Domenico Cimarosa||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||26 December 1796|
|Mentore||Telemaco nell'isola di Calipso||Dramma per musica||Giovanni Simone Mayr||Venice, Teatro Sant'Angelo||16 January 1797|
|Mitridate||La morte di Mitridate||Dramma per musica (opera seria)||Nicola Antonio Zingarelli||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||27 May 1797|
|protagonista||Inno patriottico per la guardia civica||Anthem||Catterino Cavos||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||14 September 1797|
|Edipo||Edipo a Colono||Tragedia per musica (opera seria)||Nicola Antonio Zingarelli||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||26 December 1802|
|Publio Scipione Africano||La caduta della nuova Cartagine||Dramma per musica||Giuseppe Farinelli||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||5 February 1803|
|Mercurio||Adria consolata||Festa teatrale (cantata drammatica)||Ferdinando Bertoni||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||12 February 1803|
- Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani (Italian) . The date 1773 reported instead by the Grove Dictionary (Forbes) seems to be wrong, as, already at the end of 1772, Babini had taken part in the premiere of Insanguine's Merope, and in the first Bologna performance of Piccinni's L'Astratto, however singing third line roles (cf. Roles, below)
- (Italian) Italianopera Libretti a stampa
- Grove Dictionary, Forbes
- Morelli, p 32
- P. Brigenti, Elogio di Matteo Babbini, Bologna, 1821, p 11
- P. Brigenti, Elogio di Matteo Babbini, Bologna, 1821, p 21
- Amadeus Almanac (Babini), accessed 14 February 2009
- source: Libretti d'opera-Università di Padova (accessed 29 April 2011); first town performance
- libretto by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (from Ovid's Metamorphoses), in the Italian translation by Antonio Simeone Sografi
- (Italian) Rodolfo Celletti, Storia del belcanto, Discanto Edizioni, Fiesole, 1983
- Elizabeth Forbes, Babbini [Babini], Matteo, in Stanley Sadie (ed), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Oxford University Press, 1997, I, p. 267
- (Italian) Giovanni Morelli, "«E voi pupille tenere», uno sguardo furtivo, errante, agli «Orazi» di Domenico Cimarosa e altri", essay enclosed in the Teatro dell'Opera’s programme for the performances of Cimarosa’s Gli Orazi e i Curiazi, Rome, 1989.