Matteo Babini

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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[edit]

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.[1][2]

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.

Babini went on to perform all around Europe, including Lisbon, Madrid, Vienna, and London. In 1786, in London, he took part in the premiere of Cherubini’s Giulio Sabino.[3]

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.

Babini retired from the stage in 1803, though he was still in demand for premiere performances by such composers as Zingarelli and Bertoni.

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.[4]

Babini died in Bologna on 22 September 1816.

Artistic contributions[edit]

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,[4] 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",[5] 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".[6]

Babini partnered, amongst others, Crescentini, Grassini, Banti, Pacchiarotti, and also the tenor Giacomo David, with whom he often alternated the same parts.

Roles[edit]

The following list is not complete:[7]

Role Opera Genre Composer Theatre Premiere
Giocondo[8] 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 [9] 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

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani (Italian) [1]. 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)
  2. ^ (Italian) Italianopera Libretti a stampa
  3. ^ Grove Dictionary, Forbes
  4. ^ a b Morelli, p 32
  5. ^ P. Brigenti, Elogio di Matteo Babbini, Bologna, 1821, p 11
  6. ^ P. Brigenti, Elogio di Matteo Babbini, Bologna, 1821, p 21
  7. ^ Amadeus Almanac (Babini), accessed 14 February 2009
  8. ^ source: Libretti d'opera-Università di Padova (accessed 29 April 2011); first town performance
  9. ^ libretto by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (from Ovid's Metamorphoses), in the Italian translation by Antonio Simeone Sografi

Bibliography[edit]

  • (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.