Her origins are rather obscure and the very data of her birth are very dubious: she is thought to have been born in Crema, Lombardy, but some sources say she may have been born in Monticelli d'Ongina, a village in the province of Piacenza, which is located nearer to Cremona, in 1756 or possibly in 1758. She is the daughter of Carlo Giorgi, a street mandolin player; she too started her career as a street singer, either following her father around, or, according to different accounts, joining in with the double-bassist Domenico Dragonetti, when he was still a boy. The only established fact is that, in 1777–1778, on her travels around southern Europe, she reached Paris where a meeting with an important person in the profession completely was to change her life. However, sources are at variances as to the identity of that person. According to some of them, it was composer Antonio Sacchini, who quickly trained her and introduced to the Opéra Comique, while other sources suggest that she caught the attention of Anne-Pierre-Jacques Devismes, the shortly to-be Director of the Académie Royale de Musique, and the Opéra ought to have been the theatre she was engaged for. Details about her Parisian sojourn are scant and uncertain. She moved to London at an undetermined date, and there she met dancer and choreographer Zaccaria Banti, whom she married in Amsterdam in 1779 and whose surname she adopted as her stage-name.
The great European career
After dropping round in Vienna in 1780, Banti decided to return to Italy when she was engaged at the Teatro San Benedetto in Venice for the 1782–1783 carnival season. Her performances in the premières of Piramo e Tisbe by Francesco Bianchi (who was to become her favourite composer), and Attalo, re di Bitinia by Giuseppe Sarti, as well as in a revival of Bertoni’s Orfeo ed Euridice were very successful by all accounts, raising enthusiasm in a listener out of the ordinary, such as the Irish tenor Michael Kelly. After Venice, she later sang in Turin, Milan, in Venice again, and also, in 1786-1787, in Warsaw, where she performed in operas gy Giordani, Persichini and Tarchi. Finally, in the same 1787, she arrived at Teatro San Carlo in Naples, where she created the role of Sofonisba in Bianchi’s Scipione Africano, and also interpreted operas by Paisiello, Anfossi and Guglielmi. In 1789 Banti returned to Venice’s Teatro San Benedetto where she was the first protagonist of Anfossi’s Zenobia in Palmira, which became one of her favourite roles, as well as Semiramide, a character she created in Bianchi’s La vendetta di Nino, at the end of the following year. In June 1792 she took part in the inauguration of the new theatre La Fenice in Venice, opposite the castrato Gaspare Pacchierotti (who exerted a strong artistic influence upon her throughout her career), in the first performance of Paisiello’s I giuochi d’Agrigento. After a brief season in Madrid in 1793, from 1794 to 1802 she was engaged, as the leading soprano, at London’s King’s Theatre, where she made her début as Semiramide in La vendetta di Nino. There she met Lorenzo Da Ponte, who later reported she had been vulgar, impudent, dissolute and even a drunkard. Specifically, he said that she was "ignorant, foolish and insolent", and that she "took to theatre, where only her voice had led her, all habitudes, manners and morals of an impudent Corisca". He also credited her with a sexual relationship with William Taylor, manager of the King’s Theatre. After getting back to Italy in 1802 autumn, owing to Elizabeth Billington’s return to her country, she remained in demand on stage for some years both at La Scala and at la Fenice. With her health failing, her voice was getting more and more spoilt. She was forced to retire even though it would be very shortly before her premature death, in 1806. So marvellous and so powerful her very voice had been that her corpse was eventually subjected to an autopsy which revealed two extraordinarily large lungs. She has a painted tomb monument at the Certosa of Bologna. Her son Giuseppe would publish a short biography of her, some sixty years later, in 1869.
A real naturally talented phenomenon: this could be Banti’s summary description. Destitute of any musical education (she could not even read music, neither would she ever learn to), she had a terrific ear and used to learn parts by heart just listening to their execution a couple of times. Her contemporaries, from the mentioned tenor Kelly, to the painter Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, to the great connoisseur of singing, Lord Mount Edgcumbe, agreed in praising her qualities. Mount Edgcumbe, for instance, wrote in his “Musical Reminiscences”: Her voice was of most extensive compass, rich and even, and without a fault in its whole range – a true voce di petto throughout ". She possessed, in fact, an exceedingly powerful voice, with an exquisite timbre and such remarkable flexibility, that she could fearlessly confront any kind of coloratura.
Her singing style, according to sharpest comment by Vigée-Le Brun, was very similar to the castrato Pacchiarotti’s (alongside whom, in fact, Banti happened to be on stage in numberless occasions); which meant she was able to excel at expressive intensity. In spite of her basic theoretical ignorance and her vulgar manners, Banti, owing to her natural talent, succeeded in growing a highly refined cantatrice and was able to shrink from outward appearance, from superficiality, and, in a word, from the decay of vocal taste which marked the 18th century’s second half. Thus, she took her firm stand by the side of those even-aged or younger singers that, by re-establishing the good singing habits of yore, paved the way for Rossini bel canto’s near developments.
Roles created and significant performances
The following is a list of significant performances of Banti’s career (either world or local premieres).
|Emirena||Attalo Re di Bitinia||dramma per musica (opera seria)||Giuseppe Sarti||Venice, Teatro (Gallo) San Benedetto]]||26 December 1782|
|Tisbe||Piramo e Tisbe||dramma per musica||Francesco Bianchi||Venice, Teatro (Gallo) San Benedetto||3 January 1783|
|Ippodamia||Briseide||dramma per musica (opera seria)||Francesco Bianchi||Turin, Nuovo Teatro Regio||27 December 1783|
|Emira||Amaionne||dramma per musica||Bernardino Ottani||Turin, Nuovo Teatro Regio||24 January 1784|
|Arianna||Bacco e Arianna||festa teatrale (cantata)||Angelo Tarchi||Turin, Nuovo Teatro Regio||20 May 1784|
|Adelina||Il disertore francese||dramma per musica (opera seria)||Francesco Bianchi||Venice, Teatro (Gallo) San Benedetto||26 December 1784|
|Cleofide||Alessandro nell'Indie||dramma per musica (opera seria)||Francesco Bianchi||Venice, Teatro (Gallo) San Benedetto||28 January 1785|
|Aricia||Fedra||dramma per musica||Giovanni Paisiello||Naples, Real Teatro San Carlo||1 January 1788|
|Debora||Debora e Sisara||azione sacra per musica (oratorio, 1st version)||Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi||Naples, Real Teatro San Carlo||13 February 1788|
|Armida||Il Rinaldo||dramma per musica||Pëtr Alekseevič Skokov||Naples, Real Teatro San Carlo||4 November 1788|
|Marzia||Catone in Utica||dramma per musica||Giovanni Paisiello||Naples, Real Teatro San Carlo||1 January 1789|
|Erismena||Montezuma||pastiche (dramma per musica)||Giacomo Insanguine, Josef Myslivecek, Gian Francesco de Majo,
Baldassarre Galuppi and Nicola Zingarelli
|Venice, Teatro (Venier) San Benedetto||14 November 1789|
|Zenobia||Zenobia di Palmira||dramma per musica (opera seria, 1st version)||Pasquale Anfossi||Venice, Teatro (Venier) San Benedetto||26 December 1789|
|Euterpe||L'armonia||cantata||Pasquale Anfossi||Venice, Teatro (Venier) San Benedetto||11 January 1790|
|Zenobia||Zenobia in Palmira||dramma per musica||Giovanni Paisiello||Naples, Real Teatro San Carlo||30 May 1790|
|Semiramide||La vendetta di Nino||dramma per musica (opera seria, 1st version)||Francesco Bianchi||Naples, Real Teatro San Carlo||12 November 1790|
|Cora||Pizzarro nelle Indie||opera seria||Marcello Bernardini “Marcello da Capua”||Naples, Real Teatro San Carlo||23 January 1791|
|Emilia||Lucio Papirio||dramma per musica (opera seria)||Gaetano Marinelli||Naples, Real Teatro San Carlo||30 May 1791|
|Briseide||Briseide||opera||Ferdinando Robuschi||Naples, Real Teatro San Carlo||13 August 1791|
|Antigona||Antigona||opera seria||Peter von Winter||Naples, Real Teatro San Carlo||4 November 1791|
|Achinoa||Gionata||oratorio (azione sacra scenica)||Niccolò Piccinni||Naples, Real Teatro San Carlo||4 March 1792|
|Aspasia||I giuochi di Agrigento||dramma per musica (1st version)||Giovanni Paisiello||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice (inauguration)||16 May 1792|
|Astasia||Tarara o sia La virtù premiata||dramma per musica (opera seria)||Francesco Bianchi||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||26 December 1792|
|Ines||Ines de Castro||dramma per musica||Giuseppe Giordani "Giordaniello”||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||28 January 1793|
|Alceste||Alceste ossia il trionfo dell' amor conjugale||opera seria||Christoph Willibald Gluck||London, King's Theatre in the Haymarket||30 April 1795|
|Evelina||Evelina, or the Triumph of the English over the Romans||serious opera||Antonio Sacchini||London, King's Theatre in the Haymarket||10 January 1797|
|Zenobia||Zenobia||dramma per musica (opera seria)||Richard Mount-Edgcumbe||London, King's Theatre in the Haymarket||22 May 1800|
|Ines||Ines de Castro||dramma serio per musica||Vittorio Trento||Leghorn, Imperial Regio Teatro degli Avvalorati||9 November 1803|
|Clearco (en travesti)||I riti d'Efeso||dramma eroico per musica||Giuseppe Farinelli||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||26 December 1803|
|Arsace (en travesti)||Arsace e Semira||dramma eroico (opera seria)||Francesco Gnecco||Venice, Teatro alla Fenice||31 December 1803|
- She is often reported also as Brigida Giorgi Banti (or Banti Giorgi).
- This is Carr’s version; according to Caruselli editor’s encyclopaedia (I, p 97) and to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, the correct data are the ones reported in the present article, whereas Staccioli and Genesi date her birth at Monticelli d'Ongina back to 1755.
- Palmer, Fiona M. (1997). Domenico Dragonetti in England (1794–1846). Oxford U. Press. p. 10. ISBN 0-19-816591-9..
- According to Carr and Staccioli, she might even have already made her debut at the Opéra in 1776 in an entr'acte in Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide; this version is also supported by the site Amadeus Almanac, accessed 2 February 2009, which specifies also the role performed by Banti (Diana).
- Da Ponte, L., Memorie Archived 29 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine., digital edition. Quote: la Banti “era una femminaccia ignorante, sciocca e insolente, che, avvezza nella sua prima giovinezza a cantar pei caffè e per le strade, portò sul teatro, dove la sola voce la condusse, tutte le abitudini, le maniere e i costumi d'una sfacciata Corisca. Libera nel parlare, più libera nelle azioni, dedita alla crapola, alle dissolutezze ed alla bottiglia, appariva sempre quello che era in faccia di tutti, non conosceva misure, non aveva ritegni; e, quando alcuna delle sue passioni era stuzzicata dalle difficoltà o dalle opposizioni, diventava un aspide, una furia, un demone dell'inferno, che avrebbe bastato a sconvolgere tutto un impero, nonché un teatro".
- Celletti, La grana, "San Carlo e Scala", p 66.
- Tomb at the Certosa di Bologna.
- Mount Edgcumbe, also an amateur composer, wrote for Banti his only opera Zenobia, staged but once at the King’s Theatre, in 1800.
- Mount Edgcumbe, R, Musical Reminiscences of an Old Amateur Chiefly Respecting Italian Opera in England for Fifty Years from 1773 to 1823, London, 1824, quoted by Grove Dictionary , I, p 304.
- Caruselli (ed.), Enciclopedia, I, p 98.
- Celletti, Storia ..., p. 112.
- Amadeus Almanac, accessed 14 February 2009.
- According to The Oxford Dictionary of Music (sixth edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013, p. 14, ISBN 978-0-19-957854-2) and The New Grove Dictionary of Opera (article: Alceste (ii) by Jeremy Hayes, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, I, p. 62, ISBN 978-0-19-522186-2), it was the British premiere of the Italian version of Gluck's opera. According however to a note appeared on the "Chronicle" of 28 April 1795 (cited in Theodore Fenner, Opera in London: Views of the Press, 1785-1830, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1994, p. 104, ISBN 0-8093-1912-8), "it was identical to the Paris production under Gluck".
- Translation into Italian by Lorenzo Da Ponte of Sacchini's posthumous opera Arvire et Évélina (William Thomas Parke, Musical Memoirs: Comprising an Account of the General State of Music in England ..., London, Colburn & Bentley, 1830, I, p. 244 (copy at books.google).
- (in Italian) Lorenzo Da Ponte, Memorie, Bari, G. Laterza, 1918, now available free in a digital edition c/o Università degli studi di Roma La Sapienza (Biblioteca Italiana); original title: Memorie di Lorenzo da Ponte da Ceneda scritte da esso (New York, 1823–27, enlarged 2/1829-30)
- (in Italian) Rodolfo Celletti, La Grana della Voce. Opere, direttori e cantanti, Baldini&Castoldi, Milan, 2000
- (in Italian) Rodolfo Celletti, Storia del belcanto, Discanto Edizioni, Fiesole, 1983
- (in Italian) Salvatore Caruselli (ed), Grande enciclopedia della musica lirica, vol. 4, Longanesi &C. Periodici S.p.A., Roma
- Bruce Carr, Banti, Brigida Giorgi, in Stanley Sadie (ed), The new Grove Dictionary of Opera, Oxford University Press, 1992, I, pp. 303–304
- (in Italian) Mario G. Genesi, Una primadonna tardosettecentesca: B. Giorgi-Banti (1755 - 1806), Edizioni Pro Loco di Monticelli d'Ongina, 1991, 228 pages
- Harold Rosenthal & John Warrack, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, Oxford University Press, 1964, 1966, 1972, ad nomen
- (in Italian) Roberto Staccioli, Giorgi (Banti Giorgi), Brigida, Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, 2001, volume 55
- This article is a substantial translation from Brigida Banti in the Italian Wikipedia.