Opera Scotland

Barbiere di Siviglia 1860Mr Wood's Edinburgh Italian Opera

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Two nights in the winter of 1860 saw the first performances in Dundee by a company of Italian singers, with Il barbiere di Siviglia on Wednesday 21 March followed by Don Pasquale on Thursday 22nd. The visit was organized by the Dundee-based manager Mr Methven, in collaboration with the well-established Edinburgh impresario Mr Wood. The latter had been bringing a company of singers north for some years, for seasons in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but to play in Dundee was a new departure. The Theatre Royal in Castle Street had opened in 1810 - Dundee's first purpose-built theatre - and the town had seen visits by opera companies from Edinburgh before, notably under the management of Charles Bass, c1830, but performances in those days were invariably in English.

While the town was not yet the renowned 'Juteopolis' of future times, it was now a thriving centre of the linen industry. Canvas was long a requirement for shipping, and Dundee-made sails had powered Nelson's Victory at Trafalgar. More recently, in the mid-1850s, vast quantities of material had been supplied to the military forces in the Crimean War. A new concert venue, the Corn Exchange (quickly renamed the Kinnaird Hall as the farmers still preferred to do business out in the rain), opened at this point. By 1860 the community was prosperous, with the boom provided by the American Civil War just around the corner. From then on, theatrical and musical life in the town really took off, with the establishment of a local choir and orchestra and year-round theatrical seasons.

This short Dundee visit, tagged on to the end of the main Edinburgh season, seems to have been a success, even if there were doubts about the population's readiness for such a sophisticated art form. One of the soloists in particular, the tenor Giacomo Galvani, was embarking on a long and illustrious career which took him all over Europe. The published reaction to the visit gives evidence that another of the staple 'three Js' of Dundee's prosperity - journalism - was already well established, with substantial space being devoted to cultural activities. Clearly this reporter is writing from a position of some knowledge, so we have transcribed it in full over the two operas.

The Dundee Perth and Cupar Advertiser of Friday, 23 March, reported: 'Among the improvements that are being gradually effected upon the musical taste of our town, which this season has so largely contributed to, we have to reckon the successful performances of two Italian Operas this week, by a company of very talented artistes. This is the first attempt of the kind ever produced in Dundee, and though the community generally is not yet up to the point of fully appreciating the delicacies of music and acting in harmonious combination, we have no doubt that a short season each winter would be well supported. On this occasion the turn-out was very creditable to our good town, all things considered. In the boxes, the beauty and fashion of the town and neighbourhood assembled in full dress, and presented an appearance truly delightful. The pit and gallery were both well filled. This, considering the influence brought to bear upon the nourishment of old Puritan formalities in our midst, is a large step in advance of our ordinary state in reference to things amusing. Now that the ice is fairly broken, it is to be hoped that the thaw will continue, and it be proved that a community can rationally amuse itself within the walls even of an opera house, without any serious peril.'

Having announced its view that opera and other public entertainments were a good thing, the Advertiser then moved on to discuss the performance: 'On Wednesday was provided Il Barbiere di Siviglia, which, though destitute of a chorus, and supported by a small yet excellent orchestra, was a most successful performance. The characters were admirably got up, and completely sustained their individuality throughout the entire piece. Without particularizing as the various artistes deserve, we must say a word or two on the leading characters. Rosina by Madame Viotti was well sustained. Her vocalizing is good, as was amply proved in ''Una voce poco fa'', in which her splendid chest voice was displayed to perfection. In spite of the exertion required to sing this cavatina, the audience inconsiderately attempted to encore Madame, but she wisely declined acceding to the demand. But in her aria from Lucrezia Borgia which she gave as Rossini's singing lesson, the house would take no denial and so she had to repeat it.

'The Count was well played by Signor Galvani, who is a graceful actor, and a first-class tenor. His serenade in the first scene was most exquisite, both in vocalization and expression. Signor Baraldi's Figaro was also good. His ''Largo al factotum'' displayed his vocal powers to the fullest extent. Signor Ciampi's Bartolo was a piece of the finest acting of its kind we ever witnessed. The constant jealousy of the old dotard, who is determined to effect his union with his young and beautiful ward; his rage on seeing her finger discoloured with ink, and discovering the indications that she has written a note to someone without his knowledge; his frigid attitude at the finale of the first act; and his ungainly attempts at mirth in the scene of the singing lesson, without for an instant relaxing his jealous  suspicions of his young charge, are so true to nature as to be mistaken for reality. Nor is his singing less excellent. Indeed, Signor Ciampi is an artiste of sterling ability. Signor Taste's Basilio is also deserving of the highest commendation, as a piece of first-rate acting. His voice is as fine a basso as can be heard. He was loudly applauded for ''La calunnia'', and not more than he deserved. The two secondary characters were admirably sustained by Signora Aglondi (Bertha) and Signor Aglondi (Fiorello) whose singing and acting were all that was wanted.

'The orchestra, conducted by Signor Orsini, was, in spite of its smallness, first-rate, playing the overtures and accompaniments with remarkable effect and taste.'

Performance Cast

Fiorello servant of the Count

Signor Aglondi

Count Almaviva

Giacomo Galvani

Figaro a barber

Signor Baraldi

Rosina Bartolo's ward

Madame Viotti

Bartolo a doctor, Rosina's guardian

Signor Ciampi

Don Basilio a singing teacher

Signor Taste

Berta Bartolo's housekeeper

Signora Aglondi

Production Cast

Conductor

Signor Orsini

Performance DatesBarbiere di Siviglia 1860

Map List

Theatre Royal, Dundee | Dundee

21 Mar, 20.00

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