Who was Giovanni Pacini?
Giovanni Pacini (1792-1867), in his day, was considered one of the leading opera composers during the period between Rossini and Verdi. He was an enormously prolific opera composer, said to have composed over 80 operas. His career was the longest, along with Verdi’s, of any 19th Century Italian composer, lasting from the time of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri to Verdi’s Don Carlos. His heyday was from about 1840-1850, during which time Bellini had died, Donizetti had left for Paris, and Verdi’s career had just begun. His style was reminiscent of Donizetti’s, but somewhat less vigorous. Unlike Donizetti’s best works, Pacini’s operas were completely eclipsed by Verdi’s much more muscular works.
Italy did not become a unified state until after 1860, so there was little if any copyright protection for musicians. To be successful, a composer had to be prolific, since he was paid by the commissioning opera house per production or per performance. There were no royalties until the Italian state was able to enforce its copyright laws throughout the country. Only the most successful operas, such as those of Rossini, were revived. Pacini probably did not expect revivals of his operas, and his popularity never extended far beyond Italy to countries where copyright was more widely recognized and enforced.
Italian composers before Verdi had to contend with the vagaries, and sometimes the outright venality, of the impresarios who ran the opera houses of the day. Being an opera composer was a risky business, requiring business savvy and vigilance to thrive amidst the often cutthroat competition from one’s peers. Pacini’s operas were successful in their day, but none of them survived the 19th Century to enter the repertoires of the major opera houses.
On Sunday, August 3, at 2 P.M., however, Pacini will have his day on the Sunday Opera Matinee. We will have a chance to hear one of his most successful creations, Maria, regina d’Inghilterra, (Mary, Queen of England), with a libretto by Leopoldo Tarantini, based on Maria Tudor by Victor Hugo. At its premiere in Palermo on Feb. 11, 1843, the opera was a huge success. Later, however, political considerations led to a reduction of performances, and the opera declined in popularity. A second production in Turin was successful, but a premiere at La Scala in Milan was a failure, and the opera faded into oblivion. A failure at one of Italy’s major houses often sounded the death knell for a new work, and Maria was no exception. The last known performance of the opera, before its revival that led to a recording in the UK at the Camden Festival in 1983, was at Valetta in Malta in 1857-58.
Please join your host Tim Snider for this rare opportunity to hear a major work by a composer who is largely unknown today.