Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/466

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454
NICOLINI.
 

voice of moderate power, a good stage presence, and is a fair actor, but he has adopted the prevailing tremolo to such a degree as seriously to prejudice the method of singing which he acquired at the Conservatoire. During the winter and spring seasons he has sung in Russia, Vienna, and other places, and latterly has taken starring engagements with Mme. Adelina Patti, both in concert and opera in Germany and Italy, and in short concert tours in the English provinces. [App. p.731 "he married Mme. Adelina Patti on Aug. 10, 1886."]

[ A. C. ]

NICOLINI, Nicolino Grimaldi, detto, one of the greatest singers of the last century, was born at Naples about 1673. He received a good education, and could write very fair verses, as appears from the libretti which bear his name as their author. His voice, originally a soprano, soon sank into a fine contralto. The first dramas in which his name has been found are 'Tullo Ostilio' and 'Serse,' set by Buononcini, at Rome, 1694, in which he sang with the celebrated Pistocchi. During 1697–8, he was the principal singer in the operas at Naples; and in 1699 and 1700 was again performing at Rome. After this, he sang in other Italian cities, including Milan and Venice; and, being decorated at the latter place with the Order of St. Mark, he was thenceforth always known as the 'Cavaliere Nicolini.'

Late in the autumn of 1708, he came to England, drawn hither by the report of our passion for foreign operas, and 'without any particular invitation or engagement' (Cibber). Here he made his first appearance, Dec. 14, in the 'Pyrrhus and Demetrius' of A. Scarlatti, translated into English by Owen Swiny, the manager, and arranged by N. Haym, who wrote a new overture and some songs for it. In this, of course, Nicolini sang his part in Italian, while other singers performed theirs in English. Steele describes this opera as 'a noble entertainment,' and declares that he 'was fully satisfied with the sight of an Actor [Nicolini] who, by the Grace and Propriety of his Action and Gesture, does Honour to an Human Figure,' and 'sets off the Character he bears in an Opera by his Action, as much as he does the Words of it by his Voice. Every Limb, and every Finger, contributes to the Part he acts, insomuch that a deaf Man might go along with him in the Sense of it,' with much more to the same [1]purport. The opera prices were raised on the arrival of this performer, the first truly great singer who had ever sung in our theatre (Burney). In fact, the whole scheme of the subscription was probably remodelled according to his recommendations. Some curious papers [2]exist, the collection of Vice-Chamberlain Coke, by which it appears that Nicolini furnished that official with a full account of the system on which the Venetian opera was managed, and that he suggested a similar system for that of London. One chief feature was that a subscription of 1000 gs. should be got from the Queen (Anne); and on this Coke founded a calculation which led to the remodelling of the opera-subscription and raising of the prices, in order to remedy what Nicolini described as the 'annual and certain loss of money' which our Opera had till then suffered.

Though not attracted to London by an engagement, Nicolini had been immediately secured by Swiny for a year. Tosi, in his Treatise on Singing, doubts whether a perfect singer can at the same time be a perfect actor; but Galliard, the translator of that Treatise, says (in a note, 1742),—'Nicolini had both qualities, more than any that have come hither since. He acted to perfection, and did not sing much inferior. His variations in the airs were excellent; but in his cadences he had a few antiquated tricks.' Nicolini next appeared in 'Camilla'; and in May he signed an engagement with Swiny for three years, at a salary of 800 gs.; the singer to receive, in addition, £150 for a new opera 'to be by him fitted for the English stage every season, if such opera shall be approved of.'[3]

On June 4, Nicolini had a concert for his benefit at the Opera House, where he continued to sing as before. In 1710, however, he quarrelled with Swiny, and sought, in a letter dated [4]May 18, to free himself from an 'esclavage inquiet et honteux qu'on ne scauroit non plus's'iminaginer ailleurs hors de l'Angleterra,'—his engagement with Swiny. The principal grievance, as usual, was that he had not been paid his due salary; but the Vice-Chamberlain patched up the quarrel, and Nicolini continued to sing at the theatre in 'Almahide' and 'Hydaspes,' the libretto of the latter being his own, or at least edited by himself. In this piece occurred the famous combat with the lion, about which Addison was so witty, while giving the greatest possible credit to Nicolini for his acting, which gave 'new majesty to kings, resolution to heroes, and softness to lovers.' He wished 'that our tragedians would copy after this great master in action. Could they make the same use of their arms and legs, and inform their faces with as significant looks and passions, how glorious would an English tragedy appear with that action, which is capable of giving a dignity to the forced thoughts, cold conceits, and unnatural expressions of an Italian opera?'[5] On February 24, 1711, 'Rinaldo' appeared, the chief part being created by Nicolini, who had in it many opportunities for displaying his powers of declamation, execution, and acting. He played in 'Antioco,' Dec. 12, and in 'Ambleto' (his own libretto) in the beginning of 1712. Addison[6] says, 'I am sorry to find, by the Opera bills for this day, that we are likely to lose the greatest performer in dramatic Music that is now living, or that perhaps ever appeared upon a stage. I need not acquaint my readers, that I am speaking of Signer Nicolini. The town is highly obliged to that excellent artist, for having shewn us the Italian Music in its perfection, as well as for that generous approbation he lately gave to an opera of our own country[7] in which the composer endeavoured to do justice to the beauty of the words, by

  1. Tatler. Jan. 3, 1709.
  2. In the writer's possession.
  3. In the writer's possession.
  4. Ib.
  5. Spectator. March 15, 1710–11.
  6. Ib. June 14, 1712.
  7. Galllard's 'Calypso and Telemachus,' words by Hughes.