Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/92

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80
LABLACHE.
 

on the stage, the young Lablache made his escape from the Conservatorio no less than five times, and was as often brought back in disgrace. He engaged himself to sing at Salerno at 15 ducats a month (40 sous a day), and received a month's salary in advance; but, remaining two days longer at Naples, he spent the money. As he could not, however, appear decently without luggage, he filled a portmanteau with sand, and set out. Two days later he was found at Salerno by the vice-president of the Conservatorio, while the Impresario seized the effects of the young truant in order to recoup himself the salary he had advanced, but found, to his horror, nothing in the portmanteau … but what Lablache had put there! (Escudier). To these escapades was due, however, the institution of a little theatre within the Conservatorio; and Lablache was satisfied for a time. A royal edict, meanwhile, forbade the Impresario of any theatre, under severe penalties, to engage a student of the Conservatorio without special permission.

Having at length completed his musical education, Lablache was engaged at the San Carlino Theatre at Naples, as buffo Napolitano, in 1812, though then only 18. He made his début in 'La Molinara' of Fioravanti. A few months later, he married Teresa Pinotti, the daughter of an actor engaged at the theatre and one of the best in Italy. This happy union exercised a powerful and beneficial influence over the life of Lablache. Quickly seeing his genius and capacity for development far beyond the narrow sphere in which she found him, his young wife persuaded Lablache, not without difficulty, to quit the San Carlino, a theatre in which two performances a day were given, ruining completely within a year every voice but that of her robust husband; to re-commence serious study of singing, and to give up the patois in which he had hitherto sung and spoken. Accordingly, a year later, after a short engagement at Messina, he went as primo basso cantante to the Opera at Palermo. His first appearance was in the 'Ser Marc-Antonio' of Pavesi, and his success was so great as to decide him to stay at Palermo for nearly five years. But it was impossible that he should remain there unknown; and the administration of La Scala at Milan engaged him in 1817, where he made his début as Dandini in 'Cenerentola,' with great success, due to his splendid acting and singing, and in spite of the provincial accent which still marred his pronunciation. Over the latter defect he soon triumphed, as he had over his want of application a few years before. In fact, perhaps the most remarkable things about Lablache were the extent to which he succeeded in cultivating himself, and the stores of general knowledge which he accumulated by his own unaided efforts. It is said that at Naples he had enjoyed the great advantage of the society and counsels of Madame Mericoffre, a banker's wife, known in Italy before her marriage as La Coltellini, but then quite unknown in England, though described as one of the finest artists belonging to the golden age of Italian singing. To such influence as this, and to that of his intelligent wife, Lablache perhaps owed some of the impulse which prompted him to continue to study when most singers cease to learn and content themselves with reaping the harvest; but much must have been due to his own desire for improvement.

The opera 'Elisa e Claudio' was now (1821) written for him by Mercadante; his position was made, and his reputation spread throughout Europe. From Milan he went to Turin; returned to Milan in 1822, then appeared at Venice, and in 1824 at Vienna, and always with the same success. At the last city he received from the enthusiastic inhabitants a gold medal bearing a most flattering inscription. After twelve years absence he returned to Naples, with the title of singer in the chapel of Ferdinand I., and with an engagement at the San Carlo. Here he created a great sensation as Assur in 'Semiramide.' Two years later we find him at Parma, singing in Bellini's 'Zaira.' Although Ebers had endeavoured, as early as 1822, to secure him for London, on the strength of his reputation as 'perhaps even excelling Zucchini,' Lablache did not tread the English boards till the season of 1830, when he made his début on the 30th March in the 'Matrimonio segreto.' Here, as elsewhere, his success was assured from the moment when he sang his first note, almost from the first step he took upon the stage. It is indeed doubtful whether he was greater as a singer or as an actor. His head was noble, his figure very tall, and so atoning for his bulk, which became immense in later years: yet he never looked too tall on the stage. One of the boots of Lablache would have made a small portmanteau; 'one could have clad a child in one of his gloves' (Chorley). His strength was enormous. As Leporello, he sometimes carried off under his arm, apparently without effort, the troublesome Masetto, represented by Giubilei, a man of the full height and weight of ordinary men! Again, in an interval of tedious rehearsing, he was once seen on the stage to pick up with one hand a double bass that was standing in the orchestra, examine it at arm's length, and gently replace it where he had found it! The force of his voice exceeded, when he chose, the tone of the instruments that accompanied it and the noise and clamour of the stage; nothing drowned his portentous notes, which rang through the house like the booming of a great bell. On one occasion, indeed, his wife is said to have been woke up by a sound, in the middle of the night, which she took for the tocsin announcing a fire, but which turned out to be nothing more than Lablache producing in his sleep these bell-like sounds. It was during the great popularity of 'I Puritani,' when Grisi, accompanied by Lablache, was in the habit of singing the polacca thrice a week at the Opera, and frequently also at concerts. After performing his staccato part in the duet thrice within nine hours, Lablache was haunted by it even in his sleep. This power was wisely used by the great artist on the right occasions, and only then—as