A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Bernasconi, Antonia

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BERNASCONI, Antonia, was the daughter of a valet-de-chambre of the Prince of Würtemburg, whose widow married Andrea Bernasconi, a music-master and composer. From him Antonia received such instruction as sufficed to develope her remarkable talents. She made her first appearance at Vienna, 1764, in 'Alceste,' which Gluck had written expressly for her. She afterwards sang at various Italian theatres, and in 1778 she appeared with Pacchierotti in 'Demofoonte,' a pasticcio, at the Opera in London. She was then a good musician, and a correct and skilful singer; but her voice was not powerful, and she was past her prime. She was a good actress, with but an indifferent figure. In the next season she remained, condescending, as it was then esteemed, to take the part of 'first woman' in the comic opera, which she performed admirably. In 1770—71 she had sung at Milan the part of Aspasia in Mozart's early opera 'Mitridate.' She distrusted the powers of the boy to compose the airs for her, and requested to see what she was to sing, to which he instantly acceded. She made trial of a piece, and was charmed with it. Mozart then, piqued at her want of confidence, gave her another, and a third, leaving Bernasconi quite confounded with so rare a talent and so rich an imagination at years so tender. Shortly afterwards an enemy (Gasparini of Turin) called on her with the words of the libretto set to different music, and endeavoured to persuade her not to sing the music of the young Mozart. 'She absolutely refused this wicked person, being quite over-joyed at the airs the young maestro had written for her, in which he consulted her inclination.'[1] The opera had a prodigious success.

In 1783 Bernasconi was at Vienna, where she had settled, though not engaged at the Opera; but she gave a few performances of the 'Alceste' and 'Ifigenia in Tauride' of Gluck, and of a comic opera 'La Contadina in Corte,' which she had sung with success in London.

[ J. M. ]

  1. Leopold Mozart's Letter.