Marras, Giacinto (DNB00)

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MARRAS, GIACINTO (1810–1883), singer and musical composer, born at Naples 6 July 1810, was son of Il Cavaliere Giovanni Marras and his wife Maria Biliotti, a famous Florentine beauty. The father, a distinguished artist, was court painter to the Grand Duke of Tuscany and the sultan of Turkey (cf. Le Courrier de Smyrne, 29 May 1831), and was a son of the Roman poetess, Angelica Mosca. In 1820 Giacinto entered the preparatory school of the Real Collegio di Musica at Naples, but shortly afterwards, probably on account of his success in the soprano part of Bellini's first opera, ‘Adelson e Salvini,’ performed in the college theatre, for which he was chosen by the composer because of the beauty of his voice (cf. Grove, Dict. of Musicians, i. 212, sub ‘Bellini’), Marras was elected to a free scholarship at the college, where his masters for composition and singing were Zingarelli and Crescentini, Bellini and Michael Costa being maestrini or sub-professors. During his pupilage he frequently sang in the Neapolitan churches, and wrote much music for them.

On leaving the college Marras made a professional tour through Italy, and in 1835 he was induced by the Marquis of Anglesey and the Duke of Devonshire to come to England, where he immediately established a reputation. He was at once engaged for most of the principal concerts, including those of the Philharmonic Society and the ‘Antient Concerts.’ One of the first performances under his own management was given in conjunction with Parigiani, Grisi, Caradori Allan, Rubini, Tamburini, Lablache, Balfe, and others on 30 June 1836, at the great concert room of the King's Theatre, when Rubini sang ‘Il nuovo Canto Veneziano,’ composed by Marras expressly for the occasion. In 1842 Marras made a concert tour in Russia, visiting all the principal towns, and meeting with such success at St. Petersburg that the Czar Nicholas offered him the lucrative post of director of the court music, with full pension after ten years' service. This, however, he declined. At Odessa he was engaged, at the instance of Prince Woronzoff, to sing the primo tenore parts in the Italian opera. Later he accompanied this prince to Alupka in the Crimea, and on his return he sang with ever-increasing success at Vienna and also at Naples, where he appeared at the Fondo theatre on the 2nd and at S. Carlo in ‘Sonnambula’ on 19 March 1844 (Morning Post, 23 April 1844). In the same year he appeared at the best concerts in Paris. At one, given by the Russian musician Glinka (1804–1857), failure seemed imminent owing to the breakdown of the prima donna, when Marras saved the situation by singing the cavatina from ‘L'Elisire d'Amore’ (cf. Étude sur Glinka, by Octave Fouqué, Paris, 1880). Gounod spoke of Marras's success in Paris when singing with Mario, Lablache, and Mme. Duchassaing (Le Constitutionnel, Paris, 18 March 1845).

In 1846 Marras settled permanently in England, where he had previously been naturalised, and had married his pupil, Lilla Stephenson, daughter of a major in the 6th dragoon guards. He resumed his engagements in London and the provinces, besides composing and publishing a large number of songs and other works. In 1855 he declined an offer of the principal professorship of singing at the Royal Academy of Music, and was subsequently elected hon. fellow of that institution. Marras also refused an engagement at Her Majesty's Theatre to share with Mario the principal tenor parts in the Italian opera. About 1860 he instituted his ‘Après-midis musicales’ at his house at Hyde Park Gate, which met with great success. Between 1870 and 1873 he made a triumphantly successful professional tour through the principal towns of India (cf. Morning Post, 18 May 1883; ib. 21 Dec. 1872; Times of India, 20 Jan. 1873; Athenæum, 30 Nov. 1872). At the last concert at Simla Marras was publicly thanked by Lord Mayo ‘for the immense impulse which he had given to high art throughout the empire of India’ (Civil Service Gazette, 25 Nov. 1871). In 1873 he returned to England, when the ‘Après-midis’ were resumed, but in 1879 he went to Cannes and Nice, where his last public appearances were made. In 1883 he left Cannes for Monte Carlo for change of air, after a severe attack of bronchitis, and died at Monte Carlo 8 May 1883. He was buried at Cannes in the protestant cemetery, close to the memorial to the Duke of Albany.

During his long career Marras made numerous operatic tours with such performers as Persiani, Castellan, Pischek, Fornasari, &c., and he sang the leading tenor parts in most of the Italian operas then in vogue. He was, however, equally at home in oratorio and chamber music, his repertoire including compositions representative of all schools of composition from Palestrina to Gounod.

As a teacher of singing Marras was much sought after, among his pupils being H.R.H. the Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Mary of Cambridge, the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, &c. His voice was a pure tenor, extensive in compass, and trained to a very high pitch of excellence, while his mezza voce is said to have been remarkable. He was also an able pianist and accompanist. His compositions, which were very numerous, all belong to the pure Italian school. They are extremely melodious and effective (cf. Brit. Mus. Cat.). His ‘Lezioni di Canto’ and ‘Elementi Vocali’ (1850) were important contributions to the science of singing, and the king of Naples sent their author ‘a gold medal struck expressly, testifying his approbation of the professor's able work’ (Morning Post, and a letter from the Neapolitan minister of foreign affairs, 31 Jan. 1852). Marras also composed an opera, ‘Sardanapalus,’ which is still in manuscript. Though never publicly performed, it met with considerable success when given at Witley Court, Lord Dudley's seat.

A number of portraits still exist, the best being: 1, a miniature by Costantino, painted in 1830; 2, lithographs, one in the character of Gualtiero in ‘Il Pirata,’ by Epaminondas, Odessa, 1842; by Baugniet, London, 1848; 3, a crayon portrait by Sturges, Nice, 1882; 4, a large oil-painting of an ‘Après-midi,’ containing portraits of the original members, by M. Ciardiello, London, 1865.

[Authorities cited in the text; also numerous English, Indian, Austrian, and Italian press notices; Imp. Dict. of Univ. Biog. art. ‘Bellini;’ Gossip of the Century; the Theatre; also letters, papers, and information from Mr. Palfrey Burrell.]

R. H. L.