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by Luca

On December 12, 1832, exactly 186 years ago, Andrea Nozzari died in Naples: besides being the first Otello in the homonymous opera by Gioachino Rossini (dated 1816), he is remembered above all for his particular voice, to the point that we can speak of the “baritenore” par excellence. Briefly reviewing his biography can help us to understand this judgment concerning the technical skills he was in possession of. Nozzari was born in 1776 in a tiny rural center in the province of Bergamo, Vertova. One can imagine how some influence was exercised by maternal uncle Giuseppe Viganoni, who was a rather well-known singer at the end of the eighteenth century. The first singing lessons, however, were given to him by an abbot.
This abbot was Luigi Petrobelli, “vicemaestro di cappella” at the cathedral of Bergamo, rudiments that will be very useful to Nozzari. The learning then continued with the tenor Giacomo David, the prototype of the baritonal tenor of the eighteenth century and the creator of many roles (among the many we can remember Ottone in “Adelasia e Aleramo” by Mayr). The progress was so evident that at the age of eighteen, in 1794, he managed to make his debut in Pavia: the following year he sang at La Scala in Milan. The real turning point, however, had to arrive abroad. The Théâtre Italien of Paris, in fact, engaged him and in the period between 1803 and 1806 the performances ranged from the comic to the semi-serious genre. The opinion on his voice by the Parisians can be obtained from the press comments after the debut in “Il Principe di Taranto” by Ferdinando Paër: “His voice is full, pure and flexible, his phisyque is more pleasant, he has sung several arias with a superior talent.” And moreover: “The voice is a little more low than the ordinary tenors: it’s what the Italians attribute to the baritone.” Again: “Nozzari has a superb and extended voice, and is equally profuse in the low and acute registers: he knows how to pass cleverly from the chest to the head.” Among other things, Nozzari never skimped embellishments and ornamentations in different passages of the arias, a habit that still brought him more criticism than praise. In 1818 he signed a contract with the Neapolitan royal theaters and often also took the role of bass (for example in Rossini’s “La gazza ladra”). His name is undoubtedly linked to that of the composer from Pesaro, but the last years of his career intersected with the emerging Gaetano Donizetti: the Bergamo musician gave him the lead role in “Alfredo il Grande”, before arriving at the decision to definitively abandoning the stage in 1825. He became a singing teacher and among the most illustrious students boasted Giovanni Battista Rubini and Nicola Ivanoff.
Why is Nozzari considered the “baritenore” par excellence? The term evidently indicates the fusion of the words “baritone” and “tenor”: the Lombard singer was able to exploit in the best way the medium-low area of the texture, with the “canto di coloratura” put in the background compared to the more declaimed and wide. The detaches were the main strength of his career, so much so that even the contemporaries even noticed how “the voice could beat the anvil”. The two octaves were overcome without problems and the treble and the grave were equally clear.
This is the reason why Gioachino Rossini employed him numerous times for his dramatic roles, the voice of Nozzari was ideal for the evil and violent characters, the antagonists, in a few words. Some have defined the “baritenori” as “tenors-bass”, more precisely all those singers who have been described as tenors during the eighteenth century. When the Italian opera began to use castrati more frequently, the “baritenori” became “normal” voices and, according to some, vulgar, by far reducing the performances.
If you look at the only French opera, the modern “baritenori” are simple baritones. The life of Nozzari ended on a cold autumn day at fifty-six, after having left a fundamental mark in the opera. To best describe it, one can rely on one of the always enlightening judgments of the writer Stendhal, an inveterate melomane: “His magnificent, imposing and melancholy figure helped him a great deal in making certain effects to which the librettist had probably never thought of. I remember that the Neapolitans noticed with amazement the beauty of the gestures and the all new grace that Nozzari had in the part of Othello. He was not used to much.”


(By Simone Ricci)


Gregory Kunde – “Balena in man del figlio” Pirro Aria from “Ermione” (1819) I Act IV Scene – LIVE in Santa Fe (US) – 2000.
With Ermione – Andromaca – Oreste – Pilade – Fenicio – Attalo & Chorus.