Rubini, Giovanni Battista



Renowned Italian tenor; born at Romano, near Bergamo; received elementary musical instruction from his father, a teacher of music. At twelve years of age he appeared in a woman's part at the Romano Theatre, and soon after a chorus-singer at a Bergamo theatre, where he also played violin in an orchestra between acts. Here he distinguished himself by singing a difficult air for which the manager had had trouble to find a performer. He began a wandering life in small operatic companies, attracting marked attention first at Pavia in 1814; he next sang in Venice, after which he was engaged at Naples by Barbaja. Rubini appeared at Rome and Palermo with pronounced success. In 1819 he married Adelaide Chomel, a mezzosoprano singer, well known in her day. In 1825 he was engaged at the Theatre Italien, Paris, appearing in Rossini's Cenerentola with triumphant success, and later in other operas by that composer, in Vienna, Milan and Naples, under the management of Barbaja, who at length had to pay him an almost fabulous salary. He now commenced to sing in Bellini's operas, and it is said that his voice and powers of expression were an inspiration not only to that composer but to Donizetti, both of whom wrote operas for him, La Sonnambula, I Puritani, Anna Bolena, and Lucia being among the number. From 1831 to 1843 he sang alternately in Paris and in London, in concert as well as opera, becoming a member of the famous Puritani Quartet, which included Grisi, Tamburino and Lablache, and which sang for seven years, both in Paris and London. On his retirement from this quartet he was succeeded by Mario, his almost equally celebrated pupil. He then joined Liszt in a tour through H9ljand and Germany, parting from him in Berlin, and going on alone to St. Petersburg, where he met with yet greater triumphs, becoming a favorite with the nobility, and receiving many honors and decorations from the Czar. Rubini next revisted Italy, stopping at Vienna, and in the winter of 1844 returned to Russia. Unfortunately, the severe climate irreparably injured his voice, and the next year, being now fifty years of age, he retired to private life on an estate near Romano, having become a millionaire. He died there nine years later, leaving a large fortune. Rubini owed his celebrity entirely to his voice and his control of it, as he lacked the gifts of dramatic ability and pleasing stage presence. Henry C. Lahee, in his Famous Singers of Today and Yesterday, says: "The immense power, purity, and sweetness of his voice has probably never been surpassed, and its compass was of two octaves from C in the bass clef. He could also sing in falsetto as high as treble F, and with such skill that no one could detect the change into the falsetto." In this respect he has been called the creator of the operatic style which succeeded the period of Rossini's production, and which was a rebound from the florid vocal excesses practised at that time. Rubini had many followers who copied certain peculiarities of style natural to and original with him, which, when imitated became caricatures, and injured his traditional reputation to some extent, but unjustly. Although possessing the flexibility sufficient for the execution of the most complicated vocal passages, and indulging occasionally in such displays, he made this power subordinate to artistic interpretation and musical expression, and could move his hearers profoundly by the feeling with which he sang simple and pathetic melodies.