The Composer And His Muse: Isabella Colbrano and Gioachin Rossini


Colbran, born in Madrid, studied under Girolamo Crescenti in Paris. By the age of twenty she had achieved fame throughout Europe for her voice. She moved to Naples, a hub of European music during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Teatro di San Carlo, built during the Bourbon dynasty, had been home to famous singers like the castrato Farinelli and represented a destination venue for talented singers.

Isabella Colbran als Desdemona
Colbran became the prima donna of the Teatro di San Carlo company,where she counted among her admirers the King of Naples as well as an adoring public. In time she became the mistress of the theater's impresario, Domenico Barbaia.

Barbaia engaged Gioachino Rossini, the most famous composer of his time, to pen a series of Neapolitan operas as a vehicle for Colbran’s rich vocal gifts. It didn’t turn out as he planned: Colbran left him for Rossini!

As Elizabeth, Queen of England
This well known fact is a case in point in regard to the lack of primary source material for Barbaja’s biography.  It would be fascinating to know what Barbaja thought of Colbran leaving him for his star composer, but no letter has survived, or was probably ever written.  We know that Barbaja’s business relationship continued after the Rossinis’ marriage, but the relationship grew more contentious.  We also know that the three of them spent many weeks together in Barbaja’s villa on Ischia before Colbran and Rossini became an ‘item’.  But, frustratingly, we have no idea what Barbaja thought about it all.


In 1815, with Isabella at the peak of her popularity, Rossini composed the title role of Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra especially for his muse. In Otello, Ossia il Moro di Venezia she sang Desdemona.


They tied the knot in 1822, and their fruitful musical marriage continued with Armida, Mosè in Egitto, Ricciardo e Zoraide, Ermione, La donna del Iago, Maometto II and Zelmira, all composed by Rossini for his leading lady.

The ninth and final work Rossini wrote for Isabella was "Semiramide" which she premiered at La Fenice, Venice, on February 3, 1823; the couple traveled to London in 1824 but Isabella's voice was already in decline and after her flop as Zelmira she sang little, finally leaving the stage in 1827. The marriage was rocky as Isabella was a compulsive gambler and Rossini had a poor concept of fidelity but the couple did not formally separate until 1836.  Rossini's enduring fame rests on operas not written for Isabella but he was always to cite her as the greatest interpreter of his music.

No comments:

Post a Comment