• Tim Braithwaite

A Recollection of Domenico Donzelli’s Singing in an 1829 Performance of Rossini’s Otello:

On the occasion of this remarkable operatic event, the most accomplished tenore robusto of his times, Dozelli, was the Otello to Malibran’s Desdemona. This singer was, indeed, justly pronounced as the very first of his class, if not the first absolutely in Europe, after Garcia.


His voice had a clearness, a brilliancy, and a power - a metallo or natural vibratory power - that belonged to very few, either before or since his time. His tone was formed high in the head, his compass combining the falsetto to a very large extent; whilst he possessed such complete command over his vast volume of voice, that he could send it forth in all its body, or in its softest attenuation, at pleasure.


He managed the junction of the chest and head registers with the utmost skill, so that it was quite impossible to discover upon what note the actual transition took place, although the fluty quality of the upper notes immediately made its use apparent. His conception was both vigorous and apprehensive, his manner being proportionately energetic or tender, as the expression or the occasion required. His style was in a great degree founded upon that of Crivelli and Garcia; more, perhaps, upon that of the latter than of the former, on account of its grace and fluency. His middle register was richly full, which, together with the concentration he occasionally used, and his facility and neatness of execution, were admirable.

Yet, notwithstanding his possession of these remarkable qualities, Donzelli was by no means a faultless singer. One peculiarity was constantly apparent which, after a while, not a little detracted from his excellence, simply because it took from him the equality of his execution. The ascending notes of his scales were generally given out from his chest voice until he rose very high, and passed into the falsetto, the almost inevitable consequence of which was, that they were sometimes too strong by their comparative volume.


His descending divisions and fioriture, on the contrary, when they commenced upon the higher notes of his voice, were taken in falsetto, which he carried very low down before using his mixed or natural voice. From such extreme contrasts the ear was not seldom cheated into a belief of this having been done expressly to convey the notion of an echo or distant sound, the equality was disturbed, and the general effect of the performance diminished.


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*Notes*


John Edmund Cox, Musical Recollections of the Last Half-Century., vol. 1 (London: Tinsley Brothers, 1872).


The image below is a hand-coloured etching made in 1829 by William Heath depicting an operatic interaction between Desdemona and Otello.


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