A recollection of Giovanni Battista Rubini Singing so Forcefully that he Broke his Clavicle
Updated: Jul 12
‘Rubini appeared, raised his eyes to heaven, extended his arms, planted himself firmly on his calves, inflated his breast, opened his mouth, and sought, by the usual means, to pronounce the wished-for B flat. But no B flat would come. Os habet, et non clamabit. Rubini was dumb; the public did their best to encourage the disconsolate singer, applauded him, cheered him, and gave him courage to attack the unhappy B flat a second time.
On this occasion, Rubini was victorious. Determined to catch the fugitive note, which for a moment had escaped him, the singer brought all the muscular force of his immense lungs into play, struck the B flat, and threw it out among the audience with a vigour which surprised and delighted them. In the meanwhile, the tenor was by no means equally pleased with the triumph he had just gained. He felt, that in exerting himself to the utmost, he had injured himself in a manner which might prove very serious. Something in the mechanism of the voice had given way. He had felt the fracture at the time. He had, indeed, conquered the B flat, but at what an expense; that of a broken clavicle! However, he continued his scene. He was wounded but triumphant, and in his artistic elation he forgot the positive physical injury he had sustained. On leaving the stage he sent for the surgeon of the theatre, who, by inspecting and feeling Rubini’s clavicle, convinced himself that it was indeed fractured. The bone had been unable to resist the tension of the singer’s lungs. Rubini may have been said to have swelled his voice until it burst one of its natural barriers.
“It seems to me,” said the wounded tenor, “that a man can go on singing with a broken clavicle.”
“Certainly,” replied the doctor, “you have just proved it.” “How long would it take to mend it?” he enquired.
“Two months, if you remained perfectly quiet during the whole time.”
“Two months! And I have only sung seven times. I should have to give up my engagement. Can a person live comfortably with a broken clavicle?” “Very comfortably indeed. If you take care not to lift any weights you will experience no disagreeable effects.” “Ah! There is my cue,” exclaimed Rubini; “I shall go on singing.” “Rubini went on singing,” says M. Castil Blaze, “and I do not think any one who heard him in 1831 could tell that he was listening to a wounded singer—wounded gloriously on the field of battle.’
Henry Sutherland Edwards, History of Opera from Its Origin in Italy to the Present Time (London: Wm. H. Allen & co., 1862).
The image below is a print of the famous Rubini playing the role of Arturo in Bellini’s I Puritani, published in 1836.
The inscription reads: ‘A.E. Chalon, R.A. / R.J. Lane A.R.A. / Proof /. 'Arturo - e son beato M'è celeste il giubilar!' I Puritani Atto I. Sc. 5. / London, Published Jany. 1st. 1836, 33, Old Bond Street - á [sic] Paris chez Rittner & Goupil Boulevard Montmatre. deposé.’