Charles Burney on the ‘Vulgar and Ordinary’ Singing in Leipzig during the 1770s
The next morning, September 25, M. Hiller was so obliging as to conduct me to the play-house, where one of his comic operas was rehearsing. The overture, and one song, had been performed when we entered, but all was begun again. I found this music very natural and pleasing, and deserving of much better performers than the present Leipzic company can boast; for, to say the truth, the singing here is as vulgar and ordinary as our common singing in England, among those who have neither had the advantage of being taught, nor of hearing good singing.
There is just the same pert snap in taking the high notes, which they do with a kind of beat [mordent], and very loud, instead of a messa di voce, or swell. The instrumental parts went ill; but as this was the first rehearsal, they might have been disciplined into good order, if M. Hiller had chosen to bounce and play the tyrant a little; for it is a melancholy reflection to make, that few composers are well treated by an orchestra, till they have first used the performers roughly, and made themselves formidable.
I endeavoured to account for the bad manner of singing which prevails so generally among the performers on the Leipsic stage, and I could suggest nothing that was so likely to explain it, as the distance which this town is at present from an Italian opera, which being usually supplied by Italians, is an excellent school for singing, to the inhabitants of places where operas are constantly performed: as at Manheim, Ludwigsbourg, Munich, Vienna, and Dresden, where I found the common singing very pleasing, the expression natural, and the carriage of the voice far from vicious; in all these places, Italian operas have long been established, which have certainly had an effect on the public taste, and manner of singing.
Charles Burney, The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands and United Provinces, vol. 2 (London: T. Becket, 1775).
The image below is of a porcelain figure modelled by Johann Joachim Kändler in c.1743, depicting the renowned Italian singer Faustina Bordoni in the act of singing. She is accompanied at the harpsichord by a fox, a clear reference to Faustina’s well-publicised affair with a certain Herr Fuchs (fox.) The sheet music represented in such beautiful clarity shows an aria from the opera Antigono by Johann Adolph Hasse, Faustina’s husband, with lyrics referring rather pointedly to seduction, dignity, and revenge!
“Faustina Bordoni and Fox,” Metmuseum.org, 2022, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/203128?searchField=All&.