Venezia: Stamperia Curti... Presso il Foglierini, 1792. Small quarto. Contemporary stiff light tan wrappers. 1f. (recto blank incorporating an engraved vignette of a phoenix rising from the ashes, verso frontispiece), 1f. (recto title, verso blank),  ("L'Autore a Chi Legge"), - ("Argomento del Dramma"),  ("Mutazioni di Scene"),  ("I Balli"),  ("Personaggi del Dramma"), 7-86 pp. + four engraved portraits printed on one side of the leaf only.
The frontispiece depicts the front of the famous opera house ("Facciata anteriore del nuovo teatro detto la Fenice") and the four portrait engravings the composer Giovanni Paisiello and leading singers in the first performance Brigida Banti, Giacomo David, and Gasparo Pacchiarotti, all in profile within oval border.
Named singers includes David (Eraclide), Pacchierotti (Alcéo), Banti (Aspasia), Sessi (Egesta), Vedova (Cleone), Gibelli (Filosseno), Bobbi (Elpenore), and Giurini (Deifile); named dancers Salvatore Viganò, Maria Medina Viganò, and Onorato Viganò; the music to the ballets was by Giulio Viganò, the sets by Antonio Dian, and the choral direction by Ignazio Granatelli.
Wrappers slightly worn and soiled; very minor loss to foot of spine. Minor signs of wear and foxing. Overall, an exceptionally clean, wide-margined copy, with strong impression.
First Edition. Rare outside of Italy. Sonneck 566. OCLC 254319899. Sartori 12268.
La Fenice ("The Phoenix")... "is one of the most famous and renowned landmarks in the history of Italian theatre... and in the history of opera as a whole. Especially in the 19th century, La Fenice became the site of many famous operatic premieres at which the works of several of the four major bel canto era composers – Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi – were performed..."
"... In 1774, the Teatro San Benedetto, which had been Venice's leading opera house for more than forty years, burned to the ground. By 1789, with interest from a number of wealthy opera lovers who wanted a spectacular new house, "a carefully defined competition" was organised to find a suitable architect. It was won by Gianantonio Selva who proposed a neoclassical style building with 170 identical boxes in tiers in a traditional horseshoe shaped auditorium, which had been the favoured style since it was introduced as early as 1642 in Venice.."
"... Construction began in June 1790, and by May 1792 the theatre was completed. It was named "La Fenice", in reference to the company's survival, first of the fire, then of the loss of its former quarters. La Fenice was inaugurated on 16 May 1792, with an opera by Giovanni Paisiello entitled I giuochi d'Agrigento set to a libretto by Alessandro Pepoli [together with two ballets, Amore e Psiche and Divertimento campestre, choreographed by Onorato Viganò]..."
"... At the beginning of the 19th century, La Fenice acquired a European reputation. Rossini mounted two major productions there: Tancredi in 1813 and Semiramide in 1823. Two of Bellini's operas were given their premieres there: I Capuleti e i Montecchi in March 1830 and Beatrice di Tenda in March 1833. Donizetti, fresh from his triumphs at La Scala in Milan and at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, returned to Venice in 1836 with his Belisario, after an absence of seventeen years..." Wikipedia.
Paisiello is considered "one of the most successful and influential opera composers of the late 18th century... [His] popularity was at its height during the last 20 years or so of the 18th century... His compositions are... a gauge of what the public of the late 18th century regarded as excellent. Coincidentally, they also are a source of comparison with the operas of Mozart, who knew that the standards set by Paisiello were those he had to beat to win the heart of the operagoing public." Michael F. Robinson in Grove Music Online
Alessandro Pepoli (1757-1796) was an important librettist and playright. "His Lettera ad un uomo ragionevole sul melodramma detto serio, published in 1789 as a preface to Meleagro, is an outspoken essay of some 50 pages criticizing the state of Italian opera seria... Three years after publishing the essay Pepoli was commissioned, with Paisiello, to produce the inaugural opera for the new Teatro La Fenice in Venice (Ascension 1792). I giuochi d’Agrigento reflects Pepoli’s ideas in its abundance of choruses, which often interrupt or frame vocal solos, its large-scale scene complexes and its spectacular scenic effects." John A. Rice in Grove Music Online
The engravings in the libretto illustrate the composer Paisiello and three of the leading singers in the opera, soprano Brigida Banti (1755-1806); tenor Giacomo David (1759-1830); and Gasparo Pacchiarotti (1740-1821), considered the greatest of late 18th century castrati.
Brigida Banti "was particularly admired by Mount Edgcumbe, who called her ‘far the most delightful singer I ever heard.' ... He... wrote in his Musical Reminiscences: Her voice was of most extensive compass, rich and even, and without a fault in its whole range – a true voce di petto throughout. In her youth it extended to the highest pitch and was so agile that she excelled most singers in the bravura style; but, losing a few of her upper notes, she modified her manner by practising the cantabile, to which she devoted herself and in which she had no equal. Her acting and recitative were excellent. Her spirits never flagged, nor did her admirers ever grow weary of her. They never wished for another singer." Bruce Carr in Grove Music Online
"With a powerful, extremely flexible voice, [David] was able to compete with the castratos in florid music and far exceed them in his dramatic intensity." Elizabeth Forbes in Grove Music Online
"By all accounts the greatest of the late 18th-century castratos, Pacchierotti was last in the line of the finest male soprano. Both Mount Edgcumbe (‘the most perfect singer it ever fell to my lot to hear’) and Burney devoted more space to describing his genius than they accorded any other performer of the era. He was able to sing with facility from B♭ to c‴, had a command of many different styles, was a considerable actor and moved even casual listeners by his rendition of pathetic airs." Kathleen Kuzmick Hansell in Grove Music Online
Onorato Viganò (1739-1811) was an important Italian choreographer and dancer, father of the noted choreographer, dancer, and composer Salvatore Viganò (1769-1821); many members of the extended Viganò family were dancers and musicians in the period between the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries. Item #31144
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