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Valentino Fioravanti

Cimarosa feared and admired him. Rossini thought him the last word in a buffo style

by Stefan Zucker

 Valentino Fioravanti was born in Rome, September 11, 1764. After studying literature and art, he took voice lessons from Toscanelli, a singer at St. Peter’s, and counterpoint from Jannacconi. He studied composition with Sala in Naples, 1779-81, where he was counseled by Fenaroli, Insanguine and Tritto, who later was one of Mercadante’s and Bellini’s teachers. From 1781 he conducted in various Roman theaters, composing the intermezzo Le avventure di Bertoldino in ’83 or ’84, followed by other comedies. Gl’inganni fortunati, Naples, 1788, established his success. During the next ten years he composed a spate of operas, mostly well received, for Rome, Naples, Venice, Florence and Milan. His most popular, Le cantatrici villane, premiered in Naples, in 1799. After the success of Camilla in Lisbon in 1801, he became musical director of the San Carlos there, remaining off and on for five years, ultimately leaving because of family and politics. His La capricciosa pentita, in which the singers imitate barnyard animals, intoxicated La Scala in 1802; repeated in Paris in 1805, it introduced the English horn to the French theater orchestra. Returning from Lisbon in 1807, he stopped in Paris to compose I virtuosi ambulanti, about the pretensions and jealousies besetting a traveling opera troupe. His second most successful work, Virtuosi, was performed the following season in London, as La virtuosa in puntiglio, then throughout Europe.

Fioravanti’s Adelson e Salvini premiered in Lisbon, in 1815, and was mounted unsuccessfully in Naples the following year with Giovanni Battista Rubini in the cast. (The libretto, by Andrea Leone Tottola, was used by Bellini for his first opera, Adelson e Salvini, Naples, 1825. In 1826-29, working from a drastic modification of the same libretto, Bellini composed the opera largely afresh. Owing to a plethora of vicissitudes, the fourth version was never performed until September 12, 1972, when it was presented by The Association for the Furtherment of Bel Canto, at New York’s Town Hall, with me as Salvini.)

In 1816 Fioravanti succeeded Jannacconi as maestro di cappella of the Sistine Chapel and wrote a copious quantity of masses and motets, a Miserere and a Stabat Mater. He premiered a trilogy of melodramas, Adelaide e Comingio, in Naples in 1817—a Sturm-und-Drang, Romeo-and-Juliet story with comic ingredients, to a Tottola libretto. Though hailed in Naples, like many of Fioravanti’s works containing the local dialect, the trilogy resisted export. Only the second opera, Adelaide maritata e Comingio pittore, enjoyed an extra-Neapolitan career, in Italian translations. The last of his more than 77 operas was Ogni eccesso e vizioso, Naples, 1824, after which he concentrated on sacred and chamber works. He died travelling from Capua to Naples, where he intended to retire to be near his son Vincenzo.

Born in Rome in 1799, Vincenzo Fioravanti himself became a celebrated opera buffa composer, writing 35 stage works. His father wanted him to become a doctor, but on the sly he studied composition with Jannacconi, later with his father. His second opera found favor, La pastorella rapita, Rome, 1820. To marry, he agreed to his wife’s family’s demand that he abandon the theater; some years after her death he made a return with Robinson Crusoè nell’isola deserta, to a Tottola libretto, Naples, 1828. His most popular opera was Il ritorno di Pulcinella da Padova, Naples, 1837, in which the hero is locked up in an asylum for lunatic musicians. It was performed in various countries in adaptations, holding the boards for over 80 years. Vincenzo Fioravanti died in poverty in Naples, in 1877. Thought to be of notable brio, his works beckon for a rehearing. Valentino Fioravanti’s other son, Giuseppe, a baritone, later a buffo, created the roles of Capellio in Rossini’s Bianca e Falliero, Milan, 1819, and Aliprando in his Matilde di Shabran, Rome, 1821, and appeared in the premieres of Donizetti’s Enrico di Borgogna, Venice, 1818, La zingara, Naples, 1822, Il fortunato inganno, Naples, 1823, Emilia di Liverpool, Naples, 1824, Otto mesi in due ore, Naples, 1827, and Betly, Naples, 1836.

According to Cimarosa’s son, Paolo Cimarosa, his father “feared the comic touch of his competitor [Valentino Fioravanti] and the quickness, lightness and beautiful manner of his concerted pieces, particularly because of the secure effect they exercised on the public.” Cimarosa especially admired the exhilarating effect of his “parlati” over ostinato orchestral figures. According to Stendhal, Rossini maintained that “in the particular buffo style known as ‘nota e parola,’ there is no further progress possible after Fioravanti. I have heard him add that he could imagine nothing more absurd in all the world than the fatuousness of presuming to meddle with opera buffa, after the unsurpassed state of perfection to which this form had already been raised by Paisiello, Cimarosa and Guglielmi.”