Opera Scotland

Giuseppe de Begnis Suggest updates

Born Lugo, Romagna 1793.

Died New York, August 1849.

Italian bass.

Giuseppe de Begnis enjoyed a notable career largely as a performer of comic characters in the operas of Rossini and his contemporaries. The role of Dandini in La cenerentola was composed with him in mind, and he created it at the opera's premiere (Rome 1817). He later spent several seasons based in London, as Primo Buffo of the King's Theatre, Haymarket, and was director of the company, which also toured to cities in the British Isles, including Dublin, Edinburgh and Bath. He and his company were responsible for a number of first performances of operas in Scotland, principally those of Rossini.

His debut in 1813 was at the opera in Modena, in Pavesi's comedy Ser Marcantonio, Anelli's libretto for which later served as the model for Donizetti's Don Pasquale. By 1816 he was making his debut at La Scala, in Ginevra di Scozia (Mayr), derived from the same Ariosto source as Handel's Ariodante (and Shakespeare's Much Ado). His Rome performance as Dandini followed in 1817, and he later collaborated several times with Rossini.

He began to travel outside Italy, to Paris in 1819, London 1821 and Dublin 1829. His repertoire by now included further Rossini characters, including Don Basilio (Il barbiere di Siviglia) and Don Geronio (Il turco in Italia). From 1824 he also sang Don Febeo in Mayr's Che originali, given in London (and Edinburgh) as Il fanatico per la musica.

He directed seasons of Italian Opera in London from 1821 to 1827, in Bath 1823-4, and Dublin 1834-7. A wider range of destinations may be indicated by the fact that he and his company are reported as escaping serious injury in November 1831 when the train conveying them from Liverpool to Manchester jumped the tracks.

His contributions to Scottish musical life were substantial - he and his then wife gave concerts in Edinburgh in 1824. His company gave staged opera performances in Italian in Edinburgh in December 1827 and January 1828 (Scottish premiere of Turco in Italia and La Gazza Ladra); in their short visit in January 1832 the novelty was Padre e la Figlia) then in December 1835 the company performed the Scottish premiere of Rossini's Otello. In his final visit, during December 1835 the company performed Rossini's Cenerentola, Tancredi and La Donna del Lago. Bellini's La Sonnambula was also given its Scottish premiere. In all, the Opera Scotland archivist has noted over forty staged performances (including many of the Barber of Seville) by de Begnis and his troupe.

One reviewer in the Caledonian Mercury said of de Begnis (in Barber of Seville) that 'however unintelligible he may be to an English audience in speaking and singing, yet his exquisite by-play and humour speak a universal language which the dullest wits may comprehend.'  And as Don Magnifico in Cenerentola he 'was as usual, full of vigour and animation, and delighted the audience, not only with his splendid vocal powers, but with that grotesque and energetic humour so peculiar to himself'.

He travelled to the United States in August 1838, and lived and worked there until his death from cholera in New York on 1 August 1849. Apparently he he was too frightened to cross the Atlantic again - he must have had a rough journey there!

Sources: New Grove Dictionary of Opera, and Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera. various newspapers and journals of the day but particularly the Era

Roles in Scotland

Figaro a barber
Barbiere di Siviglia 1827
Barbiere di Siviglia 1832
Don Geronio a weak and cowardly gentleman
Turco in Italia 1827
Don Febeo a wealthy Baron and amateur composer
Fanatico per la musica 1828
Fanatico per la musica 1832
Gottardo the Mayor (Podestà)
Gazza Ladra 1828
Fernando Villabella a soldier, Ninetta's father
Gazza Ladra 1831
Leporello Giovanni's servant
Don Giovanni 1832
Figaro the Count's valet
Nozze di Figaro 1832
Don Magnifico Baron of Montefiascone
Cenerentola 1835

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