Small picture of Donizetti




Persiani and Rubini - Dublin 1838

Basil Walsh

(Basil Walsh is the author of  Michael W. Balfe (Irish Academic Press, 2008) and
Catherine Hayes: The Hibernian Prima Donna (Irish Academic Press, 2000) and runs
the and websites )

The article appeared in Newsletter 113, June 2011, pp. 13-16.


When Fanny Taccinardi-Persiani and Giovanni Battista Rubini arrived in Dublin early in September 1838 for a concert at the Theatre Royal in Hawkins Street― it was their first visit to Ireland.  Earlier they had completed the opera season at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London following which they traveled to various provincial British cities performing in concerts, before crossing the Irish Sea to Dublin.

At the time of her visit Persiani was at her peak. She was only twenty-six years old and among other achievements has created the title roles in Donizetti’s Rosmonda d’Inghilterra in Florence in 1834, Lucia di Lammermoor in Naples in 1835 and Pia de’Tolomei in Venice in 1837.  Vienna saw her in its first Lucia in April 1837, Paris later in the same year and London just five months prior to her visit to Dublin.  Donizetti considered Persiani to be “marvelous" in Lucia at its premiere in Naples[i]

Rubini was forty-four years old at the time.  He had a remarkable career behind him, having performed at most of the major operatic capitals in Europe as well as in Russia. He had created operas for Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and other composers. His most recent creation was for the Dublin born composer Michael Balfe in Falstaff which premiered in July 1838 at the Italian Opera in London Rubini retired permanently in 1845 to his home town of Romano, near Bergamo. His house is a museum today.

In December 1837, when Lucia was first produced in Paris, at the Thèâtre-Italien with Persiani and Rubini, the “enthusiasm for the opera, bordered on hysteria."[ii].   So Dublin was really privileged to hear these two great vocalists in their prime. In contemplating a visit to Dublin Rubini seemed to have some concerns. It apparently prompted an exchange of correspondence with his friend, composer and singer, Michael Balfe who was then in Cork City for some concerts.  Unfortunately Rubini’s communication has not survived but a letter from Balfe to Rubini dated August 12, 1838 in Italian has (my thanks to Alex Weatherson for the translation).  In it Balfe reassures the great singer that the theatre impresario [John Calcraft, Theatre Royal, Dublin] would welcome a visit by Rubini along with anyone he wished to bring with him.  Balfe also mentioned that Paganini had made £1,137 for four concerts [Dublin 1831] and that Rubini could do just as well.   Balfe’s message was obviously convincing enough, as Rubini did travel to Dublin along with the soprano Fanny Taccinardi-Persiani, a violinist named Emiliani and a basso cantante named Signor Nigri. The Concert tour was being managed by a Signor de Angioli who had previously handled concerts in London and elsewhere with Rubini and Persiani.

The Theatre Royal, in Hawkins Street, Dublin where the concert was to take place had opened in 1821 with great fanfare and a visit from King George IV.  It was a large theatre that could accommodate around 3,000 people in its stalls, boxes, and various galleries. By 1825 gas lighting was being used instead of oil lamps.

The theatre's orchestra was composed of around forty players; the equivalent of a concert orchestra today.  During Paganini’s visit the orchestra was augmented, with several players from London and elsewhere. The Royal would become the principal venue for opera, both Italian and English works in Ireland until 1880 when the theatre tragically burned to the ground.  It was subsequently rebuilt, but by then the Gaiety Theatre was being used for operatic performances, as it still is today. Many of the great international names in music of the nineteenth-century, such as, Paganini, Moschelles, Thalberg, Lablache, Grisi, Mario, Duprez, Lind, Roger and later, Tietjens, Patti and De Reszke  performed at Dublin’s Theatre Royal.  Irish born artists such as, Balfe, Catherine Hayes, A. J. Foli, Vincent Wallace and others also performed on its large stage.

The Persiani Rubini concert was advertised for Thursday, 6 September, for “One Night Only."  But that would soon change.   It was truly an evening of what had to be great singing and it represented a unique opportunity for its Irish audiences.


Concert – Part I – Scenes from various Operas

Persiani and Rubini opened with a slightly abbreviated version of the love duet, from the third act of, I Puritani, which commences with, “Ah mio Arturo…" eventually leading into and concluding with, “Vieni fra questa braccia…" with some text changes from today’s libretto. Rubini had of course been in the premiere of I Puritani in Paris in 1835. This was followed by two arias from La Sonnambula. The first was sung by the basso, Signor Nigri, “Vi ravviso…" the next the hauntingly beautiful,  “Ah! Non credea mirarti…,"by Persiani.  A duet “Parlar, spiegar non posso…" from Rossini’s opera, Pietro L’Eremita, a title that was given to Mosè in Egitto when first performed in London 1822 where Biblical subjects were banned in the theatre, followed with the tenor and basso.  Emiliani then performed a grand fantasia for violin.

Rubini next sang one of his most famous numbers, “Tu vedrai la sventurata" from the second act of Bellini’s Il Pirata. The tenor had created the part of Gualtiero at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples in May 1828. The program continued with the Adina-Dulcamara lengthy duet, “Quanto amore! ed io, spietata!"from, L’Elisir d’Amore, with Persiani and Nigri.   Rubini returned to sing the Preghiera, “Fra nimbi crudeli" from, Mercadante’s,   I Briganti an opera that the tenor had performed at the premiere in Paris two years earlier, in 1836.  The slightly lighter more jovial piece, "La Tarantella" by Rossini was then sung by Nigri.  The first half of the concert concluded with Rossini’s effervescent “Zitti, zitti! Piano, piano!" from Il barbiere di Siviglia, with the three vocalists participating.

The second half of the concert was by far the most important part of the evening’s entertainment.  It was completely given over to scenes from the first and third acts of Lucia di Lammermoor.  An opera in which Persiani had created the title role - and a work that the two had recently sung at the local premieres of Lucia in Paris and London. Most of the music normally sung by Normanno, Raimondo and Alisa was excluded, from these scenes.  Some text changes also occurred when compared to modern day librettos.  Lucia’s "mad-scene" which occurs in the second act was not included since no music from the second act was featured in the concert. In between the acts the violinist, Emiliani performed a celebrated air, "La Romanesca" by a sixteenth-century composer.


Concert – Part II – Scenes from Lucia di Lammermoor

Act I

Scene I:   Nigri opened with the music leading up to and including “Cruda, funesta smania…"and its cabaletta.

Scene II:   Persiani made her entrance with “Ancor non giunse…" after which the text was completely changed to accommodate interpolation of the great Rosmonda d’Inghilterra entrance aria “Perchè non del vento…" as a replacement for the traditional, “Regnava nel silenzio…" music.  Persiani had of course created the title role in Rosmonda the previous year.  She liked her big entrance aria so much that she decided to interpolate it when she sang the local premiere of Lucia in Paris.  Her changes apparently had Donizetti’s consent as he approved the French score with the changes when it was subsequently published in Parissome time later. [iii]

(It is also interesting to note that the great singing teacher Manuel P. Garcia used the Rosmonda aria as a vocal exercise for both Jenny Lind and the Irish soprano Catherine Hayes when they were both studying with him in Paris in the early 1840s. [iv]   These two sopranos also interpolated “Perchè non del vento…"into Lucia, when each was singing the role in London in April 1849; Lind at Her Majesty’s and Hayes at Covent Garden.) 

Scene III:  Opened with Rubini singing Edgardo’s entrance “Lucia perdona…"and followed by the love duet “Verranno a te sull’aura…" Some text changes occurred when compared to current librettos.


Scene II:  Nigri performed Raimondo’s aria, “Dalle stanze ove Lucia…" after which Persiani sang, “Il dolce suono…Mi colpi di sua voce!…"  There was a significant shortening of this scene along with text changes when compared to current day librettos. Nigri sang some of Enrico’s music, additionally there were also changes in that text.

Scene III:  The scene opened with Rubini singing, “Tombe degli avi miei…" and it continued to the end of “Fra poco…"

Scene IV:  (This scene is normally part of the previous scene in modern day productions of the opera).  Nigri sang the chorus music interchanging it with Raimondo’s while Rubini sang Edgardo’s lines, concluding with the heart rendering, “Tu, che a Dio spiegasti l’ali…" which must have brought down the house.

The concert was so successful that a repeat performance was immediately announced the next morning and advertised to accommodate those who could not gain admission to the Thursday performance.   Persiani and Rubini repeated the program on Saturday night, 8 September with similar success. The critics raved about the singing and the overall evening’s entertainment.

No doubt Balfe’s earning predictions for Rubini’s visit to Dublin were accurate given the success of the two concerts. Shortly after the Dublin concerts in September 1838 Rubini and Persiani both went to Paris and the Thèâtre-Italien where they were scheduled to sing in Lucia di Lammermoor once more, early in October 1838.[v].

Neither Persiani nor Rubini ever returned to Ireland.  But the next several decades at the Theatre Royal, Dublin saw many great operatic performances with some of the most important singers of the century.

(An earlier article by Robert Potterton on opera in Dublin around this era  can be found here. )