Continues part I….
Early 1800s a family of singers – husband, wife, brother-in-law – tour the north of Italy, stopping in Piacenza and Reggio Emilia. Performances are becoming more scare as their style of comic opera falls out of fashion for the serious, grander sounds of Rossini. The troupe hears about opportunities in the Americas. The voyage is difficult, still by sail not steam. They play before the royal court in Rio de Janeiro, then head south into the towns of the Rio de la Plata.
The Buenos Aires that they find is not the pseudo-European capital of the later 18th century. The immigration boom has not yet arrived. Early opera productions are not full-length performances, just selections, highlights. Roles depend upon availability, a baritone sings the part of the tenor, a contralto passes herself off as a soprano. This singing family decides to settle in the area eventually becoming teachers, instructing others in the art of music.
The pattern of a family troupe traveling to South America from Italy was repeated throughout the early parts of the 1800s. The singers who came to Argentina in that time were never the leading performers. Buenos Aires received only the ones whose careers were fading, that never really got started, or that were just attempting to make a name for themselves.
Teresa Schieroni and Margherita Garavaglia are two such singers who arrived in Buenos Aires in the late 1820s. From here they traveled on to Chile and Peru before making their way across the Pacific to performances in south Asia. The women were to sail on to Calcutta but there are no reports of their arrival. Like most of us, the pair simply disappeared from history.
Some of the early singers may, in fact, have had very good voices but the opera profession in Italy, then as now, was overcrowded and competitive. Separate circuits developed for Central America and the Caribbean. European performers who traveled to Havana and Caracas rarely made their way to the southern part of the continent.
Serious opera in Buenos Aires languished until the 1850s, coinciding with the fall of Rosas. The mid-century century saw a new society emerging. In 1857 Buenos Aires opened the first Teatro Colón which featured Emma La Grua, one of the first top ranked singers to perform in Argentina. Opera season was starting in Buenos Aires.
What was opera in Buenos Aires like during the late 1800s? Coming in part III.