Sunday, July 28, 2019

Faking Francesco: a cross-eyed curriculum vitae

'When there's fac-t-ual researching to be done, An historian's life is not an easy one (chorus: 'easy one')'

Especially where showbusiness is concerned. It's difficult enough to track down reports, reviews, announcements and so forth from a century or two ago, but when folks -- for one reason or another -- deliberately strew the pathway to truth with purposeful fabrications and lies, well, even for an old truffle-hound such as I, it is a tricky and time-consuming job to deconstruct the web which they have woven.

And 'web' is a meaningful word, here. In the age of the Internet, folk no longer do their own research. They cut and paste, here and there, without pausing to care whether their 'source' is reliable or truthful.

I'm prompted to this animadversion by the article that follows. I wrote it some years ago, but I found it again this week, during a tidy up in my archive. It is really an article about an article. One of the more blatant attempts at fakery that I've encountered over the years. That piece of fakery is now all over the web, translated into a number of languages, and only Wikipedia has thought to question some of phoney facts therein. So, here it is. The history of the baritone Francesco Mottino (and wife). The fake version, and my version.

MOTTINO, Francesco (b Cuorgnè, Piedmont c1833; d Milan 11 February 1919)

It is a curious fact that a number of exceedingly average Victorian vocalists have gone down in ‘history’ with glorious adjectives and lush ‘facts’ undeservedly attached to their names. Usually these ladies and gents had something to do with America. Either they were Europeans who had thence emigrated and fooled the locals into believing a golden past (one thinks immediately of Ugo Talbo and Ernest Perring), or they were hometown folk who had gone to Europe, sung a few roles in minor Italian houses, and come home as ‘prima donna, La Scala’ to teaching and lavish obituaries. But the baritone Francesco Mottino (in spite of all temptations by the press to make him English) was a real Italian. So why is he one of the worst examples of all? Why is he even in Kutsch and Riemans? And why does Wikipedia think him worthy of its attention? And, yes, both articles are taken from the same source. I’ll tell you what I think. In his later years, Signor Mottino set up in Milan as a teacher of operatic aspirants. He didn’t teach them singing. He taught them acting. And the girls and boys from Boston (and even Sydney, Australia) went home and related how they’d been having lessons with this ‘famous’ teacher, ‘famous actor’ (the name of Salvini was mumbled), and so Signor Mottino became ‘famous’ in Boston and Sydney, Australia, while at home he was just another one of those teachers who preyed on gullible wannabes, and himself was a writing wannabe, with a heap of unset operatic libretti in the cupboard, and a bundle of self-published poetry.

So, lets have a look at this article (undoubtedly ‘made in America’). ‘Francesco Mottino was an Italian opera singer, voice teacher, drama teacher, librettist and writer. He had a prolific international opera career from the 1850s through the 1870s. After retiring from the stage, he worked actively as a writer and teacher in his native country’.

Well, that doesn’t say much. Except the ‘prolific international’ career. As far as I know, he performed only in Italy and the United Kingdom. And not a lot of the latter. And perhaps Croatia.

‘As a child, Mottino was a student of many languages and became a highly proficient writer and speaker in English and French at a young age. He began his career as writer for magazines and also performed on the Italian stage in plays by William Shakespeare.

OK, so he was a penny-a-liner, and did an amateur Shakespeare. But the good English is a fact, and was the cause for the later rumours on his nationality.

‘He became interested in opera and entered the Milan Conservatory in 1855’. Somewhere, it is said that he debuted in Zadar in 1855.

‘Mottino began his opera career performing in smaller baritone roles at various Italian theatres while still a pupil in Milan. During the 1860s, he performed in leading roles in operas in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey and Egypt in addition to appearing at many of the principal Italian theatres. He was particularly known for his portrayal of the title role in Giuseppe Verdi's I due Foscari, a role he sang at many opera houses’.

Well, I can’t find any of that imprecise stuff. I see him in Pavia in 1861. Cesena and Modena in 1864, at a Genoese theatre in 1865, in Enrico Bernardi’s Faustina at Lodi, Les Huguenots at Messina in 1866, at Mantua, Vercelli, the Teatro Armonia in Trieste, at Como, Palazzolo sull’ Oglio and Brescia … the principal theatres of Italy? In 1870, I spy him at the Pagliano in Florence, singing Fontanges in Il Cadetto di Gascogne.

But now we get into the ‘easy to check’ area, which is also the laughing out loud area.

‘He reached the pinnacle of his stage career in England during the 1870s where he performed frequently at both the Royal Opera House and at Her Majesty's Theatre. He also often appeared in London concerts, including several performances with soprano Adelina Patti at The Crystal Palace. He was the leading baritone of the Carl Rosa Opera Company from 1875–1879 and toured with that company to many British cities.’

Almost totally false. He never sang with either Italian opera (I assume by Royal Opera House, the Covent Garden Theatre is meant), unless in the chorus or under another name, he rarely appeared in concert in London, he didn’t sing several times at Crystal Palace with Adelina Patti -- though he appeared with Lemmens-Sherrington and got noticed as 'a second rate Italian baritone [who] proved his inefficiency’ in ‘Di provenza’ and the brindisi from Il Guarany -- and 25 May 1872 was on a bill that featured Santley and Carlotta Patti -- and he sang with the Rosa not for four years, but more like four weeks.

So, what did he do at this ‘pinnacle’ of his career. He sang at the Crystal Palace on 25 May and 12 October 1872, he sang at the Surrey Gardens 11 July, and he made what seems to have been his only London opera appearance in a short subscription season at St George’s Hall (10 December 1872), put together by the ageing Monari-Rocca with a curious cast of what I can only assume were friends. Mottino sang Figaro, Belcore and Guglielmo in Cosi fan tutti, was adjudged probably the best of the very weak group, and later repeated his Cosi for one Benefit performance at the St James’s Theatre.

In August of 1873, he joined a rather better company (with Monari) for a brief season in Dublin, playing Figaro, Luna and Valentine, and then came the Rosa engagement. It was a very nice engagement, and, historically, Mottino comes out of it well. He was the first principal baritone of the soon to be famous Carl Rosa Opera. The company opened at Manchester, and proceeded to Bradford and Sheffield, with Mottino playing Luna to the Leonora of Pauline Vaneri, Valentine in Faust and the title-role in Don Giovanni … The next stop was Liverpool, and by Liverpool Mottino was gone. Sher Campbell was now Don Giovanni. Mottino had ‘toured’ three British cities.

So, on we go. ‘Among the roles for which he was praised by London audiences were the Count di Luna in Il Trovatore and the title role in Rossini's William Tell. He also starred in the world premiere of Lauro Rossi's Biron on 17 January 1877 at Her Majesty's Theatre.’

No he wasn’t. He never played either operatic role in one of the Opera Houses of London. And Rossi’s disastrous vanity production of the Macbeth-like Bjorn (not Biron), at the second-string, off-West-End Queen’s Theatre (no way, Her Majesty’s) was not something that one would want to boast about being connected with! Although he personally got quite well noticed as the Norwegian king.
He did, actually, fulfil one more operatic job in England. In 1876, a striving touring opera troupe was put together as ‘the Imperial Opera Company’ with Madame Laville Ferminet as prima donna. They played a few dates in November, with Mottino repeating his Luna and Valentine, before he went off to play Bjorn, (‘newly arrived from Naples’), after which he returned to the tour (La Traviata, Il Trovatore, Rigoletto, Le Nozze di Figaro, Faust, Don Giovanni) until it ground to a halt in Dublin in April. And that was the end of Signor Mottino’s pinnacle. A hundred other Italian baritones of the era had done decidedly more and much, much better.

Back in Italy, he tried for a few more years (Cremona, Turin, Reggio Emilia), and is said to have ‘retired’ in 1880.

‘Mottino retired from the stage in 1880, returning to Milan that year with his wife, soprano Adele Cesarini, with whom he had often performed’. English-born Miss Cesarini seems to have retired before her husband. I don’t see her out after the 1860s.

‘From 1880-1887 he ran the literary magazine L'Utopista, working as both the magazine's editor and a contributor of articles … In addition, he taught singing and acting in Milan for several decades’. The acting we know about. And ‘L’Utopista Giornale letterario, artistico, politico, sociale. Dir: Francesco Mottino’ is a fact.

He also pursued his strenuous libretto-writing, and a couple of his pieces reached the stage. A one-act Il Conte di Salto (music: Giovanni Consolini) played at the Teatro Chiabrera in Savona 21 January 1894, and Il Fuggitivi was given a semi-professional production at Trento 11 April 1896.

Mottino’s passing may have been noticed in Milan. Probably not. But it was in America.

‘Word has reached America that Francesco Mottino, one of the most famous of Italian actors in his day, and, in his retirement, among the most prominent teachers of singing, passed away at his home in Milan on February 11 1919, in his eighty-sixth year’.

A famous actor? Ah well. That’s how to invent history. I hope I have now un-invented it.

CESARINI, [Mary Ann] Adelaide (b London 3 May 1829; d unknown)

I have been able to track down the whatever-became-of of many of the momentary and mini-starlets of the British music scene, but Mdlle Cesarini eludes me.

She was born in London, the daughter of an Italian immigrant, Baldasar Emilio Vincenzo Cesarini, who at various times ran an Italian warehouse, a dining house and a macaroni and oil bazaar, and was apparently coached in music by Bottesini, who accompanied her on her public debuts (10 July 1853) at Mlle Staudach and Antonio Bazzini’s concert, and (10 October 1853) at an Italian charity concert (‘Di piacer’). ‘A young vocalist of very remarkable promise’ noted the press.

She appeared at several more Italian connected concerts in 1854, as well as singing ‘Regnava nel silenzio’ with the London Orchestra, ‘O luce di quest’anima’ at a hospital benefit (‘star among the vocalists’) and at Madame Puzzi’s (‘Mdlle Cesarini, who gave the cavatina from Linda with remarkable sweetness, is fast rising in public esteem’) and looked to be establishing for herself a position among the young sopranos of the day.

She seems, then, to have disappeared to Italy where she was engaged by a certain Domenico Ronzani, some time the lead dancer and ballet master at the Italian opera – said to be a family friend – to appear as Fenena in Nabucco at the Teatro Regio, Turin for Carnevale of 1856-7. She was a disaster: ‘la Cesarini la quale inceppata sulla scena, disse la preghiera in modo da far ridere il pubblico’.

During this period, apparently, her mother died (presumably in Italy, for the fact is not registered in Britain) and she returned home. Ronzani hired her again, in London, for a season of opera buffa at the St James’s Theatre. She appeared as Serafina in Il Campanello, as an afterpiece, and was judged to have ‘a pleasing and agreeable countenance, is very ladylike and has a fresh, well intoned and agreeable voice’. However, Miss and/or Signor Cesarini was not happy. Ronzani hadn’t actually paid the little soprano. So she went to court.

Ronzani disappeared back to Turin and thence, in 1857, to America where he died 13 February 1868, Vincenzo Cesarini had already died in 1859 … and Adelaide, for a while, eluded me. She didn’t stay in England … so I didn’t suppose I would ever track her down.

But I did. ‘Adele Cesarini [Mottino]’ resurfaces in Italy as a leading soprano at various mostly lesser provincial theatres in the 1860s and 1870s (Il barbiere di Siviglia, Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo, Torquato Tasso, Marguerite in Les Huguenots). During that time, she married the baritone Francesco Mottino and, I imagine, therafter lived happily ever after.

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