Luigi Ricci

The direct link to the performance practice of the belcanto epoque


In the so-called „belcanto operas“ it is not sufficient just to know the score and to sing what is printed there. At the time of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti the composer presupposed on the part of the singer a thorough knowledge of the performance practice of the epoque: he assumed that the singer would be able to use appropriately all the means of expression which belong to the belcanto style, such as portamento, messa di voce, rubato, poggiare la nota etc., and that he also would know where and how to vary the printed melody to make it more interesteing. In addition, the composers of that period used to explain innumerable details of the musical and dramatic interpretation during the rehearsals – indications which were comunicated personally to the singers and the orchestra and were never put into the printed score. The knowledge of all these things, which was – and still is – indispensable for a correct performance of the belcanto operas, was carried on orally from generation to generation through conductors and singers and came in time to form a tradition of performance practice which is just as important as the printed score itself. The Cotogni-Ricci-tradition is the most authentic and comprehensive collection of such knowledge.

The great baritone Antonio Cotogni was born in Rome in 1831 and grew up in the golden age of belcanto. he made his debut in 1852 as Belcore, and soon after that he appeared on stage together with many singers who had participated in the first performance of the operas of Bellini and Donizetti, such as Mario, the tenor for whom the role of Ernesto, and Tamburini, the bass-baritone for whom the role of Malatesta in „Don Pasquale“ were written. In 1867 he had his famous audition for Rossini, who gave him his personal advice on the interpretation of the role of Figaro. But Cotogni went into history as the greatest baritone of the Verdi repertoire. In 1867 he sang the role of Posa in the first performance of the Italian version of „Don Carlo“ in Bologna, after going through the whole part personally with Verdi himself. In his later years Cotogni became one of Italy’s most famous singing teachers; among his pupils were Beniamino Gigli, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Giuseppe di Luca and Mariano Stabile. While working with these young singers he not only taught them the authentic belcanto style, but also told them what Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi had changed, added or explained during the rehersals for the first performances of their operas.L

Luigi Ricci, who was also born in Rome, became Cotognis pianist in 1905, when he was only 12 years old, and accompanied all of the lessons the great singer gave privately and at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia until his death in 1918. During these 13 years Ricci wrote down everything Cotogni told his pupils, so that he could take over all the priceless information the old maestro had collected while working with the great composers of the 19th century. During his own work at La Scala and the Rome Opera, Ricci himself had the opportunity to collaborate with the most important verismo composers, such as Mascagni, Leoncavallo and Giordano; for many years he also played the piano for Puccini when the great composer rehearsed his own operas in Rome. With time Ricci became the world’s greatest expert on Italian singing style and also earned the reputation of being Italy’s greatest coach. During his 60 years of practical work he collaborated with virtually all of Italy’s important singers, and even conductors such as Victor de Sabata, Erich Leinsdorf and Carlo Maria Giulini came to him to request authentic information on the intentions of the great composers.

Peter Berne studied with Ricci and went through most of the important operas of the Italian repertoire with him in great detail. The detailed interpretation of the belcanto works which he received from Ricci, together with the research he has done himself on the performance practice of the belcanto epoque are the basis of his teaching of Italian opera.