The book “Zadarski Slavuji: Braća Antonio i Gaetano Pini-Corsi” is written by Katice Burić Ćenan, a professor of ethnology and anthropology at the University of Zadar. The book focuses on the musical history of Zadar in the 18th and 20th centuries, and particularly on the brothers Antonio and Gaetano Pini-Corsi, who were both highly accomplished opera singers. I never heard of them so I thought it would be good to write a blog post so more people learn about this lovely story.
Antonio Pini-Corsi is considered by many to be one of the greatest buffo bass-baritones in the world, and his brother Gaetano was also a renowned opera singer. Ennio Stipčević and Zdravko Blažeković first discovered the existence of these and other notable musicians from Zadar in the 1980s while researching the musical heritage of the State and Archdiocesan archives. However, this information remained largely confined to academic articles until the publication of Burić Ćenan’s book. Pini-Corsi came from a family of singers. Included in the dynasty were his two uncles, baritone Giovanni Corsi (1822-1890) and tenor Achille Corsi (1840-1906), his cousin, soprano Emilia Corsi (1870-1928), his nephew, tenor Umberto Pini-Corsi (1879-1911). Obviously, the talent came from their mother’s, Italian side.
Zadar in 19th Century
The book aims to revive the works of these and other notable musicians from Zadar and highlights the rich cultural and musical history of the city, despite its small size in comparison to other European centers. Although Zadar was one of the smallest centers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it had a very active political, economic, and cultural life that closely followed the cultural trends of larger European centers, particularly Italian cities like Milan, Padua, and Venice, as well as Vienna and Prague. By the mid-19th century, Zadar already had a thriving musical scene.
In addition to the City and Military bands, which were mostly composed of foreign musicians, Zadrans mostly listened to the theater orchestra and the cathedral orchestra of St. Anastasia. In the middle of the 19th century, particularly in 1856, several music lovers and amateurs founded the Philharmonic Society, where both Antonio and Gaetano were students. Antonio was recognized as an exceptional singing talent at a young age and by the age of 19, he left Zadar to debut at Teatro Ricci in Cremona. His natural inclination towards comic roles rapidly led him to important roles and world premieres in the following years. Similarly, Gaetano’s talent was also recognized early, and at the age of 16, he left Zadar to pursue his singing career abroad. You can learn more on Antonio here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonio_Pini-Corsi
During their long careers abroad, Antonio and Gaetano signed their names with two surnames – Pini and Corsi. The Pini surname, from their father’s side, comes from a prominent family from Skradin that has been gravitating towards Zadar since their grandfather. The Corsi surname, from their mother’s side, comes from Verona and belongs to a family that has made a name for itself in Italian musical history with several excellent singing names.
They collaborated with almost all the most influential singers and conductors of that time. Antonio, whom Verdi called a “forte musicista,” shared the stage with the slightly younger Enrico Caruso, among others, and performed at many world stages (Milan’s Scala, London’s Covent Garden, New York’s Metropolitan), with Toscanini and many other conductors and performed in over a hundred main and secondary roles. Giacomo Puccini also trusted both of them, including for several opera premieres.
In a letter, Giuseppe Verdi stated that no one could perform the role of Ford as well as Pini-Corsi. After an excellent performance in Rigoletto, Verdi arranged for Antonio to have a better opportunity to perform in his last opera, Falstaff, says Dr. Burić Ćenan. He was also in close professional and friendly relationships with one of the greatest opera tenors of all time, Enrico Caruso.
One of the first recordings in history was Antonio’s composition “Tu non mi vuoi piu ben,” which brought him incredible fame in the English-speaking world. Additionally, thanks to Caruso, Antonio’s “Tu non mi vuoi” song soon appeared on many compilations and became popular. Antonio is considered the best and most beloved buffo bass-baritone by music historians. Buffo refers to an opera singer who performs comedic roles, who should not only have vocal interpretation skills but also be an excellent actor able to win over the audience with humor.
Antonio also performed in naturalistic works, from La Boheme to Tosca and Siberia. Thanks to Antonio’s productive recording career and numerous recordings for the most respected record companies of the time (Gramophone, Pathé, Columbia), we can still listen to Pini-Corsi’s interpretations which are valuable as evidence of an old way of interpreting in opera music.
Gaetano’s career lasted almost six decades and because of his adaptability in roles, he was sought-after and valued among composers, conductors, impresarios, and audiences. He collaborated a lot with Puccini and is remembered in world opera memoirs as the first Goro in the world premiere of Madama Butterfly. Interestingly, Antonio and Gaetano often came to Zadar during their lifetime, where they regularly held concerts in collaboration with Zadar Philharmonic and other Zadar musicians who, like them, achieved exceptional world careers.
The Nightingales of Zadar
In Croatian, when you want to say that someone is singing beautifully, one would say that they sing as a nightingale. That is why it is used in the title. Many interesting facts about these two musicians and Dr. Burić Ćenan’s book can be found at the book presentation on Thursday at January, 26th, the ceremonial hall of the University of Zadar.