Sunday, March 16, 2014

Irish tenor, Michael Kelly: Mozart's original Don Basilio and Don Curzio

Looming large in the Mozart and Storace stories is the Irish tenor, Michael Kelly. Born December 25th, 1762, Kelly first met Stephen and Nancy Storace when he was 18 years old at the harbor in Liverno, Italy. Kelly recounted in his Remininscences that Nancy, upon seeing his long, flowing locks of blond hair, mistook him for a girl and shouted out loud, "Look at that girl dressed in boy's clothes!" In typical flamboyant Michael Kelly fashion, he turned to her with a flourish and replied, "You are mistaken, Miss, for I am a very proper he animal and quite at your service!" He stated that the incident embarked them upon a friendship that lasted their entire lives. It was actually Kelly who first called Ann Storace,"Nancy" and it became the name that history remembered her by. Kelly later traveled with his friend, Nancy Storace, to Vienna in January of 1783 where they had been hired as premiere singers in Emperor Joseph II's brand new Italian Opera Company. It was during their time in Vienna that they met and befriended Wolfgang Mozart and later starred in his comic opera, The Marriage of Figaro. In February of 1787, the Storaces and Kelly returned together to London, where they finished out the rest of their careers together in London's theaters and opera houses in Covent Garden and Drury Lane.

In Mozart legend, Kelly was known as the creator of the part of the "stuttering judge" in The Marriage of Figaro, named Don Curzio. Kelly recounted that he and Mozart actually had words over his giving the judge a stutter. Mozart objected, fearing that it took away from the music. However, Kelly won the argument because of the audience's favorable response to the hilarious effect, and so it stayed. Consequently, the part of Don Curzio has always been played with a stutter.

Kelly played a double role in Figaro. In addition to the stuttering Don Curzio, he also played the lecherous music instructor, Don Basilio. The following is a performance of Basilio's rarely performed Act IV aria, "In quegl'anni, in cui val poco".

© K. Lynette Erwin, 2014

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