Dr. Robertson Kirkland
Title: Venanzio Rauzzini (1746–1810): The Castrato Who Fathered a Generation of English Singers
Abstract: Venanzio Rauzzini (1746–1810) was a castrato singer and teacher who embodied an Italian singing tradition and yet The Monthly Mirror (1807) claimed he was the ‘father of a new style of English singing, and a new race of singers’. Styles of singing was a hotly debated subject in Georgian Britain with contemporary discourses typically placing the Italian and English singing styles in opposition. Many English singers were dissuaded from adopting too many Italian mannerisms particularly when singing repertoire from English ballad operas. That was until, many of Rauzzini’s students, including Elizabeth Billington (1765–1818) and John Braham (c.1774–1856) were praised for incorporating an Italianate approach, while also maintaining a character appropriate for English tastes. While Billington and Braham were highly celebrated in Britain, they also achieved success on the continent, a feat quite unusual for English-born singers at this time. Many of Billington and Braham’s most famous songs are now preserved in the Stationer’s Hall legal deposits, including The Songs Sung by Mrs Billington in Artaxerxes (1801) and the Duenna (1801). These song collections, produced by Thomas Busby (1755–1838), included Billington’s sung ornamentation and is one of the only sources that documents her florid vocal stylings. These printed sources provide insight into popular styles of singing and help to unravel some of the mystery behind Rauzzini’s teaching methods.
Also crucial to Rauzzini’s success was the relationships he forged with his professional students, many of whom went on to have national and international careers. These students continuously supported Rauzzini by performing at his concerts, as well as recommending and promoting him as a teacher. As such, Rauzzini’s distinctiveness was not just reliant on teaching skill, but an ability to formulate a loyal network of pupils and promoters. Both allowed him to emerge as one of the most prevalent singing masters in England. Such subjects are explored in Brianna E. Robertson-Kirkland’s newly published monograph, Venanzio Rauzzini and the Birth of a New Style in English Singing Scandalous Lessons (2022).