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Gossett – Rio Lecture – p.

Manuscript collections of Italian opera

Philip Gossett

For many years, the principal activity of scholars of Italian opera was the establishment of
“authentic” texts (by which was meant any and every version of an opera for which the composer
himself had direct responsibility) and the publication of critical editions of a repertory that had
seemed before to resist such attempts. It was only by recognizing that composers treated their
operas with a certain flexibility that it became possible to reject the notion of a Fassung letzter
Hand and to insist instead that it was the function of a critical edition to make available all
versions traceable to the composer of each work. The success of this operation is clear: more
than 30 volumes devoted to Rossini’s music are currently available, another 15 of works by
Verdi, and growing collections of the music of Bellini and Donizetti. These have not gained
universal acceptance in opera houses (the hold of custom on operatic singers and impresarios
remains very strong), but they certianly have developed a notable constituency of performers, as
well as finally giving these works the kind of musicological respectability that scholars have

As long as the preparation of such editions of nineteenth-century Italian opera was the principal
goal of musical scholarship pertaining to this repertory, it was clear that it was primarily
significant to obtain the autograph manuscripts of composers, as well as of manuscript copies,
printed editions, and printed librettos that reflected precisely the most authentic sources. These
sources still have a fundamental significance for all those who care about this repertory. But it
should come as no surprise that new questions are confronting us today as we think about this
repertory, new approaches that are becoming ever more important to younger scholars. While
one of my primary goals remains to complete the textual work that has only been partially
accomplished, and as I will suggest later in this lecture the collection of operatic materials in Rio
promises to be of great importance to this effort, other goals are developing, no less interesting
and no less significant for our knowledge of the operatic repertory. Important scholars are
concerned now with the performers, particularly the singers, associated with this music, both in
Italy and abroad. While I would be hesitant to grant as much artistic significance to an Erminia
Frezzolini or a Napoleone Moriani as to a Giuseppe Verdi, to an Isabella Colbran or an Andrea
Nozzari as to a Gioachino Rossini,, to a Maria Malibran or a Rosina Stolz as to a Gaetano
Donizetti, there can be little doubt that composers worked closely with singers and sought to
make their performing capabilities the measure by which their compositional art would be
judged. It is no surprise that in preparing his Macbeth in 1847, Verdi involved directly Felice
Varesi in the title role and Mariana Barbieri-Nini as Lady, even asking them to look at their solo
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music ahead of time and to provide judgments as to whether it suited properly their vocal
proclivities. If not, the composer was prepared to adapt his music to their capabilities or to
modify it as appropriate. Perhaps the composer’s failure to do the same for Varesi when
preparing La traviata was partially responsible for the failure of the first version of that opera in

By studying the art of individual singers, one can understand better the limits within which
composers were operating. Even though Verdi may have had some doubts ultimately about the
French baritone Victor Maurel, for whom he prepared three roles (the revised Simon
Boccanegra, Iago, and Falstaff), he knew that Maurel’s art was exceptional. Even when Maurel
may have exaggerated (introducing, for example, multiple reprises of “Quando ero paggio”—the
last of which he often sang in his native French), the composer remained relatively loyal to him,
knowing that the success of his opera depended on Maurel’s brilliance. Both Verdi and Muzio
may have complained quite bitterly about Jenny Lind’s “old-fashioned” approach to vocality in
the 1847 I masnadieri for London and Lind herself (as Roberta Marvin has shown) may have had
little patience for the new vocal art he exemplified, still, the composer modified many vocal
details in his score so that it gave Lind a better chance to shine. That was what the public
demanded, and he knew that the public ultimately would determine the fate of any opera.

Among the newer questions being asked today are those that deal with the use the public around
the world made of the musical repertory, especially of opera. While such questions, which can be
grouped generically under the heading of “reception theory,” may not lead to responses that will
change the nature of the edited texts, they do help us understand a great deal about how music
was received. The work of Roberta Marvin with Victorian parodies of Verdian operas, of Emilio
Sala with the boulevard theaters in Paris, of Jeanice Brooks with collections of music in English
parlors, of Thomas Christensen with four-hand arrangements, all this work and much else has
enormous resonance today. Many parts of the Rio collection must be understood in these terms.
Although a more profound knowledge of the publishing history associated with Ricordi, Schott,
Heugel, or Novello may have little relevance to the problem of establishing a text for
compositions which exist in autograph manuscripts, it does provide the context in which operas
were received and treasured by large parts of the musical world (even in the form of pianistic
potpourris or arrangement for various instruments), particularly by those individuals that did not
come to know opera primarily from formal performances in theaters devoted to the operatic
repertory. And at a moment when access to theaters was limited to a few individuals who had the
possibility of living and working in major metropolises and no recordings could substitute—
however inadequately—for the pleasure of attending performances, printed vocal scores or
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extracts had a significant role to play in spreading the word about a new work that was worthy of
public knowledge. No one, to my knowledge, has attempted to study publications and extracts
made in South America with questions of this kind in mind.

In this context, information about the spread of Italian opera in countries other than the central
European countries (Italy, France, Germany, and Austria) and England begins to take on a very
different level of interest. We know, of course, that the repertory of Italian opera had enormous
resonance in Scandinavia, in Russia, in the Iberian peninsula, in the Americas (both North and—
as the Rio collection demonstrates—South) and continues to have an important hold on the
imagination of audiences in these countries. When operas are performed regularly, of course,
there must be sources that are used by performers to permit their activities. In some cases, of
course, these scores were made available by an Italian commercial publisher, Ricordi, who had
important centers of activity in many countries (in South America, the most important single city
for Ricordi’s distribution was Buenos Aires). But after much of Ricordi’s performance material
was destroyed in a bombardment of Milan in 1944, the company called back material that had
been deposited in many other countries; as a result, much of that material is no longer to be
found in the countries in which it had been used. Nor does Ricordi seem to have kept today this
older material: it has been replaced by newer products, as demanded by performers.

Of great interest to scholars, though, is evidence pertaining to complete manuscripts that were
prepared earlier in the history of the works, during the nineteenth century, and still found in
collections around the world. Many of these collections are very important and quite well known.
Thus, in Denmark a monarch in approximately 1820 ordered a significant collection of Italian
manuscripts to be sent to him as representative of works that could be performed in his realm:
much of this collection is still found in the national library in Copenhagen. And the collection
includes many works that are known from very few other sources, since it features works popular
during the 1810s. In some cases these manuscripts have textual importance: they include, for
example, some poorly circulating works by Rossini. No one has yet made a complete study of
these sources, so we cannot say very much about their significance as a group, but the Rossini
operas, at least, have all been photocopied and are being used currently for textual work on these

In Russia, on the other hand, there has been relatively little study of Italian manuscripts, even
though we know that several important Italians composers spent considerable periods of time
working with Russian theaters. Composers such as Giovanni Paisiello, Domenico Cimarosa,
Alessandro Nini, and Giuseppe Verdi spent considerable time in St. Petersburg, and in many
cases important sources (some of them autograph) exist in the archives of the Marinsky Theater
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and in other Russian libaries. Indeed in the case of an opera first performed at the Marinsky
Theater, such as Verdi’s La forza del destino of 1861-1862, the theater’s well-known tendency to
have kept everything has proven invaluable. On many of the performing parts we find entries in
Verdi’s own hand, annotations written while he was rehearsing the music with individual
singers. It is only from these performing materials, for example, that we learn that the famous
Prayer that forms part of the Scena Osteria in Act II was originally accompanied only by an
arpeggiating clarinet and by pizzicato bass notes in the violoncelli and contrbassi.

Play a bit of it

If you examine the printed edition of the opera and the autograph manuscript, however, you find
that there are also wind parts duplicating the choral material of the Prayer. But bccause of the
nature of the parts, we know for certain that these doubling wind parts were added during the
rehearsal period (they are not present in the original parts, which contained rests in these
measures), presumably to keep singers in tune on what is a long passage with very little
accompaniment. This clearly has important ramifications for today’s editions and for possible
interpretations of them in contemporary performance.

Unfortunately, few collections of this importance exist in Italy itself. That lack is in part a
product of the conditions that prevailed in opera archives and of the many fires that destroyed
whatever collections might have once exited, but it is also in part related to the nature of the
social structures that grew up around the performance of opera in nineteenth-century Italy. One
of the ways in which publishers succeeded in rendering their calling economically viable during
this period was to make available performing materials exclusively by rental agreements,
whereby theaters needed to work through publishers to obtain materials from which to perform.
During the first two decades of the nineteenth century Italian publishers did not even print entire
vocal scores of operas. When it became clear that foreign publishers, particularly those working
in Germany, Austria, and France, were dominating this market, Italian publishers soon began to
catch up. While during the 1810s they published only favorite extracts from new operas, by the
mid-1820s they had begun to compete with the foreign publishers by producing complete vocal
scores. One publisher in Rome, Ratti, Cencetti & Comp., which began life (as did many other
publishers in Italy) as a copying house, decided to issue several Rossini operas in printed full
scores, but they did a particularly poor job of it, producing scores that had all the worst character
of Ratti and Cencetti’s manuscripts and none of the qualities we expect in fine printed full
scores, and so their experiment did not catch on. Thus, the way was left clear for the continued
practice of publishers in Milan (Ricordi and Lucca), Florence (Cipriani and others), and Naples
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(Giuseppe, then Bernardo Girard, Clausetti, and Fabricatore) to print complete vocal scores and
to RENT complete manuscripts and performing materials.

At first the performing materials were entirely handwritten. Later, when it became clear that it
was more economically efficient to make some performing materials available in printed scores
(particularly when multiple copies were needed for the Strings or for the chorus), companies
such as Ricordi began to produce selected parts in printed copies while continuing to make
manuscript materials when only single parts were needed (an Oboe part or one of the Trombone
parts). Only when some of Verdi’s works began to be demanded by many, many theaters at once
(works such as Rigoletto, La traviata, or Un ballo in maschera) did Ricordi prepare entire sets of
parts in printed editions. They even tried, with La traviata, to produce a printed edition of the full
score, but the resulting score was sufficiently defective that the company soon returned to the
old-fashioned mode of providing full scores only in manuscript copies. It was not until the mid-
1880s, with Otello, that Ricordi began seriously to issue printed full scores, at first only for
rental, then for sale.

It is clear, however, that if this material was all expected to be returned to Ricordi after its use in
a given season, ready to be rented to another opera house, the houses themselves would not have
kept important archives. And, indeed, that was what Ricordi was counting upon: if opera houses
did not maintain an archive, they would come back again and again to Ricordi to rent materials,
and so the fortune of the editorial house and its directors was made. Whether Ricordi over time
actually kept materials from the early or middle years of the nineteenth century is difficult to
determine today, since the Ricordi archive as we know it today is only a fragment of what it once
was. As World War II got under way, the directors of Ricordi made the decision to transport the
autograph manuscripts, of which the company owns many, from the archive to a safe destination
outside the center of Milan. But the remainder of the archive was just sitting there; so, when
American planes bombed the center of Milan in 1944, they destroyed the archive as it was then
known. I knew personally some of the people who worked with Ricordi in those years and they
report that items in the archive were “carbonized”: when the fires had dissipated, they could still
tell what had been there, but when they touched a manuscript or a set of parts, it dissolved into
dust. And so, nowhere in Italy (not even in the major collections of musical manuscripts in the
conservatories of Naples, Milan, Rome, or Bologna) could one locate sets of materials from the
nineteenth century.

That is why collections outside Italy proved so important. The archives of the Marinsky theater
in St. Petersburg is one important location. Another is the Paris Opéra, which has always had a
saving mentality (in English we talk about “pack rats” as saving everything, so that it is still
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possible today to examine materials from operas that were performed at the Opéra from the
eighteenth centuy and the nineteenth centuries. For some operas, such as Le comte Ory, for
which practically no autograph manuscripts exist, the new critical edition of the opera depends
on the original performing materials (especially on a score prepared by copyists at the Opéra, but
also on the early performing parts, which must be carefuly differentiated from later materials).
The same was true for Guillaume Tell and it will undoubtedly be true for the other operas by
Rossini written for the Paris Opéra. For the Donizetti and Verdi operas prepared for the Opéra,
we have—by and large—the original autograph manuscripts, so the materials at the Opéra´have
slightly less importance, but they nonetheless continue to answer many questions that the
autograph manuscripts leave unanswered (what some of these are I will discuss in a few

The scholar Elizabeth Bartlet, who died tragically of breast cancer a few years ago, knew more
about French archives than anyone else in the worrld. She herself did critical editions of Jean-
Philippe Rameau’s Platée and Rossini’s Guillaume Tell. She also was certain that materials must
have still existed from the archives of the Opéra-comique and the Théâtre Italien, despite the fire
that consumed much of the Italian theater in 1837. Beth, who was a very strong and persistent
scholar, made such a pain-in-the-neck of herself during the 1970s that the staff of the
Bibliothèque Nationale, Départment de la Musique, finally allowed her access to uncatalogued
parts of the collection. It was there that Dr. Bartlet discovered the performing materials
pertaining to Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims, the first traces we had seen for this unknown and
unpublished opera. From her discoveries, the effort to reconstruct that materpiece of Rossini’s
maturity took wing.

Another significant collection of this kind existed for many years in the archives of Covent
Garden in London. Although the theater often insisted that they had nothing, it wasn’t true: they
had a remarkable collection of performing materials, now deposited at the British Library. The
person who particularly insisted that these be made public was Will Crutchfield, who found
important original Donizetti manuscripts in the archive. But the original performing parts of
Verdi’s I masnadieri, which had its first performance at Covent Garden, were used extensively
by Roberta Marvin when she prepared the critical edition of that opera. These parts showed, for
example, that the original prima donna, Jenny Lind, ornamented the repetition of the cabaletta
theme so extensively that it was necessary to cancel Verdi’s instrumental parts doubling the
melody for that repetition. Since the opera had been performed at Covent Garden only in that
original season, there was no question about the proper dating of these manuscripts.
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Still, with all of these discoveries, nothing prepared me for what I would find in the conservatory
library at Rio De Janeiro. Although some of the materials do come from the Ricordi archives and
should therefore have been returned to the company after performances in Rio had taken place,
the city was far enough away from Milan as to make it difficult if not impossible for the
Milanese publisher to pursue any action against an opera house in Rio. And most materials in the
archive do not come from Milan at all, but seem to have been acquired from copying houses and
publishers in Naples, companies which may have had less control over their materials than the
Milanese publisher tried, at least, to exert.

I had only three days to examine the collection, so this is very much a preliminary report, but
suffice it to say that I assembled over forty pages of notes in my computer, enough to give me a
fairly good idea of what is to be found in this collection, which has been expertly catalogued
through the efforts of the director of the library, Dolores Brandão, and its cataloguer, Maria
Luisa Nery de Carvalho. To both of them my heartfelt thanks for all their kindnesses in making
the collection available to me over three long days, including a Saturday and a Sunday, when the
library officially should have been closed. Equally I wish to thank Maria Alice Volpe for having
organized this conference, having invited me to participate, and having assisted me in a host of
ways. Still, a preliminary report is better than none, and I hope it will be useful for you to know
something about the treasures here in Rio. I know it will be useful for those actively involved in
making critical editions of operas that have not yet been published in the collected works of
Rossini and Verdi, not to mention Donizetti and Bellini.

Let me begin by discussing the complete manuscripts in the collection. None of them seems to
be very early. I do not know the history of these manuscripts except that they were in a theatrical
archive, from whence they came into the possession of the Conservatory, which already in the
nineteenth century became the Istituto Naçional di Musica. They are now housed in the
Biblioteca Alberto Nepomuceno of the School of Music in the University. We can judge the
dating of these complete manuscripts by those situations in which the names of copyists or
publishing houses are included. Unfortunately, in most cases these indications are found on
labels pasted into the scores, which is a less reliable kind of information than those occasions in
which copyists identified themselves directly by annotating manuscripts in their own
handwriting. Still, any manuscript that is identified with a label specifying that it is from the
publishing house of “Giovanni Ricordi” must date from before 1854, the date of Giovanni’s
death. At that point the company passed into the hands of his son Tito Ricordi (and it was
thereafter, until Tito’s death resulted in the assumption of power by his son, Giulio, known as
“Tito di Giovanni Ricordi”). Thus, the mostly complete manuscript copy of Verdi’s Ernani
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found in the Rio collection (it lacks Act II) is identified on a pasted label as coming from ‘Tito di
Giovanni Ricordi,” and the first indicated performance for which the manuscript was used,
written by hand on the score, was in Turin in 1861. Several of the printed performance parts,
however, associated with this title, still bear “Giovanni Ricordi” indications, so it seems likely
that Tito continued to use materials that his father had had prepared earlier. Whether that means
that the score is earlier than 1854 cannot yet be determined. There are also important groups of
scores from a competitor of Ricordi’s in Milan, Francesco Lucca, whose business flourished
from the 1840s throughout the 1860s. He provided the score of Verdi’s Macbeth, a fine
manuscript of the first (1847) version of the opera.

Likewise, for the many complete manuscripts prepared in Naples, we can be pretty sure that
none of these sources date from the 1820s, because none is identified as being associated with a
publisher of this period, such as Giuseppe Girard. Only his son’s name is found, Bernardo
Girard, as are the names of other companies that did not exist in the 1820s, such as Clausetti
(who ultimately became a partner of Ricordi’s) or Fabricatore. The Fratelli Fabricatore and
Bernardo Girard were important sourcse for manuscripts and parts in Rio, and many scores (such
as several of the music for Giovanni Pacini) have their labels, often with double addresses, such
as the following from Girard: “Deposito per la vendita delle proprie edizioni, e di quelle di fondo
estero, Largo S. Ferdinando n. 49, / Copisteria e Archivio di Spartiti manoscritti per uso di
rappresentazione, Largo del Castello n. 73,” clearly diffferentiating the publisher’s activities as a
purveyor of printed editions and of copies for performance.

Just by way of indicating something of the scope of the collection, it should be said that there
exist some thirteen manuscripts of operas (either complete or of at least a full act) by Rossini.
Not all are usable. There are manuscripts, for example, of Act I of one of Rossini’s early operas
(from 1812), Ciro in Babilonia and of practically the whole of his later, largely pastiche opera,
Edoardo e Cristina, of which autograph manuscripts do not seem to survive, and so these
sources are potentially very useful. But they are in such bad shape (worms, in particular, seem to
have delighted in eating their paper and paste) that it is hard to know how it would be possible to
employ them effectively. Perhaps digital copies could help: work with the originals would
clearly be impossible, for every turn of a page would destroy more of the volumes.

While these scores do not always provide significant information for textual purposes, they do
tell important stories. We know, for example, that the censors were not happy with a chorus in
L’Italiana in Algeri of 1813. It was hard enough to stomach Isabella’s Rondò, “Pensa alla
patria,” which was often changed to “Pensa allo sposo” or “Pensa allo scampo,” but what was
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truly unacceptable was the text of the preceding chorus, where Rossini set the text “Quanto
vaglian gl’Italiani, nel cimento si vedrà.”

Play it

In the Rio manuscript this text has been modified to “Che l’ardir non torna vano nel cimento si
vedrà.” The idea of what Italians are worth disappears altogether. This manuscript is actually
entitled not L’Italiana in Algeri but instead Il naufragio felice, a title in which the opera was
known in Naples. This comes as no surprise since the manuscript was prepared in the copy-house
of “B. Girard,” as is written into the source. (Other operas exist in versions modified for Naples:
one source in Rio for Verdi’s Ernani is known, for example, under its Neapolitan name, as
Elvira d’Aragona). There are many indications, though, that the copy of L’Italiana in Algeri
represent a fairly late version of the opera. Rossini wrote L’Italiana in Algeri without trombones
(he did not start using three Trombones in his operas until several years later, in Naples), yet this
copy of his score has parts for three Trombones. If we look at copies of the opera found in the
library of the Naples Conservatory, we find that some later copies also have added parts for three
Trombones. That is a dead give-away that the manuscript is a late copy, certainly no earlier than
the 1830s.

I was not surprised to see that the copies of French operas written by Italian composers in the Rio
collection are all to be found in Italian translation. We knew that these translations were widely
used by theaters throughout the world. What surprised me, on the other hand, was that some of
the translations did not agree with what I have always taken to be the “standard” translations
(those preserved in the Ricordi printed editions and performed continuously until our own time).
Thus, even though the translation of Guillaume Tell as Guglielmo Tell comes from the workshop
of Giovanni Ricordi, the last words of Tell’s response to the Fisherman’s initial song (“Il chante
et l’Hélvétie / Pleure, pleure sa liberté”) is rendered not as in the standard Italian translation
(“Ah-i, quanto piangerà”), but with the verse “Pasce, pasce una speme il cor”: hardly very
elegant, it at least avoids the terrible “Ah-i” of the standard translation. The Rio manuscript,
therefore, is not only important in itself, but it also raises again the whole issue of how these
operas were performed around the world (and there are complete manuscripts of Rossini’s Moïse
and Donizetti’s Les martyrs, La favorite, and Dom Sébastien, all in Italian, that will require
similar study).

Add to what I have already mentioned, five complete manuscripts to operas by Bellini, nineteen
to operas by Donizetti, seven of Mercadante’s most mature operas, eleven of Pacini’s operas, and
several operas by Verdi, especially works from the 1840s, and you can get a hint at the
Gossett – Rio Lecture – p. 10

importance of the Rio collection of complete manuscripts, which rivals most other collections in
the world, including in Italy. Remember, too, that many of these manuscripts contain
handwritten annotations of, for example, the ornamentation employed by singers; as such they
contribute in a fundamental way to our knowledge of nineteenth-century performance practice.

But what is truly remarkable in the Rio collection is not even the complete manuscripts. It is the
evidence provided by the performance materials that accompanied the manuscripts. To find
performance materials anywhere is rare enough (as I said before, we are fortunate that such
collections as those of the Marinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, the Paris Opéra, and Covent
Garden still exist). In Italy such materials are almost impossible to find. (One exception is the
Teatro La Fenice of Venice, which unusually and uniquely preserved the complete original
performing materials for Semiramide.) There is practically no opera represented by a complete
score in Rio that does not have associated with it a full set of parts. And these parts have, most of
the time, been annotated with indications of cuts, modifications, etc. That strongly suggests that
the operas were actually performed from this material before it was deposited in the library.

Now, why should this be so important? For operas for which we have complete manuscripts or
even autographs, why should we need also to have access to parts used by the musicians? Those
who have worked preparing critical editions of this repertory know the answer. While full scores
tell us a great deal, they do not tell us everything we (and the musicians for whom we work) need
to know. One simple example should make this clear. Normally each individual instrument is not
given a separate staff in the complete manuscripts. The two Flutes, or the Flute and the Ottavino,
are placed on a single staff; the two Oboes are on a single staff; the three Trombones are on a
single staff. Sometimes composers are explicit: they will mark a line “Solo” or “a 2” or even “a
3” in order to communicate specifically their intentions. More often than not, however, they
leave us guessing.

Now, it is sometimes not hard to guess what they have in mind. If the Clarinets are doubling the
Oboes, there is one melodic line on each staff, the dynamic level is “piano,” and on the Oboe
staff the composer has written “Solo,” it seems likely that only Ob I should be playing and that,
even if nothing is said about the Clarinets, also Cl I alone should play. But unfortunately matters
are not always so simple. We know, for example, that the Italians tended to use three similar
Trombones, whereas the French preferred a clearer differentiation of three quite independent
instruments with different ranges. This works fine when there are three notes on the staff, and we
assign them to Trn I, Trn II, and Trn III accordingly, but what if there are only two notes on the
staff or only one? How many instruments should play and what parts should they play. Silence.
The full autograph allows us to guess, but it doesn’t tell us explicitly what to do. Here the
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performance material becomes crucial. If the notes are found in a part, at least the musician or
editor or publisher who prepared the material believed that the note so indicated should be
played by THAT part (and normally separate parts were prepared for each Oboe or the two
Clarinets were placed on two separate staves, or there were separate parts for Trns I and II
together and for Trn III, etc.). So, instead of simply guessing who should play what note, we
have at least some contemporary evidence about the matter.

This proved fundamental in our work with Semiramide, for example, an opera that uses four
separate horns, but in which the autograph is not always clear about what each part should play.
In some cases there were so many parts that not even the larger paper Rossini used for his score
was adequate to contain all this information, so that Rossini had to write additional parts on
separate “spartitini,” as we call them, some of which were subsequently lost. Thus, it is only
from the performance material that we can reconstruct what actually was performed at the

I have emphasized the problem of the Trombones because the handling of Trn II is particularly
tricky. That Trn I should play the upper note of, say, an octave, is clear, just as Trn III should
presumably play the lower note. But what should Trn II do? Should it play the upper part, the
lower part, or simply drop out? What we know from contemporary evidence is that it did none of
the above: it tended to jump around, playing notes that were in the middle of its register. And so
on one octave Trn II plays with Trn I, but on the next octave it may be playing with Trn III.
Thus, our critical editions sometimes seem to have the peculiar appearance of I and II playing
together on the first and third beats of the measure and II and III playing together on the second
and fourth beats: if we do something of this kind, it is because that is the information we gather
from qualified performance materials of the period.

The Rio parts, of course, cannot pretend to have been used for the earliest performances of any
of these operas, so that we cannot be certain that what they reveal is what the composer may
have had in mind. Yet, they are closer to this reality than pure guesswork on the part of the
editors. Thus, in many cases they will prove invaluable to those who are preparing critical
editions of the repertory of nineteenth-century Italian opera. I would not want to do a critical
edition of Verdi’s I Lombardi, to take one example, without consulting closely the materials in
the Rio collection, some of which stems from Giovanni Ricordi in Milan (hence pre-1854) and
some of which comes from Ricordi’s Neapolitan colleague, Clausetti.
Gossett – Rio Lecture – p. 12

I could go on about other uncertainties in the autograph manuscripts (ambiguities about signs of
dynamic level, about the length of slurs, etc.) for which performing materials offer additional
information, but I think the example I have given is clear enough.

There is yet another way in which these materials prove fundamental. Ricordi and other
publishers, faced with the growing popularity of Verdi’s operas, in particular, began to change
their procedures. First, instead of preparing all performance materials by hand, they began to
print parts where multiple copies were needed for a performance, especially the choral parts and
the String parts. But finding this material is a nightmare. There are a few collections with some
of it, but frequently we have had to admit defeat: no copies had been located in any library or
theater collection of parts known before the publication of the edition. From now on such
judgments cannot be made without consulting the Rio collection, which has many printed parts:
for I Lombardi, for example, there are printed choral parts and String parts. Later, faced with
performances of Verdi’s operas in many theaters simultaneously, Ricordi began to print parts for
every instrument. Some of these parts are found in the Rio collection. For La traviata, for
example, there are printed choral parts, as well as printed orchestral parts for Arpa, Triangolo,
and Nacchere e Tamburelli.

It is surprising, however, that in some cases editors preferred to avoid the Ricordi printed parts
and continued to provide manuscript parts. This is the case with Un ballo in maschera of 1859,
for which Ricordi prepared a complete set of printed parts (one set was purchased many years
ago by the New York collector James Fuld, who—on his death—willed it to the Pierpont
Morgan Library). So it came as a surprise to find in the Rio collection not only a complete
manuscript of Un ballo in maschera, as the opera was known after 1859, but also a relatively
complete set of manuscript performance materials (bearing at one point the date of April 1864). I
will certainly want the editor of this volume, which has yet to be published in The Works of
Giuseppe Verdi, to consult not only the printed Ricordi parts, but also these Rio manuscript parts,
even if we have no certain indication of their provenance.

I have been talking long enough, and yet I have only begun to suggest the riches of this
collection. I was particularly surprised to find a series of parts for La pie voleuse. This is a
version of Rossini’s two act semiserious opera La gazza ladra of the carnival season of 1817,
first performed at the Teatro alla Scala of Milan. But the opera soon returned during the 1820s to
Paris, from whence the subject first became known as a play by the name of La pie voleuse, as an
opéra-comique, with music by Rossini, but with the musical numbers connected by spoken
dialogue. This is the version represented by these parts, which were prepared through the
Gossett – Rio Lecture – p. 13

ARRONDISSEMENT,” that is, they are Parisian parts that somehow made their way to Rio in a
version that was certainly never performed in Rio, but may nonetheless represent the earliest
single group of parts in the Rio collection.

Let me stop here and leave time for you to ask any questions about the collection that you may
wish to address to me, with the understanding that I have had a very limited time to work with it
and so I may not be able to give the kind of answer that I ultimately hope to be able to provide.

Thank you.