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Francesco Mottino

Francesco Mottino

The Rosa prospectus for their first British season at Manchester in September 1873 surprisingly included one Signor Mottino in the list of artists. An Italian appearing in English Opera was unusual and some may have thought that he was a British singer using a foreign stage name. The expansion of the internet and digitisation of newspapers provided more information. His first name was Francesco and he was an Italian, born in Piedmont about 1833. He was initially a journalist with a flair for languages, spoke excellent English, and had theatrical experience in Shakespearean roles. About 1855 he turned to opera and after tuition at the Milan Conservatoire sang supporting baritone roles in continental opera houses for a number of years.

Francesco came to London in 1872. He sang at a few concerts at the Crystal Palace and Surrey Gardens and appeared in Italian seasons in lesser London theatres and the provinces over the next six years. Reviews suggest a fine actor with a good stage presence coupled with inconsistent singing despite an agreeable voice. The Rosas recruited him for their first British company in the summer of 1873. He was unknown to them and may have been engaged on the basis of reports that he was fluent in English.

He made his Rosa debut on 9 September, followed with a handful of opera and concert appearances at Bradford and Sheffield. His absence from the Liverpool season in October appears to have been unexpected as senior members of the chorus were hastily promoted to fill the breach. Why the sudden departure? It may have been a disagreement with management or his discovery that he did not like singing opera in English despite his speaking fluency. Whatever the reason he reverted to opera in Italian and confined English to concerts. He returned to Italy about 1878 and after retiring from the stage two years later established a literary magazine, and taught singing and acting with the emphasis probably on acting. He died on 11 February 1919 in Milan.

Mottino was not the international operatic celebrity that some sources imply, but his brief time with the company was not without significance. He created Di Luna in Trovatore, Valentine in Faust, and the title role in Don Giovanni, in the company premières in Britain. He has his niche in Rosa history.

© 2021 John Ward

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