portrait courtesy of the Garcia family
January 1775; died
Paris, 10 June 1832
Manuel del Pópulo Vicente García was, without any doubt, one
of the most talented musicians that Spain ever produced. He
was one of opera history's most celebrated tenors—the tenor
for whom Rossini wrote the Barber
of Seville. He was a great singing teacher. Included
among his students were his own three children: Manuel Patricio
Garcia (1805-1906), baritone, teacher, inventor of the
laryngoscope; Maria Malibran
(1808-1836), one of the most exciting prima donnas of
the 1820s and 1830s; and Pauline Viardot-Garcia
(1821-1910), accomplished singer, teacher and composer.
Early Life: Seville &
García was born into a poor
family (his father was a shoemaker) in Seville on 21 January
1775. There is no record that he was a choirboy in Seville's
cathedral, but he probably studied with the maestro de capilla there,
Antonio Ripa, as well as with the cellist and keyboardist,
Juan Almarcha, who worked at the collegial church of San
Salvador in Seville.
By the early 1790s
García was in Cádiz where he joined the theatrical troupe of
José Morales. García fell in love with Morales's daughter,
Manuela, a successful singer, actress and dancer. In
opposition to her parents, the young couple married secretly
on 8 May 1797.
Madrid & Málaga
Early in 1798 the couple moved to Madrid.
On 31 May 1798 they premiered a tonadilla (a short intermezzo) composed by
García, El majo y la maja.
Towards the end of 1799 García got into trouble after a fight
with a guard at the theater and was briefly imprisoned. After
release he went to the Mediterranean city of Málaga while
Manuela returned to Cádiz to sing in her father's company.
This separation probably signaled the beginning of marital
problems that would worsen over the next few years.
In Málaga García made a name
for himself as primo tenore
as well as composer. His reputation was such that he was
invited to return to Madrid in 1802 where he sang the role of
the Count in Mozart's Le
nozze di Figaro (sung in a Spanish translation as El matrimonio de Figaro).
Over the next few years García
reigned as principal tenor, composer and opera director in
Madrid's theaters. He premiered several of his own operettas,
most notable among them being Quien porfía mucho alcanza (1802), El criado fingido (1804)
and, especially, the monologue opera, El poeta calculista
(1805).The latter contained an aria, 'Yo que soy
contrabandista,' which remained the most popular and
influential of García's compositions. Both of his daughters
sang it in recitals and interpolated it in the lesson scene of
Il barbiere di Siviglia.
George Sand was so enamored of the song that she wrote a play,
Le contrebandier (1836),
inspired by it. Franz Liszt composed a Rondeau Fantastique
(1836) based on it, Robert Schumann used the text in
translation in his 'Der Kontrabandiste' (1849), and, as late
as 1925, Federico García Lorca featured the song in his play,
In 1807 García applied for a
passport to travel to France and Italy for further study. He
would never return to Spain. Part of the reason for this was
that he was leaving Manuela Morales behind with two small
daughters. He had taken up with the mezzo soprano and
comic actress, Joaquina Briones, with whom he had performed
frequently on the Madrid stage. There is no record that the
marriage with Manuela Morales was ever legally terminated. To
appear in Madrid in this situation would have been too
scandalous, and perhaps even dangerous, legally, for García.
After initial resistance from
tenors in Paris, García made his debut there in Paer's Griselda on 11 February
1808 and was well-received both by the public as well as by
the critics—although the latter criticized his tendency to
over-embellish. His real success came, however, with the Paris
premiere of his El poeta
calculista at the Odéon theater on 15 March
1809—which was cheered to the rafters.
In 1811 García travelled to
Italy where he perfected his singing technique under the
guidance of the renowned tenor Giovanni Anzani. He made his
debut at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on 6 January 1812 in
Portugallo's Oro non compra
amore. In Naples he was paired with the Spanish mezzo
soprano Isabel Colbran, the future wife of Gioacchino Rossini.
She and Joaquina Briones (by now "Mrs. García") sang in the
premiere of García's Il
califfo di Bagdad at the San Carlo on 30 September
1813. This was to remain one of García's most successful
After premiering Rossini's Elisabetta Regina d'Inghilterra
at the San Carlo on 4 October 1815, García made history at the
premiere of Il barbiere di
Siviglia (at the premiere titled Almaviva, ossia L'inutile
precauzione to avoid conflict with the popular Il barbiere di Siviglia
by Giovanni Paisiello) in Rome on 20 February 1816.
Paris & London
García returned to Paris in
Cimarosa's Il matrimonio
segreto on 17 October 1816. The next years would
bring him his greatest triumphs, both as tenor as well as
composer. It was also during this period that he opened
singing schools in London and Paris and wrote his Exercises and Method for Singing
(1824). Apart from Almaviva, his most famous Rossini role was
as Otello, which he sang opposite Giuditta Pasta. But,
strangely, the role that really took Paris by storm was
García's Don Giovanni (a baritone role). By all accounts,
García's interpretation was electrifying and his rendition of
'Fin ch'an dal vino' was always encored.
García's Il califfo di Bagdad was
premiered in Paris on 22 May 1817 and was effusively praised
by the German critic G.L.P. Sievers: "This composition shines
in such a manner that it would do honour to Classical works.
It is almost erudite but at the same time is in the highest
degree clear and pleasing. The thematic development and the
manner of the instrumentation leave nothing to be desired—even
by the most serious connoisseurs." (Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (16 July
1817), quoted in Radomski, Manuel
García, p. 120)
New York (1825-1827)
In 1825 García was invited to
come to New York to direct opera at the Park Theatre. This was
a momentous occasion in the history of music in the United
States for these were the first truly professional
performances in the country. García used the opportunity to
present his young daughter, Maria, to an undiscriminating
public. She quickly became the darling of New York society.
While in New York she married Eugene Malibran and, although
the marriage did not last, she retained his name and became
established in opera history as "Madame Malibran." Apart
from Il barbiere di
Siviglia (premiered on 29 November 1825), García
presented Rossini's Otello,
Tancredi, Il turco
in Italia, and La
Cenerentola to the New York public. García's own L'amante astuto was
premiered on 17 December 1825 as was his La figlia dell'aria on 25
April 1826. One of the most important events of the season,
however, was the United States premiere of Don Giovanni on 23 May
1826 with Lorenzo Da Ponte (Mozart's librettist) in the
With family tensions high
after Maria's marriage on 14 March 1826 (García had been
against it) García took wife Joaquina, son Manuel and daughter
Pauline to Mexico in 1827 where he performed the same service
as in New York: presenting high-quality performances of
Rossini, Mozart's and his own works. García's Abufar ossia La famiglia araba
was premiered on 13 July 1827 at the Teatro de los Gallos as
was his La Semiramis
on 8 May 1828. Although García had considered retiring in
Mexico, the political situation was too dangerous. Amidst
revolutionary zeal in the nascent republic the notorious
Decree of Expulsion of Spanish citizens had been proclaimed on
20 December 1827. Although there were exceptions for those
"useful in the republic" (including musicians), the situation
was too dangerous and in October of 1828 García, with his
family, left in a convoy of Spaniards for the port city of
Veracruz.1 En route the convoy was attacked by a
band of brigands. According to legend, after robbing him, the
scoundrels forced García to sing. He so impressed them that
they returned some of his possessions.
Paris: final years and death
García sailed from Veracruz
for Bordeaux on 22 January 1829. It was probably during this
trip that he completed his last grand opera, El gitano por amor. In
Mexico there had been protests against performances in Italian
so García obligingly returned to writing Spanish operas. La Semiramis, Xaira and El gitano por amor
resulted. Xaira was
finished, but never performed in Mexico City. El gitano por amor was
likely started in Mexico, but finished aboard ship. In any
event, excerpts from it were published when García returned to
Paris but the work, one of his greatest, was never performed.
García's return was
anxiously awaited in Paris but in his rentrée as Almaviva at
the Théâtre-Italien on 24 September 1829 his voice was heard
to be in serious decline. Despite a disastrous performance as
Don Giovanni on 23 December 1829 in which, unable to continue,
he had to be replaced by Carlo Zuchelli, García continued to
sing at the Théâtre-Italien through March of 1830. Afterwards
he retired to teaching and composing, although he did continue
occasionally to perform in concerts and with his students. His
very last performance was in a student opera by Count
Beramendi at the Tivoli Theatre on 4 August 1831.
García died after a short
illness on 10 June 1832 and was buried in Paris at the
cemetery of Père Lachaise (in Division 25, at the corner of
Chemin Laplace and Chemin Molière et Lafontaine).
García's enduring reputation
While García's place in
history as an extraordinary performer and singing teacher has
been secured, his significance as a composer is still to be
explored. We can only imagine what his voice must have been
like from reviews and, especially, from the music he wrote for
himself. We have some idea of his teaching from the writings
of his students, reminiscences of his children, from his own
and from the tremendous pedagogical work of his son, who built
upon the work of his father.
But the large number of García
scores, in archives in France, Spain, Italy and the United
States will, with time, bring to life García's music in a way
that his singing and teaching can never be. It will take years
of time-consuming work before the music can be transcribed,
analyzed and tested before the public. A particular difficulty
in reviving the operas is in finding singers capable of
meeting the demands of García's fiendishly difficult bel canto style.
Nonetheless, a few recent
experiments have been promising and have revealed the fact
that García was not just another Rossini imitator, but a
unique musical genius with a tremendous understanding of the
voice, style and drama—all of which bodes well for a
successful theatrical composer.
Both Ernesto Palacios and Teresa Berganza
have released recordings of García songs and these exhibit
considerable charm and sense of Spanish style.
On 7 April 2005 García's salon
opera L'isola disabitata
(written for his students in 1831) was premiered at Wake
Forest University in North Carolina to thunderous applause.
Both the drama and the music were recognized to be of
sufficient quality to move a twenty-first century audience. El poeta calculista has
been recorded in an excellent performance by Mark Tucker.
García's Don Chisciotte
was well-received at its premiere in Seville on 7 April 2007. On 3 January 2008
García's La mort du Tasse
was performed in a concert version in Seville. This offered
the surprise of hearing a very different "French" sound in a
With increased public interest
we are certain to hear more of García's music in the future.
In my book, Manuel
García (1775-1832), p. 242, I suggested that García
might have been part of a convoy of 500 Spaniards who were
attacked by members of the 7th regiment, the very regiment
that had been assigned to protect the convoy. Molly
Nelson-Haber, the world's leading expert on Maria Malibran,
has recently informed me that evidence in the letters of
Eugène and Maria Malibran suggests that García must have
left in an earlier and smaller convoy (of about 30).
Radomski, James. Manuel
García (1775-1832): Chronicle of the Life of a bel canto
Tenor at the Dawn of Romanticism, (New York: Oxford
University Press, 2000). Published in Spanish translation as Manuel García (1775-1832):
Maestro del bel canto y compositor, (Madrid:
Instituto Complutense de Ciencias Musicales, 2002).
García works published:
García, Manuel. Canciones y
caprichos líricos, ed. Celsa Alonso (Madrid:
Instituto Complutense de Ciencias Musicales, 1994).
García, Manuel. El majo y
la maja, ed. José Subirá (Madrid: Unión Musical
García, Manuel. Don
Chisciotte, ed. Juan de Udaeta (Madrid: Instituto
Complutense de Ciencias Musicales, 2007).
García, Manuel. L'isola
disabitata, ed. Teresa Radomski and James Radomski
(Middleton, Wisconsin: A-R Editions, 2006).
Inasmuch as the publication process is interminable and I am
sure many students throughout the world would be interested in
seeing García works, I have decided to make my most recent
transcriptions of García works available for free download:
El criado fingido
El gitano por amor
El poeta calculista
Choruses for Racine's
This music is for personal use. All copyright restrictions apply.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at:
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