Stephen A. Bergquist, A Piece of Musical Napoleoniana

On 2 June 1800 Napoleon, at that time still General Bonaparte, made a triumphal entry into Milan, driving out the Austrians, who had ruled Lombardy since 1713. Napoleon enjoyed music, and a gala concert in his honor was organized at La Scala for the evening of 4 June. To the extent that the French regime in Milan had any effect on La Scala, it seems to have been beneficial; the number of opera performances increased, and the time of French rule were golden years for ballet and stage design. In March 1801 the contralto Elisabetta Gafforini made the first of many appearances at La Scala. Although she occasionally performed opera seria roles, she had a delightful comic talent that made her perfect for opera buffa. In November 1801 she sang in the premiere of Giuseppe Mosca’s Il Sedicente filosofo, and shortly thereafter an etched portrait of her was published, together with an adulatory sonnet. This production has many fingerprints of French rule in Milan: the verso of the sheet contains a quote from a French author (Voltaire); the sonnet is addressed to “Citizen” Elisabetta Gafforini, a form of address that came into use after the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789; and the publication is dated Anno X, that is, Year Ten of the Republican calendar. In 1815 Rossini wanted to engage Gafforini to play Rosina in the premiere of Il Barbiere di Siviglia, but her asking price was too high, so Rossini turned to Geltrude Righetti-Georgi. Gafforini’s last known performance was at La Fenice in Venice in April 1818. After this the record is silent; it is not even known when or where she died.