April 21, 2011

Luigi Lablache: The King of Basses

He had thirteen children, excelled in dramatic and comedic roles, played the double bass, was considered a vocal giant during his lifetime, epitomized all things bel canto, loved a good prank, wrote an important book on singing, taught Queen Victoria for two decades, and had Stewart Granger as a great-great-grandson. Needless to say, I am fascinated with Luigi Lablache. Fortunately, another direct descent - Clarissa Lablache Cheer - has written the first English language biography of the great bass. Titled The Great Lablache: Nineteen Century Superstar: His Life and His Times (2009), it looks like a good read, that is, if the link is any indication. An on-demand book, I've ordered my copy from Abebooks.


Luigi Lablache


Clarissa Lablache Cheer includes a famous story of the great bass which shows his fondness for mischief. 

Once, Lablache was staying in the same apartment house in Paris, no. 16 Rue Taibout, on the first floor, as the P.T. Barnum's famous attraction General Tom Thumb. Billed as "the smallest man in the world." One of the General's fans, an Englishman, sought an audience with this curious celebrity, and made the mistake of asking Berlioz for assistance. Offended that the Briton assumed there was some sort of confraternity of musicians and freaks, Berlioz gave the man the address of Lablache's suite. When the giant Lablache opened the door, his visitor was so startled he could hardly speak. "I ... I was calling on ...Le General Tom Thumb. Monsieur Berlioz sent me here." "Yes," said Lablache calmly, "Yes, I am Tom Thumb," he replied poker faced and smiling. "But ... excuse me ... Tom Thumb is the smallest man in the world!" "Yes," agreed Lablache, "in public, of course. But, you should know Monsieur! When I'm at home, I make myself comfortable." 

The king of basses died at the age of sixty-four with nary a bad review, having learning the art of singing from Mme. Mericoffre, or as she was know in Italy,  La Cottellini.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely anecdote and wonderful links too! I just mentioned a story about Lablache on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/JackGibbonsPiano) referring to the encounter Lablache had with the father of the English composer Elgar, who was forced to push hard against Lablache to get him through a narrow doorway when he got stuck, due to his enormous girth, just before his performance at Worcester Cathedral in England.

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