ANTONIO SACCHINI (1730 - 1786)
The son of a cook who followed the Infante Don Carlos to Naples, Antonio Sacchini was born in Florence. Taken to Naples at the age of four, he entered the Conservatorio S. Maria di Loreto there at the age of ten, studying with Francesco Durante. His first Intermezzo, Fra Donato, was performed successfully at the conservatory in 1756, followed by another work of the same kind the following year, earning him a local reputation. In 1758 he was appointed to the unpaid position of maestro di cappella straordinario at the conservatory and in 1761 he became secondo maestro, the date of his first opera for the Teatro San Carlo, Andromaca. The following year he moved to Venice and then to Padua, winning growing success with new operas, which allowed him eventually to abandon his position in Naples.
In 1768 he was appointed director of the Conservatorio dell'Ospedaletto in Venice, where he also acquired a reputation as a singing teacher, with Nancy Storace among his pupils. With an increasing international reputation, he superintended productions of his work in Stuttgart and Munich and in 1772 moved to London, his home for the next ten years. In the judgement of Charles Burney 'He remained too long in England for his own fame and fortune. The first was injured by cabals … and the second by inactivity and want of economy' (ed. Abraham Rees, The Cyclopedia; or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature, quoted in The Letters of Dr Charles Burney, ed. Alvaro Ribeiro). Sacchini, in fact, ran into financial trouble in London, where he had at first had considerable success.
In 1781 he moved to Paris, where he won the support of the Queen, but met intrigue and opposition from the musical establishment in the quarrel between supporters of Gluck and adherents of Piccinni, eventually seeming to please neither one nor the other. The patronage of Marie Antoinette aroused further prejudice, in view of the Queen's known predilection for foreign music. Sacchini attempted to fulfill the demands of French taste, and his opera Dardanus succeeded when it was staged at Fontainebleau in 1785. The Queen was unable to have Oedipe à Colone staged, as she had hoped, at Fontainebleau in 1786, a disappointment to which some attributed Sacchini's death in October that year. In the event the new opera, regarded as Sacchini's masterpiece, was staged at the Opéra in 1787 and remained in the repertoire of the house for many years.
During his career of some thirty years Sacchini had enjoyed great fame, notably as a composer of Italian opera seria. The decline in his reputation may in good part be attributed to the neglect of a form in which he had excelled. His skills were most notably deployed in Oedipe à Colone, a work in which he was able to unite the rival trends of contemporary opera within a French dramatic structure.