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Thomas Martin - In Search of Bottesini (Part 1)

“During this current month of April, I have been unable to write to you because I left Havana on the 3rd, which is the day when all letters to Europe must be posted. I did not arrive in New York until the 15th; the journey was very pleasant and we were treated with the highest regard. In New York, we found another Italian opera company at the Teatro Palmos, where it had been in residence for five months, and there I came across a few of our acquaintances such as Clotilde Basili, Benedette il Tenore, Sanquivrio, etc.; a man from home whose name I do not remember, is also working there as a call boy. Our managers, who were highly irritated when they discovered that the theatre was not free after all, spent 750 colommodes on another theatre in order to have the company heard in two performances of Ernani and thus, hopefully, sink the competition. Having quickly unloaded the boxes, we immediately started rehearsing until it was time to go on stage. The Park Theatre may have been minute, yet it was packed with people; we triumphed to the detriment of the others. God knows how much poison our success must have made them swallow. The next evening we played in the Sale del Tabernacolo and I performed two duets with Arditi; I am enclosing a review of the evening so that you may judge for yourself how my playing was received.

“ Before leaving Havana, I signed a new contract with the manager, engaging myself to perform in three concerts every month in exchange of which my monthly pay will be increased by 150 colommodes which will be added to the 120 I already receive as an orchestral player. I shall now be able to save a certain amount every month. You may rest assured that as soon as I am able to put together 3 or 4 thousand francs from my savings, I shall be sending them over. Please use them as seems best to you. I do not want to know about it. I shall be only too happy to find myself finally in a position to repay part of my debt towards you."

“ I spent the last five days in New York wandering about the city; having left Havana on an oppressively hot day, I was finally able to breath again—the freshness of the air here revives my lungs and pumps blood back into my veins; just like a St. Bernard dog, I start sniffing the atmosphere, it tastes of snow. I have not yet seen Paris or London but I can imagine more or less what they must be like if they at all resemble New York, for this is a great business center, highly populated, lean, elegant and hustling with activity: steam engines, railways, omnibuses, carriages, millions of newspapers. I no longer knew what world I was in."

“We then left for Boston, another very remarkable city, where Washington, the great hero to whom this country owes its freedom, preached such wholesome principles to the people. English is spoken everywhere, quite a handful for us, really, this language!"

“Everyone works for the good of the homeland, and life is quite pleasant here. There are thousands of things I could tell you, but I do not wish to deprive myself of the pleasure of relating them to you in person one day.
“We shall remain in this city until mid-May, at which point we will depart for New York where we shall be spending the summer. Before we return to Havana, we may decide to visit Philadelphia."

“I shall keep you informed at all times so that you know where to write to me. How is mother? and how is Angelina? Both well, I presume. I am surprised, though, that in the last letter my sister was not even mentioned; I assume she has left for the country with some lady. If the distance between us was not so immense, I would send her a few beautiful dresses, but that will have to wait until I get back. Tell mother that this is a country where Sundays as religious holidays are rather better observed than in our own Catholic countries; on those days, singing, playing and alcohol consumption are forbidden. Everybody goes to Church and although it is not a Catholic Church, the religion preached there is highly moral, honest and worthy of the public freedom and welfare existing in this country."

“I do remember my promise—time will tell. Don’t worry therefore, even if I suffer from not being at home; the situation has become so much of a habit that my health is not in the least affected by it. In fact, I have even become a little podgy—by my standards of course."

“I have heard nothing from my brothers. Once more, I beg of you to let me know how they are, write to me quickly and tell me what is new with them and with their wives. Have my nephews grown? I have not had the time to write to Dello. Please tell him that I received two of his letters in Havana where I also received your last two. Ask him to keep me informed on everything, and I shall do the same from here."

“When I am finished with all my engagements, I shall go on a very small trip around the U.S. and I shall then proceed towards London where I am eagerly expected. As soon as I get there I shall be sending you a modest draft so that you may come and visit me at once with mother and Angelina."

“I was very sorry to hear about Piatti’s illness in Bergomo. If you happen to see him, please send him my warmest wishes. Novelli, the bass, asks me to send you his regards, and so do Arditi and Bottoglioni, that famous Musician of Brescia."

“Our opera company is having a tremendous success. We have the inexperienced American eardrums to thank for that, for in reality it is absolutely dismal. With the exception of the Ernani, all the other operas are a disaster, horribly out of tune but always applauded! How lucky we are! I don’t know how we shall be able to cope when we are back in Italy."

“Best regards to you and please kiss mother and Angelina on my behalf. Keep well, regards to Dello. S. Angelo, Terni, Monze, all the family and friends. I remain, your affectionate and most loving son. Giovanni”

To see the famous first visit from a less personal point here is a small article about it which appeared in the MuskiIe di Milano on September 23rd of that year (1847).

“Any time the manager of the Havana theatre wishes to enlarge his capital, regardless of what part of the world he is in, all he has to do is to announce a concert or an operatic intermezzo featuring Bottesini and, in no time, he will have a hall crammed full with spectators, each of them having paid quite a hefty sum for the privilege of being there. Last July 10th, Bottesini, Arditi and the principal artists of the Italian opera, among which the great Tedesco, attracted more than 5,000 spectators to a pcrforniancc they gave in Castle Garden. They then left for Philadelphia, Boston and Cape May Island from where they shall subsequently go to Saratoga and Newport, travelling through all of the northern river area back to New York"