Tumbling images: Carlo Antonio Delpini at work
One of the more colourful performers on the 18th-century London stage was the Rome-born Italian dancer, singer, actor, and choreographer, Carlo Antonio Delpini (d. 1828). He is recorded in London from about 1774; he was engaged by Garrick for Drury Lane, then at Covent Garden, and the Haymarket, playing in pantomimes such as Robinson Crusoe, Don Juan, and The Deserter of Naples. He was difficult and quarrelsome, features which only added to his formidable reputation.
But Delpini’s career also shows the difficulties performers had when they experienced physical reverses. While playing in the serious ballet pantomime spectacular, The Death of Captain Cook, in 1789, he was seriously hurt, and was unable to play with his previous gusto. He remained in the theatre, eking out a living as a manager and promoter. Successes such as La Fiera di Venezia, a grand masquerade at the Pantheon and the patronage of George IV, were balanced with financial disasters and crankiness, so that he descended into poverty and left his widow in a state of destitution.
This paper will focus on a small number of images which represented the dancer in his prime, and contributed to his celebrity.
Michael Burden is Professor in Opera Studies at the University of Oxford, and is Fellow in Music at New College, where he is also Dean. His published research is on the theatre music of Henry Purcell, on the staging of opera and dance in London in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and the administration of the Pyne-Harrison and English Opera Companies. His study of the soprano Regina Mingotti’s London years was published in 2013. He is Past President
of the British Society for 18th-century Studies, a Visitor to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, a trustee of RISM, and director of productions of New Chamber Opera, www.newchamberopera.co.uk. He organises the annual Oxford Dance Symposium with Jennifer Thorp, with whom he co-edited the Ballet de la Nuit in 2009.