About Isabella Colbrand
Isabella Colbran (2 February 1785, Madrid—7 October 1845, Bologna) was a Spanish opera singer, who was known in her native country as Isabel Colbrandt. Many sources note her as a dramatic coloratura soprano but, some believe that she was a mezzo-soprano with a high extension, a soprano sfogato. In addition to singing, she also composed four collections of songs throughout her lifetime. Each group of songs was dedicated to either the Empress of Russia; her teacher, Crescenti; the Queen of Spain; and Prince Eugènie de Beauharnais.
Colbran in Naples
In the early years of the 19th century the prestigious Teatro San Carlo in Naples considered itself to be the finest opera house in Italy. Hence, they engaged not only the best singers of the day but the greatest composers as well. The prima donna of the company was Isabella Colbran, admired not only by the Neapolitan public, but was also by the King of Naples. In addition, she proved to be the darling of the theater's impresario Domenico Barbaia with whom she had an affair. To complement Colbran's talents Barbaia engaged Gioachino Rossini, to compose a series of operas for the company. Consequently, in 1815 when Isabella was at the peak of her popularity, Rossini composed the title role of Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra ("Elizabeth, Queen of England") especially for her upon his arrival in Naples.
Rossini's next Neapolitan opera was Otello, ossia il Moro di Venezia in which Isabella sang the role of Desdemona. The opera proved to be immensely popular and Isabella was indeed at the height of her powers. However, shortly thereafter, her voice began to change and showed signs of strain. Even so, she continued confidently with her career, and created the roles of Armida (Armida), Elcia (Mosè in Egitto), Zoraide (Ricciardo e Zoraide), Ermione (Ermione), Elena (La donna del lago), Anna (Maometto II), and Zelmira (Zelmira), all written by Rossini for Naples.
Colbran and Rossini
Eventually Isabella left Barbaia and became increasingly involved with Rossini. The two were married in 1822. The couple visited Vienna and later Venice, where Rossini composed Semiramide. Isabella created the title role, and even though the opera itself proved to be tremendously successful and was specifically designed to disguise her waning talents, she nonetheless disappointed the public. On a subsequent visit to London, her vocal problems became increasingly pronounced which contributed to her decision to retire from the stage. Rossini wrote additional operas before he himself retired from operatic composition in 1829 (including Il viaggio a Reims, Le comte Ory, and William Tell), but none for Isabella.
Colbran and Rossini ultimately separated in 1837, but Rossini made sure she was properly taken care of up until the time of her death in 1845. To Colbran's credit, Rossini always considered her to be the greatest interpreters of his works.
Her timbre was "sweet, mellow" and she had a rich middle register.
Rossini's music that was written for her indicates she had a perfect mastery of trills, half-trills, staccato, legato, ascending and descending scales, and octave leaps.
Her vocal range extended from F-sharp below the staff to E above. On good days, she was able to hit a high F.
Isabella Colbrand's Timeline
February 2, 1785
Madrid, Community of Madrid, Madrid, Spain
October 7, 1845
Bologna, Bologna, Emilia-Romagna, Italy