Worth Reading

Bel Canto Bully – the man who invented Belcanto

The Life and Times of the Legendary Opera Impresario Domenico Barbaja is written by Philip Eisenbeiss, a Swiss-American banker and Executive Searcher and Board Director of the Hong Kong Opera.

The book is written in a fascinating way, not only trying to give an impression of Domenico Barbaja’s life, but it is at the same time giving details of the contemporary life and social aspects. When you read the book, you get so intrigued by Philip Eisenbeiss’ extraordinary research in Italy that you cannot stop reading on and on. The author has been in his young years also a journalist and this is why he is not only feeding his personal interests to discover the origin of Belcanto, but he is dedicated to describe the circumstances of his extensive research work to pack it into a terrific lifetime story, and also as a time document, with rich copper re-prints illustrating also the lifespan of his protagonist, including genre pictures of the society of that time, these are also of textile interest.

Before the author followed his studies in the USA, he had intentions to become an opera singer himself, and this fascination has never ceased to exist. It triggered also his eagerness to write his first book on the life of Domenico Barbaja. Too bad that his vocal capabilities however never matched that he could pursue a career as an opera singer.

Having studied History and International Relations at Columbia  University, Philip started his career in journalism covering stories in Morocco, Spain, Thailand and the Philippines. In 1991 he joined the Swiss bank UBS and soon moved to Asia, working in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Bangkok. Since 2001 he has been working as a financial headhunter for a leading executive search firm based in Hong Kong.

The author Philip Eisenbeiss with his written book

Some Q&A with the author

Q: What compelled you to write this book?

A: I first came across Barbaja’s name in the sleeve notes of CDs where  Barbaja was frequently mentioned as ‘the legendary opera  impresario’.  When  I couldn’t find much information on  Barbaja, I started  to research  myself,  and  suddenly got dragged into the whole period and times and then became obsessed with his story.  Initially,  I wasn’t  really  planning  to write  a  book,  and  was  thinking more about an article. The project then started taking on a life of its own.

Q: Did anything surprise you, or anything surprising happen, during the oourse of writing the book?

A: The whole story of research  and  discovery  was  full of surprises  and colourful anecdotes. Ultimately, I was most surprised by the  amazing  response I got from  the  scholarly  and  academic  community,  who were helpful, cooperative, supportive and extremely open to an acadermic outsider like me.

Q: What writer or writers have bad the greatest influence on you?

A: I cannot really say who has had an  influence.  But I can say whom I admire: Tom Reiss, John Berendt , Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal, Chris Hitchins . As far as opera-related writing is concerned: Sir Rudolph Bing.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: ‘Persistency pays off is how I feel. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ is what I understand.

Some further facts

Philip Eisenbeiss brilliantly pieces together the forgotten story of the tireless tyrant who became the most important opera impresario of the early 19th century, a time when Napoleon and the Bourbons were fighting for control of Italy and when singers and composers were the pop stars of their day.

The cover of the Book

An uneducated coffee waiter, Barbaja made a fortune running gambling concessions and soon took over opera houses in Naples, Milan and Vienna, launching the careers of Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti. The foul-mouthed, womanising and hustling impresario had an irrevocable impact on the history of Italian opera: determined to create a lucrative business, he cultivated an energetic environment of new artists producing innovative, exciting opera that people would flock to hear.

Captions from the book

The book is commercially available 450 pages, ISBN: 9781908323255, published by Haus Publishing. It is also available as E-Book.

WTO Publications of books

www.wto.org