About the life of Nicolo Vaccaj


  • Niccolo Vaccaj was born in Tolentino, northeast of Rome, during the early hours of a night in March.
  • His father was a medical doctor from Tuscany. His mother came from Frosinone.
  • Nicolo was the youngest of three sons.


  • The family moved to Pesaro, the birth city of Rossini.
  • Nicolo showed interest in literature, for example works by Metastasio, at an early age.
  • When still a teenager, he wrote plays in verse form.
  • He was gifted in music and began to write music.


  • Vaccaj was confronted with the choice of whether to become a medical doctor or a lawyer.
  • His father finally allowed him to study music.
  • He frequented the opera and church concerts to hear works by Cimarosa, Farinelli, Paisiello, Pergolesi, and Zingarelli.
  • He conducted full-time studies at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, where he especially enjoyed vocal studies and studies in counterpoint, necessary for composing.


  • He graduated with a diploma di maestro honours.
  • He continued his studies with Giovanni Paisiello in Naples for almost three years and became thoroughly acquainted with different voice types and skills. (Paisiello was a great admirer of Metastasio's libretti and spoke in praise of the poet in his discussions with Vaccaj).
  • He was commissioned to write the opera I Solitari di Scozia in 40 days.

Vaccaj as a singer is described by Alessandro Biaggi:

"Vaccaj's voice was not naturally beautiful, but his singing technique was so perfect that it was sheer pleasure listening to him. His voice was clear and spontaneous with an excellent, continuous flow; his breathing was calm and unnoticed. His legato and portamento were faultless; his portamento did not drag. His head register was perfect. His phrasing was as polished as his diction. He never lapsed to exaggeration or mannerisms. The result was a powerful, pure, and classic style with lively, vivid, and expressive accentuation. Vaccaj's singing agreed with the Greek philosophers' definition: enjoyment of the soul."


  • Vaccaj was hailed at the première.
  • He conducted his own composition Tantum ergo on the feast of the Assumption of Virgin Mary.


  • On the advce of Paisiello, he travelled to Venice; however the audiences there were, interested solely in music by Rossini.
  • He began to give voice lessons to avoid asking his father for money.

On his father as a singer and a vocal coach, Giulio Vaccaj commented later:

"Everyone in Venice knew that he was an excellent singer, even if his voice was not impeccable. Thus, there is reason to believe that after having heard my father sing, Venetians expected him to start giving voice lessons. He soon became a skilled voice teacher and his excellent school earned him long-standing respect. When Rossini in 1851 wrote to marquis Antaldi i Pesaro about Vaccaj as a composer, he mentioned that 'he was as renowned as a teacher. With his thorough knowledge about the physiology of the human voice, he left the boundaries of the art intact and taught a method which made his students sing and reveal their souls.'"

  • He won popularity as a voice tutor.
  • According to his son Giulio, he was not only skilled in his own field but also civilized, sociable, and amiable.
  • After five years in Venice, he was looking for a change.
  • He accepted an invitation to start working as a music teacher in Trieste.
  • Pupils were queuing for his tuition and he enjoyed life.
  • He fell passionately in love with a pupil named Anna Corradini.
  • He travelled Europe extensively, visiting cities such as Vienna.


  • He left Trieste because his beloved Anna was admitted to the conservatory in Milan.
  • He tried to establish himself as an opera composer, and now with more success.
  • He was hailed for both his operas Pietro il Grande and La pastorella feudataria.


  • He was commissioned by the opera Teatro San Caro in Naples, which premièred his work Zadig ed Astartea. The role of Zadi was sung by Anna.
  • He also wrote for Anna the part of Romeo in his opera Giulietta e Romeo, which premièred in Milan and became his greatest success in opera all through Italy and the rest of Europe.


  • He grew tired of writing for the unpredictable Italian stages and left for Paris, where he, having already established himself in the opera scene, wanted to try his luck.


  • The revolution pre-empted his plans of gathering an accomplished ensemble for the Théatre Italien. The ensemble would have included Lablache, Maria Malibran, Giuditta Pasta, Henriette Sontag, and Tamburini.


  • In the early summer, he went to London and, with a crowd of pupils soon wanting his tuition, decided to stay for a longer period.
  • He soon decided to compose a series of vocal exercises with a suitable melody to reduce the difficulties of and boredom caused by the rules of singing. This decision resulted in the Metodo pratico.


  • He was exhilarated to see his opera Giulietta e Romeo at the King's Theatre. While Bellini had written an opera on the same theme, Vaccaj's final act was considered superior. (In Bologna, Bellini's opera ended in a scene with Vaccaj's funeral. The idea was probably Rossini's and so well conceived that it was used for years.)

In a letter to Francesco Bennati, a good friend of his, Vaccaj wrote about the idea of a new voice school like this:

"My objectives for the practical method I believe I have stated clearly in the preface. To serve a great number of different voices, I have kept to the most common vocal range. One of the most serious difficulties in the vocal art is how to combine the two different registers if it does not happen naturally.

If a teacher forbade eager students to sing until they have reached a perfect balance of registers, they would lose their interest in singing before they even started. Therefore it is better to define them in a lighter and more pleasant way. (Those that have a natural gift for combining the registers may follow these rules for the total range of their voice.)

Most vocal school consist of a single type of exercises for different types of voices. After a number of scales and similar other runs they introduce a number of exercises on solfège, where leaps are the only ornaments and all exercises alike one another.

I believe there must be variation for varied talents. That is why everybody needs to believe that lessons with a frame are an opportunity for all. As the examples show, sometimes it is enough to please the audience with just one ornament. In order to help foreign students divide the syllables correctly when singing, I aim to show how to combine them in a way different from the way Italian teachers teach for spoken Italian. You see, I have noticed that foreigners stress the words in a peculiar manner if they pronounce them in the way their Italian teacher has told them to. Difficulties in pronouncing, for example, the word tutto are of minor importance – it can be learned just by imitating the teacher. That is why I have not prepared a pronunciation dictionary. This, in short, is the reason for not being more specific with the fifteen lessons of Metodo pratico."

Later Vaccaj tells about his idea of adding a more theoretical section to his singing school, where he would discuss, for example, different types of voices. He was hopeful for being able to show how theory and practice can be combined best. Unfortunately, this idea never materialized.


  • He finished the manuscript for Metodo pratico and submitted it for printing.
  • He gave voice lessons in Edinburgh and Dublin to fulfil his desire to travel to Scotland and Ireland.
  • After the Handel Festival, he started planning his return to Italy.


  • Because of the death of his father, he left for Italy abruptly.


  • He married his former pupil Giulia Puppati.
  • He wrote three operas, of which Giovanna Gray with Maria Malibran in the title role was a great success.
  • He had a supplement printed to his method (12 vocal exercises and 25 cadenzas) during his trip to England.


  • He settled in Milan with his family and composed a funeral cantata for Malibran with composers Coppola, Donizetti, Mercandante, and Pacini.


  • Having performed several duties in Milan, for example, as a censor in the Milan conservatory, he moved back to Pesaro.


  • He wrote the opera Virginia for the Teatro Apollo in Rome. According to Giulio Vaccaj, the opera was an undivided success.
  • Employment by the conservatory in Rome resulted in several improvements in the operations of the institution.


  • He conducted a few of his own church music compositions in Tolentino.


  • His health failing, he passed away in Pesaro on 6 August, grieved by his wife, three children and numerous friends.

Forshufvud, G. 1994. Con lieve fiato. Lärarhandledning till Nicola Vaccajs Metodo pratico. Göteborgs universitetet.