Violinist, actor, playwright, composer, librettist and musical scholar born in Bilbao, Spain, in July 1793. He was the third of five children of Francis Lacy, originally a shoemaker from Carrickmacross, Co. Monaghan, Ireland, and Catherine MacDonald (sometimes ‘MacDonall’ or ‘Donall’), probably also of Irish origin.
Lacy’s childhood is hard to reconstruct, yet there can be no doubt of his prodigious musical talent. According to his first biographer (Sainsbury 1824), following some early public performances in Bilbao and Madrid when he was as young as six, Lacy was sent to continue his education in France, first to Bordeaux and later to Paris. There, while a student of the reputed violinist and composer Rodolphe Kreutzer, Lacy allegedly played for Napoleon at the Tuileries in late 1804 or early 1805.
By the beginning of 1806, Rophino Lacy—as he would come to be known in the Anglophone world—had arrived in England. It has been claimed that this move was intended to bring him to study with famed violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti, but this has not been corroborated (Lister 2009, 460). Introduced to the English public as ‘The Young Spaniard’, Lacy soon received the royal patronage of the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Sussex and the Duchess of York. His concerts at the Hanover Square Rooms in London were advertised widely in the press, and the child prodigy was considered ‘one of the brightest examples of musical talent and application that ever engaged the attention of the amateur, or enraptured an English audience’ (Morning Post, 24 March 1806).
The success of his first concerts in London allowed ‘The Young Spaniard’ to go on to perform as a violinist in Dublin and Edinburgh. His first appearance in Ireland—at a concert in the Rotunda for the benefit of Angelica Catalani in August 1807—was followed by at least one performance for the Lord Lieutenant and his wife the Duchess of Richmond; and in Edinburgh he played at Corri’s Rooms in July 1808. Soon after his fifteenth birthday, however, Lacy took to the stage and began a career as an actor. For over a decade he combined his acting in theatres in Dublin, Glasgow or Belfast with the occasional concert. In 1818 he became the leader of the Liverpool concerts, thus returning to the musical profession; by 1820 he was in charge of the ballet orchestra at the King’s Theatre in London.
Though in the following years Lacy was also to try his luck as a playwright and theatrical manager, it was as an arranger of French and Italian operas for the English dramatical stage that he became most successful, especially in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Cinderella, his adaptation of Gioacchino Rossini’s La Cenerentola—with his reintroduction of the glass slipper and the fairy queen—was for instance particularly successful from its first performance at Covent Garden on 13 April 1830.
Lacy visited Paris in 1831 and was present at Paganini’s first performance there, which he described as ‘a grotesque wonder, and that in the true sense of the word’ (Wyndham 1906, vol. 2, 76). In 1845 he toured Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York with his daughter ‘Miss Delcy’ at his side; their eight concerts, in which he played and she sang, received mixed reviews. In his later days Lacy directed some of his energies towards the study of Handel, and he carried out over three months of research in the British Library for Victor Schoelcher’s biography of the German composer. Lacy died impoverished in Pentonville, London, on 20 September 1867 and was survived by a wife and two daughters.
In spite of the ‘Spanish’ moniker of his youth, Lacy is commonly included in studies of English, Irish and Basque musicians. He was said to be a polyglot well versed in the Spanish, English, French and Italian languages. Lacy combined inspiration from many sources: in 1813 while in Dublin he had performed ‘arrangements of Irish traditional music’ (Klein 2013), yet his works also included adaptations from Spanish musical forms, such as Manuel García’s 1805 ‘polo’ El contrabandista, which Lacy revised in 1830.
A portrait bearing the inscription ‘Master M. M. I. R. Lacy, the Celebrated Young Spaniard, born in Bilboa [sic], July 19, 1795’ was published in England in May 1807, shortly after he had given a concert at the King’s Concert Rooms in Haymarket, London. It was painted by John Smart and engraved by Antoine Cardon.
Sources: Archivo Histórico Eclesiástico de Bizkaia (Derio, Spain); Archivo Histórico Foral de Bizkaia (Bilbao, Spain); American Irish Historical Society (New York, USA); Morning Post (London), 24 March 1806; Times (London), 17 March 1807; Freeman’s Journal (Dublin), 27 August 1807; Caledonian Mercury (Edinburgh), 25 July 1808; Belfast News-Letter, 2 January 1818; The Musical World, A Magazine of Essays, Critical and Practical, and Weekly Record of Musical Science, Literature, and Intelligence (London), 2 April 1840; Evening Mirror (New York), 13 November 1845; Gaceta Musical de Madrid (Madrid), 5 August 1855: Times (London), 26 September 1867; La semaine musicale: musique sacrée, concerts, musique dramatique, littérature et beaux-arts (Paris), 17 October 1867; Ángel Sagardia Sagardia, “Lacy, Rufino, instrumentista.” Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia [http://aunamendi.eusko-ikaskuntza.eus/es/lacy-rufino/ar-84229, accessed May 22, 2018]; Axel Klein, “Lacy, Michael Rophino,” in Harry White & Barra Boydell (eds.), The Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland (Dublin: UCD Press, 2013), vol. 2, 575–576; John C. Greene, Theatre in Dublin, 1745–1820: A Calendar of Performances (Bethlehem, Pa.: Lehigh University Press, 2011), vol. 5, 3541; Warwick Lister, Amico: The Life of Giovanni Battista Viotti (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 460; David J. Golby, “Lacy, Michael Rophino (1795–1867), violinist.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-15859, accessed May 21, 2018]; Richard J. King, “Lacy, Michael Rophino.” Grove Music Online. [https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.15794, accessed May 21, 2018]; Allardyce Nicoll, A History of Early Nineteenth Century Drama 1800–1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930), vol. 2, 330; Henry Saxe Wyndham, The Annals of Covent Garden from 1732 to 1897 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1906), vol. 2, 76–79 and 120–121; A. Mason Clarke, A Biographical Dictionary of Fiddlers, Including Performers on the Violoncello and Double Bass (London: Wm. Reeves, 1895), 162–164; José Manterola, ‘Efermérides basco-nabarras’, Euskal-Erria: revista bascongada de San Sebastián, 1 (July–Dec 1880); Baltasar Saldoni, Diccionario biográfico-bibliográfico de efemérides de músicos españoles (Madrid: Imprenta a cargo de D. Antonio Pérez Dubrull, 1868), tomo 3, 65; Victor Schoelcher, The Life of Handel (London: Trübner and Co., 1857), xxii; John W. Moore, Complete Encyclopaedia of Music, Elementary, Technical, Historical, Biographical, Vocal, and Instrumental (Boston: P. Jewett and Co., 1854), 497–498; John S. Sainsbury, A Dictionary of Musicians: from the Earliest Ages to the Present Time (London: Printed for Sainsbury and Co., 1824), vol. 2, 33.
Author: José Shane Brownrigg-Gleeson Martínez
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