7 June 2017

Gaetano Berenstadt – operatic castrato

Italian-born performer who specialised in roles created by Handel

Gaetano Berenstadt (right) in a caricatured impression of his performance in Handel's Flavio
Gaetano Berenstadt (right) in a caricatured impression
of his performance in Handel's Flavio
Gaetano Berenstadt, an alto castrato who sang many roles in George Frideric Handel’s operas, was born on this day in 1687 in Florence.

His parents were German and his father played the timpani - kettle drums - for the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Berenstadt was sent to be a pupil of Francesco Pistocchi, a singer, composer and librettist who founded a singing school in Bologna.

After performing in Bologna and Naples, Berenstadt visited London where he performed the role of Argante in a revival of Handel’s Rinaldo. The composer created three new arias especially for Berenstadt’s voice.

George Frederick Handel created many  roles for Gaetano Berenstadt
George Frideric Handel created many
roles for Gaetano Berenstadt
On a later visit to London, Berenstadt sang for the composers of the Royal Academy of Music. On this visit he created the roles of Tolomeo in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, the title role in Flavio, and the role of Adalberto in Ottone.

Back in Italy, he sang music by Italian composers and in two new compositions by Johann Adolph Hasse. He usually took on the role of a villainous tyrant and, despite the quality of his voice, he never portrayed a female character.

His final appearances on stage were in his native Florence. In retirement he published some music of his own until his death in Florence in 1734.

Letters that he wrote, which describe his love of books and art, are still in existence and he built up an extensive library of old books and pamphlets.

Travel tip:

The Grand Dukes of Tuscany lived in Palazzo Pitti in Florence from the 16th century to the 18th century when the last Medici Duke died without a male heir. The Pitti Palace is on the south side of the River Arno, a short distance away from Ponte Vecchio. It is now the largest museum complex in Florence with eight museums and galleries.

The entrance to Teatro alla Pergola
The entrance to Teatro alla Pergola
Travel Tip:

Berenstadt would have probably sung at Teatro della Pergola in Florence in the centre of Florence on Via della Pergola. The theatre was built in 1656 to designs by architect Ferdinando Tacca, the son of the sculptor, Pietro Tacca. The interior was finished in time to celebrate the wedding of the future Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici with a special production for the court.  It was opened to the public after 1718 and the theatre presented operas by Mozart for the first time in Italy.

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