9 December 2019

Baldassare Ferri – singer

Male soprano was admired by the crowned heads of Europe


A 19th century engraving depicting Ferri and
fellow castrato Caffariello (Gaetano Majorano)
Castrato singer Baldassare Ferri was born on this day in 1610 in Perugia in the region of Umbria.

He is said to have possessed a beautiful soprano voice that was praised by other musicians and by much of the aristocracy of Europe.

The Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, who was a great patron of music and himself a composer, is believed to have become so enchanted with Ferri that he had a portrait of the singer hung in his bedroom with the inscription, Baldassare Ferri, Re dei Musici (King of Musicians).

By the age of 11, Ferri was a chorister serving Cardinal Crescenzi in Orvieto. He then studied music in Naples and in Rome, where he was taught by Vincenzo Ugolini of Perugia, who was maestro of the Cappella Giulia.

Prince Wladislaus of Poland then secured Ferri’s services for the court of King Sigismund III at Warsaw, where the singer took part in dramas set to music. He continued to be employed at the court when the prince became King Wladislaus IV Vasa in 1632.

A few years later Ferri moved to Vienna, where he entered the services of the Emperor Ferdinand III and afterwards sang for the Emperor Leopold I.

The Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I was said to be a big fan of Ferri's vocal qualities
The Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I was said
to be a big fan of Ferri's vocal qualities
His voice became famous throughout Europe and he received honours from the aristocrats and royal families of many countries.

He was made a Knight of St Mark of Venice, sonnets were written praising him, and he was once even summoned to Sweden to sing before Queen Christina, who was a great patron of music. Sweden was at war with Poland at the time but a brief armistice is said to have been arranged so that Ferri could pass safely through the battle lines.

The singer returned to live in Italy five years before he died, enjoying a comfortable retirement because of the wealth he had built up. He left 600,000 scudi to charity on his death in 1680.

Ferri was said to have been handsome with a tall figure. Musicians of the period praised the limpid quality of his voice and recorded that his intonation was perfect, his singing was expressive and his length of breath was ‘almost inexhaustible’.

The walled Etruscan city of Perugia enjoys a spectacular setting in the hills of Umbria
The walled Etruscan city of Perugia enjoys a spectacular
setting in the hills of Umbria
Travel tip:

Perugia, the capital city of the region of Umbria, where Baldassare Ferri was born, is built on a hilltop, which makes it a stunning sight. One of the main Etruscan cities of Italy, it is also home to two universities, the ancient Universita degli Studi and the Universita per Stranieri, Foreigners University, for foreign students learning Italian and studying Italian culture. Perugia is the home of the Perugina chocolate company, famous for producing Baci, which literally means kisses, chocolates. The artist Pietro Vanucci, commonly known as Perugino because he lived close to the city, is a well known resident as he became the teacher of Raphael.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Orvieto, with its handsome facade of marble, gold and mosaics
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Orvieto, with
its handsome facade of marble, gold and mosaics
Travel tip:

Orvieto, where Ferri was a chorister at the beginning of his career, is a small city in Umbria, about 77 km south west of Perugia/ It was built on the top of a cliff and is surrounded by defensive walls that were erected by the Etruscans. Orvieto is said to have one of the finest cathedrals in Italy, the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, where Baldassare Ferri sang as a young chorister. It has a beautiful Romanesque Gothic façade, which was built of black and white marble and inlaid with gold and mosaics.

Also on this day:

1544: The death of poet Teofilo Folengo

1920: The birth of politician Carlo Azeglio Ciampi

1920: The birth of Bruno Ruffo, Italy's first motorcycling world champion

1946: The birth - near Vicenza - of Indian politician Sonia Gandhi


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