Showing posts with label Caffarelli. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Caffarelli. Show all posts

27 November 2018

Senesino - operatic castrato

Sienese singer who worked with composer Handel

The castrato singer Senesino was one of the  highest paid performers in 18th century London
The castrato singer Senesino was one of the
highest paid performers in 18th century London
The acclaimed contralto castrato singer Senesino, who enjoyed a long professional relationship with the composer George Frideric Handel, died on this day in 1758 in Siena.

During the 18th century, when opera’s popularity was at its height, the castrati singers - male singers castrated as boys to preserve their prepubescent vocal range - were the highest paid members of the cast and the likes of Carlo Broschi, who sang under the stage name Farinelli, Giovanni Carestini (“Cusanino”), Gaetano Majorano ("Caffarelli") and Gaspare Pacchierotti were the genre’s first superstars.

Senesino could be added to that list.  When he made his first appearance for Handel in his three-act opera Radamisto in 1720 his salary was reported as between 2000 and 3000 guineas, which today would be worth around £250,000 to £365,000 (€280,000-€400,000).

Born Francesco Bernardi in 1686, Senesino took his name from his home town, Siena. His father was a barber in the Tuscan city.

He joined the choir of Siena’s Duomo - the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta - in 1695 and was castrated at the comparatively late age of 13. He made his stage debut in Venice in 1707, and over the next decade his reputation and salary grew exponentially.

A magazine illustration of Senesino on stage with the sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni
A magazine illustration of Senesino on stage with the
sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni
Although his acting skills were sometimes mocked by the critics, acclaim for his voice was universal.  One composer with whom he worked described it as “a powerful, clear, equal and sweet contralto voice, with a perfect intonation and an excellent shake. His manner of singing was masterly and his elocution unrivalled.”

Senesino was engaged by Handel as primo uomo (lead male singer) in his company, the Royal Academy of Music, in London in 1720.

He would stay in England for much of the next 16 years, along the way becoming a prominent figure in London society, numbering the Duke of Chandos, Lord Burlington and the landscape designer William Kent among his friends. He embraced English culture, amassing a collection of paintings, rare books, scientific instruments and other treasures.

At his peak, Senesino was so popular he would sometimes upstage the great rival Italian sopranos of the era, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, who were also employed by Handel’s company.

Handel created 17 leading roles for Senesino, among them Giulio Cesare, Andronico in Tamerlano, Bertarido in Rodelinda, Floridante and Ottone.

Senesino had a reputation for being touchy and full of professional vanity
Senesino had a reputation for being touchy
and full of professional vanity
Yet their relationship was often stormy.  Senesino was touchy, vain and insolent, full of professional vanity and with a love of intrigue.  He would frequently test Handel’s patience.

They split for the first time in 1728 following the break-up of the Royal Academy, although after singing for a while in Paris and Venice, Senesino rejoined Handel in 1730, singing in four more new operas and several oratorios.

Yet their relationship was little better and when the Neapolitan Nicola Porpora arrived in London in 1733 to be chief composer at the rival company, Opera of the Nobility, Senesino was lured away for good.

In his new position, he sang alongside the aforementioned Farinelli, who is regarded as the finest soprano castrato of all time.

Senesino ended his career in England in 1736. He continued to perform in Italy before deciding to retire in 1740, by which time the opera-going public had new favourites and saw his style as somewhat dated. He made his final appearance in Porpora's Il trionfo di Camilla at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.

He returned to Siena, where he used his wealth to build a handsome town house. It was stocked with furniture imported from England. In fact, he lived as much as he could like an English gentleman. Tea was his preferred drink, he employed a black servant, as was popular in England during his time there, and amused himself with pets that were fashionable in London, including a monkey and a parrot.

The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo in Siena is regarded as one of Europe's most beautiful medieval squares
The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo in Siena is regarded as
one of Europe's most beautiful medieval squares
Travel tip:

At the centre of Siena is the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, established in the 13th century as an open marketplace on a sloping site between the three communities that eventually merged to form Siena. It is regarded as one of Europe's finest medieval squares, looked over by the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia.  The red brick paving, fanning out from the centre in nine sections, was put down in 1349. It has become famous as the scene of the historic horse race, the Palio di Siena.

Siena's magnificent Duomo, where Senesino sang as a boy. is a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque architecture
Siena's magnificent Duomo, where Senesino sang as a boy.
is a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque architecture
Travel tip:

Siena’s Duomo - the Cathedral of St Mary of the Assumption - was designed and completed between 1215 and 1263 on the site of an earlier structure. It has a beautiful façade built in Tuscan Romanesque style using polychrome marble. There had been plans to build an enormous basilica, which would have been the largest in the world, but the idea was abandoned because of lack of funds due to war and the plague. Nonetheless, the cathedral built in its place, with a pulpit designed by Nicola Pisani, is considered a masterpiece of Italian Romanesque-Gothic architecture.

More reading:

Why Farinelli was music's first superstar

When Cuzzoni and Bordino came to blows on stage

How Nicola Porpora died impoverished

Also on this day:

8BC: The death of the Roman poet Horace

1570: The death of the architect Jacopo Sansovino

1964: The birth of former soccer player and Italy coach Roberto Mancini


12 April 2018

Caffarelli – opera singer

Tempestuous life of a talented male soprano

Caffarelli was taught to sing by the renowned composer and tutor Nicola Porpora
Caffarelli was taught to sing by the renowned
composer and tutor Nicola Porpora
The castrato singer who performed under the stage name of Caffarelli was born Gaetano Maiorano on this day in 1710 in Bitonto in the province of Bari in Apulia.

Caffarelli had a reputation for being temperamental and for fighting duels with little provocation, but he was popular with audiences and was able to amass a large fortune for himself.

One theory is that his stage name, Caffarelli, was taken from his teacher, Caffaro, who gave him music lessons when he was a child, but another theory is that he took the name from a patron, Domenico Caffaro.

When Maiorano was ten years old he was given the income from two vineyards owned by his grandmother to enable him to study music. The legal document drawn up mentioned that the young boy wished to be castrated and become a eunuch.

Maiorano became a pupil of Nicola Porpora, the composer and singing teacher, who is reputed to have kept him working from one sheet of exercises for years before telling him there was no more he could be taught because he was the greatest singer in Europe.

In 1726 Maiorano made his debut in Rome, aged 15, under the stage name Caffarellino. He sang the third female role in Domenico Sarro’s Valdemoro.

A drawing of Caffarelli by the caricaturist Pier Leone Ghezzi
A drawing of Caffarelli by the caricaturist
Pier Leone Ghezzi
His fame spread and he performed in Venice, Turin, Milan and Florence.

In London, at the King’s Theatre, he performed the title role in Handel’s Serse, singing the famous aria ‘Ombra mai fu.’

He went on to work in Madrid, Vienna and Lisbon, but his career in France was cut short after he badly wounded a poet during a duel and had to leave the country in disgrace.

Caffarelli took up a post at the royal chapel in Naples and often performed at the Teatro San Carlo in the city. As a first-rate castrato he was able to command large fees and he bought himself impressive estates in Naples and Calabria.

He was unpredictable on stage and sometimes conversed with people in boxes during other performer’s solos. He was sometimes kept under house arrest or put in prison after fighting duels or assaulting someone.

Caffarelli was a mezzo soprano with an extensive range and considered to be one of the finest singers of his time. Unlike his rival, Farinelli, who ended his career at 32, Caffarelli carried on performing well into his fifties.

In later life he is said to have given generously to charity. Caffarelli died in Naples in 1783.

The Piazza Cattedrale in Bitonto
The Piazza Cattedrale in Bitonto
Travel tip:

Bitonto, in Apulia, where Caffarelli was born, is known as the ‘City of Olives’ due to its numerous olive groves, which produce extra virgin olive oil for export to Europe and America. The city lies approximately 11km (7 miles) to the west of Bari and has a medieval castle and a Romanesque Cathedral, the Cattedrale di San Valentino.

Teatro San Carlo in Naples
Teatro San Carlo in Naples
Travel tip:

Teatro San Carlo in Naples, where Caffarelli regularly performed, is thought to be the oldest opera house in the world. It was officially opened in 1737, way ahead of La Scala in Milan and La Fenice in Venice. The theatre is in Via San Carlo close to Piazza Plebiscito, the main square in Naples. It was designed by Giovanni Antonio Medrano for the Bourbon King of Naples, Charles I. In the magnificent auditorium the royal box is surmounted by the crown of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.

More reading:

How Farinelli became music's first superstar

Nicola Porpora - opera composer and brilliant teacher

Why Francesca Cuzzoni is remembered as opera's first diva

Also on this day:

1948: The birth of World Cup-winning soccer manager Marcello Lippi

1950: The birth of entrepreneur Flavio Briatore


3 March 2017

Nicola Porpora – composer and teacher

Tutor of celebrated opera singers died in poverty

Nicola Porpora - a painting by an unknown artist
Nicola Porpora - a painting by an unknown artist
Nicola Porpora, who composed more than 60 operas and was a brilliant singing teacher in Italy, died on this day in 1768 in Naples.

Among his many pupils were poet and librettist Pietro Metastasio, composers Johann Adolph Hasse and Joseph Haydn and the celebrated castrati, Farinelli (Carlo Broschi) and Caffarelli (Gaetano Majorano).

Porpora’s most important teaching post was in Venice at the Ospedale degli Incurabili, where there was a music school for girls, in which he taught between 1726 and 1733.

He then went to London as chief composer to the Opera of the Nobility, a company that had been formed in opposition to Royal composer George Frideric Handel’s opera company.

The composer had been born Nicola Antonio Giacinto Porpora in 1686 in Naples.

He graduated from the music conservatory, Poveri di Gesù Cristo, and his first opera, Agrippina, was a success at the Neapolitan court in 1708. His second opera, Berenice, was performed in Rome.

To support himself financially while composing, Porpora worked as maestro di cappella for aristocratic patrons and also taught singing.

The castrato singer Farinelli was one of Porpora's  most successful pupils
The castrato singer Farinelli was one of Porpora's
most successful pupils
Between 1715 and 1721 he trained Farinelli, Caffarelli, Salimbeni and many other famous singers.

Among the operas he wrote in London were Polifemo, Davide e Betsabea and Ifgenia in Aulide, in which he included parts for his brilliant pupil, Farinelli.

He returned to Italy when the opera company closed and wrote several comic operas while teaching in both Venice and Naples.

He went to live in Dresden, where he was a chapelmaster, and spent time in Vienna, where he taught the young Haydn to compose. Haydn later said he had profited greatly from Porpora’s tuition in singing, composing and the Italian language.

On his return to Naples, a revised version of Porpora’s opera Il Trionfo di Camilla was staged, but it failed.

The composer’s last years were spent living in poverty in the city and when he died, on March 3, 1768, he was so poor the expenses of his funeral had to be paid for by a subscription concert.

By contrast, his former pupils Farinelli and Caffarelli were living in luxury on the fortunes they had earned as a result of the excellent teaching they had received from Porpora.

As well as his operas, Porpora composed oratorios, masses, motets and instrumental works. Two of operas, Orlando and Arianno in Nasso, one mass and his Venetian Vespers have been recorded.

Travel tip:

The Music Conservatory, Poveri di Gesù Cristo, where Porpora studied, was founded in Naples in 1589 by Marcello Fossataro, a Franciscan monk. It was next to the Church of Santa Maria a Colonna on Via dei Tribunale but in 1743 it was converted into a church seminary. Via dei Tribunali is one of the main thoroughfares in the heart of the centro storico in Naples. The Church of Santa Maria della Colonna is close to the corner of Via San Gregorio Armeno, where craftsmen still carve shepherds and other figures for presepe, the traditional Neapolitan nativity scenes.

Naples hotels from

The former Ospedale degli Incurabili can be found on
Fondamenta Zattere adjacent to the Giudecca Canal
Travel tip:

The former Ospedale degli Incurabili (hospital for incurables), where Porpora taught music in Venice, is a magnificent 16th century building, now the seat of the Venice Academy of Fine Arts. In 1527 a shelter for abandoned children was added to the hospital and the girls who had musical talent were taught to be singers.

More reading:

The short life of 'opera buffa' genius Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

How Jacopo Peri composed music history's first opera

When Teatro alla Scala opened its doors for the first time

Also on this day:

(Picture credit: Ospedale degli Incurabili by Abxbay via Wikimedia Commons)