Showing posts with label Castrato. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Castrato. Show all posts

21 April 2021

Alessandro Moreschi - the last castrato

Only singer of his type to make solo recordings

Alessandro Moreschi sang in the Sistine Chapel choir for 30 years
Alessandro Moreschi sang in the Sistine
Chapel choir for 30 years
Alessandro Moreschi, the singer generally recognised as the last castrato, and the only castrato of whom solo recordings were made, died on this day in 1922 in his apartment in Rome.

Suffering from pneumonia, Moreschi passed away in his apartment in Via Plinio, just a few minutes walk from the Vatican, where he sang for 30 years as a member of the Sistine Chapel choir.

Castrati were male classical singers with voices that were the equivalent of the female soprano, mezzo-soprano or contralto, but which carried much greater power. As the name suggests, these vocal qualities in men were produced through castration, which had to take place before puberty to prevent normal development.

The procedure both impaired the development of the larynx so that the pre-pubescent vocal range was retained and altered the way in which the subject’s bones developed, which resulted often in unusually long limbs and, more significantly, very long ribs, which gave the castrato’s lungs unrivalled capacity.

It was a barbaric practice and many boys did not survive it, but the rewards for those who did were potentially huge. At the height of the castrato voice’s popularity in opera, in the 18th century, singers such as Farinelli, Cafarelli and Senesino enjoyed the status of pop stars, commanding substantial appearances fees and enjoying rich lifestyles.

Moreschi was spotted singing in a chapel choir near his home
Moreschi was spotted singing
in a chapel choir near his home
But fashions changed. Where composers such as Rossini, Handel and Gluck had written many pieces for castrato singers, after about 1840 castrati were no longer in vogue and later composers such as Verdi and Wagner had no interest in them.

By the time Moreschi joined the Vatican Choir, castrati were employed only by the church, as they had been before Italy’s wealthy ducal courts and then the opera gave them opportunities. The castrato voices were essentially to compensate for the absence of women, who were not allowed to sing in church.

If Moreschi, born in 1858 in Monte Compatri, one of the group of towns southeast of Rome known as the Castelli Romani, was castrated on account of his vocal potential, he would have been one of the last to have undergone the procedure, which was outlawed in 1870.  Some accounts of his life suggest he was castrated for medical reasons, having been born with an inguinal hernia.

However, his castration came about, the quality of his singing soon stood out. He joined the choir of the chapel of the Madonna del Castagno, near his home town, where his talent was spotted by Nazareno Rosati, formerly a member of the Sistine Chapel choir, who took him to Rome and enrolled him at the Scuola di San Salvatore in Lauro. His teacher there, Gaetano Capocci, was maestro di cappella of the Papal basilica of St John Lateran, where Moreschi was appointed primo soprano in the choir at the age of only 15.

It was his performance in the demanding coloratura role of the Seraph in Beethoven’s oratorio Christus am Ölberge that in 1883 earned him the primo soprano position at the Sistine Chapel, where he would stay for 30 years, occupying many different roles.

In August 1900, at the request of the Italian royal family, he sang at the funeral of the king, Umberto I, and in 1902 he made the first of his 17 recordings for the Gramophone & Typewriter Company of London.

Moreschi’s voice began to decline as he entered his fifties and he retired in around 1914.

His recordings have been preserved and are available today on CD or vinyl. They include two songs by Tosti, the Bach-Gounod Ave Maria, Mozart's Ave verum and two versions of the Crucifixus from Rossini's Petite Messe Solenelle.  In the later recordings, Moreschi’s voice is said to be clear and penetrating.

Monte Compatri is one of the Castelli Romani towns to the southeast of Rome
Monte Compatri is one of the Castelli Romani
towns to the southeast of Rome
Travel tip:

Monte Compatri, where Moreschi was born, is a hill town located about 20km (12 miles) southeast of Rome. It is one of the Castelli Romani, the so-called Roman Castles, a group of 16 municipalities located at the foot of the Colli Albani - the Alban Hills. The area was formerly one of volcanic activity, in which the lakes Nemi and Albano formed in the extinct crater.  Frascati is the best known of the Castelli Romani, while Castel Gandolfo is home to the summer residence of the popes.  Monte Compatri’s parish church, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo,  (1630–33), was erected by will of Scipione Borghese, an Italian Cardinal, art collector and patron of the arts who was the patron of the painter Caravaggio and the artist Bernini.

Detail from Michelangelo's fresco, The Last Judgment, in the Sistine Chapel
Detail from Michelangelo's fresco, The Last
, in the Sistine Chapel
Travel tip:

The Sistine Chapel is in the Apostolic Palace, where the Pope lives, in Vatican City. The chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, the uncle of Pope Julius II, who had it restored during his papacy. It is famous for the ceiling painted by Michelangelo, who also painted the fresco The Last Judgment, on the altar wall of the chapel, which was not finished until 25 years after he completed work on the ceiling. The work was controversial for its depiction of nudity, some of which the Council of Trent, the ecumenical council that took place in Trento between 1545 and 1563, declared to be obscene and ordered Mannerist painted Daniele da Volterra to cover up.

Also on this day:

753BC: The founding of the city of Rome

1574: The death of Cosimo I de’ Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany

1930: The birth of actress Silvana Mangano


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


13 May 2019

Francesco Pistocchi – singer and composer

Child prodigy who wrote many operas and also taught

A 19th century bust of Pistocchi on display at the Biblioteca della Musica in Bologna.
A 19th century bust of Pistocchi on display at
the Biblioteca della Musica in Bologna.
Francesco Pistocchi, a singer who became known to audiences as Pistocchino, died on this day in 1726 in Bologna.

Pistocchi left the world many operas, oratorios and cantatas he had composed, which are now highly regarded for their melodic elegance and colourful harmony.

Born Francesco Antonio Mamiliano Pistocchi in Palermo in 1659, Pistocchi became a child prodigy because of his beautiful soprano voice. He began performing as a singer in public at the age of three and the first music he composed, Capricci puerili, was published when he was just eight years old.

Believed to have become a castrato, Pistocchi made regular appearances as a singer in Bologna’s cappella musicale at the Basilica of San Petronio, where his father was a violinist, from 1670 onwards.

He later had a brilliant opera career as a contralto, touring in Italy and Germany and serving at the court in Parma in the 1680s.

His opera, Il leandro, was premiered at Teatro alle Zattere in Venice in 1679.

The famous castrato Farinelli's teacher was a former pupil of Pistocchi
The famous castrato Farinelli's teacher was
a former pupil of Pistocchi 
In 1696 Pistocchi became Court Kapellmeister for the Duke of Ansbach in Germany. His operas, Il Narciso and Le pazzie d’amore e dell’interesse, were presented in Ansbach in the late 1690s and another of his works, I rivali generosi, was premiered in Reggio Emilia in 1710.

After Pistocchi returned to live in Italy in 1702 he was named virtuoso di camera e di cappella to Prince Ferdinand of Tuscany.

Towards the end of his life, Pistocchi taught singing in Bologna. Among his notable pupils were Antonio Bernacchi, a castrato, and Annibale Pio Fabri, a tenor. Bernacchi later taught the famous castrato, Farinelli. Through his students, and their further pupils, much of Pistocchi’s skill and knowledge was passed on to the famous singers of the 18th century.

He was elected president of the Accademia Filarmonica twice, in 1708 and 1710, but after his voice began to deteriorate, Pistocchi closed his singing school. He was ordained a priest in 1715 in the Oratorian Order founded by San Filippo Neri in Bologna.

Pistocchi died in Bologna in 1726.

A recording of Pistocchi’s Oratorio, Il Martirio di San Adriano, was released by Pan Classics in 2013.

The Basilica di San Petronio, with its unfinished facade, is the largest brick-built Gothic church in the world
The Basilica di San Petronio, with its unfinished facade, is
the largest brick-built Gothic church in the world
Travel tip:

The Basilica di San Petronio, where Pistocchi sang in the cappella musicale in the 1670s, is the main church of Bologna, located in Piazza Maggiore in the centre of the city. It is the largest brick-built Gothic church in the world. Building work began on the church in 1390 and it was dedicated to San Petronio, who had been the Bishop of Bologna in the fifth century. The facade was designed by Domenico da Varignana and started in 1538 by Giacomo Ranuzzi but was never finished. The main doorway was decorated by Jacopo della Quercia of Siena with scenes from the Old Testament on the pillars, eighteen prophets on the archivolt, scenes from the New Testament on the architrave, and a Madonna and Child, Saint Ambrose and Saint Petronius on the tympanum.

The Oratory of San Filippo Neri was reconstructed after the war
The Oratory of San Filippo Neri
was reconstructed after the war
Travel tip:
The Oratory of San Filippo Neri in Bologna, where Pistocchi took religious orders, is a late baroque building in Via Manzoni. It was constructed from the sacristry of the adjacent church, which is now known as the Chiesa dei Filippini Madonna di Galliera e Filippo Neri. The Oratory was suppressed in 1866 and the building was for a time used as a barracks. It was badly damaged by Allied bombing during the Second World War but was faithfully reconstructed using old photographs in 1997.

More reading:

How Farinelli became music's first superstar

Senesino, the castrato who worked with Handel

Why a teacher of the finest 18th century singers died in poverty

Also on this day:

1804: The birth of Venetian revolutionary Daniele Manin

1909: The first Giro d'Italia leaves Milan

1938: The birth of former prime minister Giuliano Amato