Copyright ©2003 Elsa Scammell

Last Updated 03 March 2004

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Pictures and Biographies of the Castrati

  1. Some Castrati with Interesting Careers
  2. Pictures

SOME CASTRATI WITH INTERESTING CAREERS

Caffarelli: lovely voice, bombastic and quarrelsome; he bought himself a dukedom!

Tenducci: good mezzo-soprano voice; chiefly remembered because he married a girl of an influential Irish family, and was thrown in gaol for his pains; his wife wrote her reminiscences, within the good taste of the times, as a Letter to a Friend; no interesting revelations!

Siface: one of the earlier members of the fraternity; ambushed and murdered by a jealous husband.

Guadagni: contralto castrato; a favourite of Handel's; he wrote "But who may abide" and "Thou art gone up on high" for him, in the "Messiah."

Rauzzini: spent a great deal of time in England, living in Bath; the famous motet, "Exultate, jubilate" was written for him by Mozart; the "Alleluia" is still very popular.

Crescentini: one of the last; a favourite of Napoleon's; the French, as a race, did not favour the castrati much, and only allowed the "second division" to perform.

Velluti: the last great operatic castrato; a fine soprano, not appreciated in England, when he appeared in 1829; the popularity of the castrati had waned with the changes in the social structure ; the French Revolution had accentuated the desire for freedom of choice in all things. Velluti was a singer who had three sets of embellishments for his show-piece arias, as Rossini found, to his indignation, when Velluti sang in "Aureliano in Palmira."

The church castrati survived much longer, in the Catholic electorates, principalities and kingdoms in Germany; and, in the country of their origin, Italy, throughout the churches and the most important cathedrals, especially those in Rome; observe Loreto†Vittori, Domenico†Mustafa, and the only one alive in the dawn of the recording age and young enough to perform: Alessandro†Moreschi (referred to in the main body of this text).

A PUZZLE TO SOLVE:

Pergetti was the last castrato to appear in England, on the concert platform, in 1844. It was said of him that:

"We go still further, and in regard to our own country, which does not style itself civilised, but in the centre and fountain of civilisation, we pronounce it as little less than heterodox (not to say a paradox) to encourage by suffrage (excuse the two terminals -age) we write with vehemence - a very stupid and ancient adage ( -age again) now deservedly exploded, with runs, or rather hops, thus:

"Sbgrmld- vxgspl - zb - tdmmpg - qz"

"You see there are no vowels, and the adage cannot utter itself, feel it ever so intensely. We think, therefore, we are justified in pronouncing a contradiction in Great Britain, thus thoughtlessly to give currency to an unvowelled adage!"

This was written by the Editor of the "Musical World", after hearing Pergetti's first performance; he did not stay for the second. Very much a "Disgusted of…." comment: but who can solve the puzzle? Nobody, but nobody, has managed it so far! E-mail webmaster @velluti.org> if you can!

Pictures

Carlo Broschi Farinelli

Farinelli (1705-1782) by AmigoniFarinelli (1705-1782) † † Acknowledgements will be duly made.

The most famous of them all: Carlo Broschi Farinelli, of whom so much has already been written.

Farinelli was certainly the most painted of the castrati. Here he is in youth, painted by Jacopo Amigoni. Amigoni was popular with his admirers and with his subject.

This particular portrait is in Bucharest; and was painted in 1734/5, showing Farinelli at about 30 years of age; it shows the singer, garlanded, being crowned with a laurel wreath and surrounded by the obligatory cherubs, musical instruments and a music manuscript; the figure at the left is not easily identified; it could have been the artist. Farinelli is shown as youthfully handsome; his lace cravat concealing his lack of an Adam's Apple, typical in all his portraits.

This is not the best-known of the portraits; the most famous of all is now at the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia, showing Farinelli in full maturity with the singer Teresa Castellini and Pietro Metastasio: librettist, friend; his "caro gemello", and his little dog as outstanding features; a truly delightful composition.

Farinelli had a long life-span: 1705-1782; unusual for the period, but typical of the successful castrati, who could afford the best physicians and the healthiest modes of living.

His fame would have been even greater, were that possible, if he had sung for Handel.

Instead, Farinelli took up with Nicola Porpora, his former teacher, and his brother Riccardo, of the Opera of the Nobility, partly instigated by "poor Fred", Frederick, Prince of Wales, who, in true Hanoverian fashion, was at odds with his father George ll, patron of Handel. Porpora and Broschi lacked, as composers, the genius of Handel. Under their influence, Farinelli himself was wont to sing with the elaborate decorative flourishes in vocal art popular at the time.

However, after meeting the Holy Roman Emperor Charles Vl, who urged Farinelli to bring emotion into his singing, the virtuoso gradually changed his methods, and so was ideally placed for the soothing of the manic-depressive King Philip V of Spain, with the famous 4 arias nightly for a varying period of years. Thus he was instrumental in bringing the King into a state ready to govern his neglected kingdom.

In my book, I hope to include those 4 arias which comforted Philip V, and for which I am so often asked. I am also asked for a list of Farinelli's arias; here is the list published by Haböck in 1923:
Page†1 Hab√∂ck Page 1 and Page†2 Hab√∂ck Page 2

Luigi Marchesi aka Marchesini (1754-1829)

Luigi Marchesi: Miniature by Richard CoswayLuigi Marchesi in a miniature by Richard Cosway.

Said to be the handsomest of all the castrati, Marchesi rivalled Caffarelli (1710-1783), the "Duke" (see above), in his ostentation. He insisted on arriving on stage, riding a horse downhill, and wearing a helmet festooned with vari-coloured plumes at least a yard high or long, however one views it!

He was also one of the instigators of the signature tune, whatever the opera and role he was presenting; in this case, Sarti's "Mia speranza, io pur vorrei!" and introduced by a trumpet fanfare. He had not taken the advice of Tosi, in his "Observations on the Art of Florid Song" and Marcello's "Il†Teatro alla†Moda", urging some kind of restraint in self-presentation!

He features in Sven Delblanc's "Kastrater" (q.v.)

Famous also for his "bomba"; a bravura piece of vocal showmanship, equalled by the English soprano Nancy Storace. Marchesi had her sacked from the opera house in Florence, where they were both appearing.

His sartorial exaggerations are not noticeable in this miniature.

Alessandro Moreschi

Moreschi with other singers from the Cistine Chapel Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922)

Moreschi in 1898This picture shows Alessandro Moreschi with some of the other singers from the Sistine, with their names appended; they appear in "street attire", and two of the older castrati are there; you can surely pick them out!

To the right, a photo showing a "younger" Moreshi, the subject of the Opal CD: "The Last Castrato" (q.v.) This was taken in 1898, among some of his fellow choristers at the Sistine Chapel.

Domenico Mustafa

Domenico MustafaA photograph of Domenico Mustafa is reproduced here. Most people have seen a picture of Moreschi, in the booklet of the Pavilion recordings; but here is the last really "great" castrato: perpetual director (ultimately) of the Sistine Chapel choir; a fine Handelian singer; and the founder of a Roman Musical Society.

He died in 1912.

Also, Mustafa was sought out by Wagner, to play the emasculated Klingsor, in "Parsifal"; actually, the composer was wrong here, because the soprano Mustafa would not have represented the role correctly; men castrated in adulthood, would sing as other men. He taught the famous singer Emma Calve her "fourth voice", which is the title of Luc Leruth's book (q.v.). This writer features Moreschi, and Mustafa, revealing the conflict between the latter and the aspirant would-be-director: Don (later Monsignor) Lorenzo Perosi.

This man was sponsored by Cardinal Giuseppe Sarto (later St. Pius X), who decreed that only whole men could serve in the Sistine Chapel Choir, just as the castrati were supposed to ineligible for the priesthood; a system more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

G.B. Velluti (1781-1861)

The young G.B. VellutiHere is the last of the operatic castrati (so far as is known; certainly, the last of the "greats"). He had a "bitchy" reputation, similar to that of Marchesi, having sworn at the illustrious singer Maria Garcia-Malibran on stage.

The singing-actress Elisabeth Vestris refused to appear on the stage with him.

Below is a picture of Velluti in maturity; he is already referred to in the list above; famous for his tantrums and love-life; and the last of his kind (except for the concert castrato, Paolo Pergetti) to appear on a London stage, which he did, in 1825, in a performance of Meyerbeer's "Il†Crociato in†Egitto"'; and the first notes he sang were definitely not well received!

G.B. Velluti, 1781- 1861

London had not heard a voice like this for a quarter of a century, and Lord Mount Edgcumbe found his voice to be in decay. But he still drew crowded audiences, once they had recovered from the shock of hearing a castrato voice again.

In 1829, Velluti left London, under a financial cloud.

Instead of creating puppet theatres, he became an agriculturist and exchanged jokes with Rossini, who had berated him for over embellishing the latter's arias. Odd to think that he died in the same year as Albert, Victoria's Prince Consort.

There are more to come.

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Copyright ©2003 Elsa Scammell

Last Updated 11 March 2003