L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Improvident songbird - Giusto Tenducci, two portraits by Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1773-75

Giusto Fernando Tenducci, sometimes called "il Senesino" (circa 1736, Siena – 25 January 1790, Genoa), Italian castrato opera singer and composer, who spent his career chiefly in Britain. Trained at the Conservatory of Naples beginning in 1744, he made his debut in 1750 at the wedding ceremony of the Duke of Savoy; his professional debut was three years later in Venice when he was about seventeen. In 1758, after much success in Italy, he left for London, where he was heard at both the King's Theatre and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. Known for both his vanity and his extravagance, Tenducci spent much of his career escaping his creditors; in 1760 he actually spent some months in King's Bench Prison on account of his debts. He was otherwise very successful during his time in the British Isles.

He met Dorothea Maunsell in Dublin in 1765, and married the fifteen-year old heiress the following year. She had the marriage annulled six years later on the grounds that it had never been consummated. One of those who testified in the case was a Dublin grocer, a former housemate of the singer. He stated that Tenducci had showed him the scar, proving that he was indeed a castrato. He added - perhaps for mere dramatic effect - that when he noted that Tenducci always carried a small red velvet purse on his person, the singer disclosed that it held his preserved testicles; apparently, he could still receive communion in the Catholic church if he was - one way or another - "complete."

Because of his debts, he fled to Italy in 1771 where he spent the next few years performing at the principal opera houses of Rome, Naples, and Venice. He was back in London in 1777 but by the following year, he again fled his creditors, this time to France. While there, his good friend composer Johann Christian Bach introduced him to Mozart who wrote a concert aria for the singer, now lost.  But Tenducci was soon back in London, where he remained until 1786 when he retired to Italy, dying there four years later.


In Tobias Smollet's picaresque and epistolary novel The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, his character Lydia Melford describes a summertime performance in the Ranelagh Gardens, where Tenducci performed in the early 1760s:

I heard the famous Tenducci coming from Italy. In the eyes of the world, he looked like a man, even though it was said he was not. His voice, without a doubt, was neither that of a man nor that of a woman; but she [sic] was still more melodious. And she vibrated so divinely, that by listening to her, I believed myself in Paradise.

Compared with the above, this seems little more than a preparatory sketch. But it's in some ways much more satisfactory; no awkwardly placed arms or hands.

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