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This article examines the protracted negotiations between the castrato Francesco Bernardi, known as ‘Senesino’, and the Royal Academy of Music, documented in five letters sent by the singer to diplomat Giuseppe Riva between 1717 and 1720. They reveal a tight network of singers, patrons and agents, and highlight how Senesino negotiated not only for a role of primo uomo in the cast, but also for a role of artistic influence in London. This episode in Senesino’s career together with examples of ‘unofficial’ directorial practice and ‘hidden’ artistic influence of singers such as Nicola Grimaldi (‘Nicolini’), Antonio Bernacchi and Luigi Marchesi suggest a yet stronger presence of singers, especially castrati, in the economy of eighteenth-century opera than has been hitherto recognised.
Eighteenth-century narratives of Carlo Broschi Farinelli’s inimitability and superiority did not arise fortuitously but resulted to a large extent from artistic, professional and personal choices made by the singer in order to create a unique artistic profile and influence public perception of him. Similarly, Charles Burney created his historical writings with the aim of establishing himself as a man of letters in order to rise in social status and leave a lasting legacy. Analysis of Farinelli’s careful manipulation of his reputation in his encounters with Burney and the latter’s calculated representation of Farinelli in The Present State of Music in France and Italy and A General History of Music sheds light not only on both men’s self-promotion strategies, but also on the high degree of mediation of historical fact in writings that have long served as supposedly reliable ‘primary’ sources on eighteenth-century music.
By 1760, the great musico Gaetano Guadagni had made a name for himself singing the role of Arbace in Baldassare Galuppi’s popular setting of Artaserse. A replacement aria connected with that work emerged as Guadagni’s signature song. Its text appears in all librettos for Galuppi’s setting that Guadagni sang; Johann Christian Bach provided Guadagni with another setting of the text; and a third by an unknown composer suggests links between the poetry and settings by Gaetano Pampani and Leonardo Vinci. This article examines Guadagni’s aria and its transformation, re-examining the role of a solo song in the creation of a singer’s international reputation, its power to evoke memories of other celebrities in the minds of audiences and its function in placing a singer within a broad community of star performers.
In the early 1770s, Elizabeth Linley was, for a few short years, not just Britain’s most celebrated singer, but also the subject of almost cult-like devotion. Her brief career demonstrated a general awareness on the part of audience, singer and managers alike of the value of enmeshing of art, voice and life in the construction of a successful public persona. The extraordinary adulation she inspired suggests more than just canny use of publicity, however: her cultivation of an apparently distinctive sound and association with a particular repertoire – Handelian oratorio – at a time when Handel was particularly revered suggests British interest in the development of a national musical voice, as well as repertoire.