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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 16 (2010) No. 1

Launching the Career of a secondo uomo in Late Seventeenth-Century Italy

Colleen Reardon*


Giovanni Battista Tamburini was one of many second tier singers who had a long career on the operatic stages of Italy. What sets him apart is a rich cache of letters between him and his patron, Cardinal Francesco Maria de’ Medici, as well as the correspondence the cardinal maintained with Tamburini’s teacher, Bernardo Sabadini. This rare access to three points of view—singer, teacher, and patron—not only offers insight into the psychology of training and promoting a singer, but it also deepens our knowledge of theatrical life at the courts of Parma and Piacenza and of the activities of more famous performers. Most important, it illuminates the acuity and intelligence of Francesco Maria de’ Medici, whose activities as a patron have long been overshadowed by those of his nephew Ferdinando.   

1. Introduction

2. Early Years

3. Operatic Training

4. Instruction in Social Graces

5. Relationships with Other Singers

6. Private Life

7. Operatic Roles

8. Launching a Career

9. Epilogue




For two days now, the Duke of Sesto and a beautiful woman he keeps for pleasure have been going to the opera, and in their box, in front of everyone, they cry out “Bravo.” The woman is nicknamed “the little trumpet,” and she favors me over everyone else, perhaps because a trumpet likes the company of a drum.1

1. Introduction

1.1 So wrote an aspiring Sienese opera singer to his patron in April 1697. That singer, Giovanni Battista Tamburini, whose last name resembles the Italian word for “drum” (tamburo), was clearly trying to show off his wit to the man who was paying for his education. Tamburini’s benefactor was Cardinal Francesco Maria de’ Medici, whose sponsorship of music and musicians has long been overshadowed by that of his nephew, Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici. Tamburini was Francesco Maria’s favorite contralto castrato and lifelong project; he had the good fortune to attract the cardinal’s protection during a time when more and more Italian cities began to stage opera on a regular basis and when singers who could perform such works were in great demand. Tamburini was not one of the greatest stars of the age, whose golden throats guaranteed them leading roles in court and public opera all over Europe. Instead, he was a journeyman singer: an accomplished musician with a well-trained, attractive voice, ready to travel to wherever his talent and sponsorship could find him an appropriate part. That Tamburini and his patron were successful in their endeavors is demonstrated by the fact that the castrato was able to sustain a long professional career on the operatic stages of Italy.2

1.2 What sets Tamburini apart from so many other singers of his stature is the documentary trail that he left behind. In addition to librettos dating from 1690 through 1719, Tamburini can be traced through payment registers, accounts, and letters preserved in both Siena and Florence. Most important among these are the regular dispatches that the castrato sent Francesco Maria from 1697 to 1700. Tamburini provided his patron with a steady stream of gossip about singers, patrons, and productions in Rome, Parma, Piacenza, Turin, Genoa, and Livorno, and described his own intensive apprenticeship in Parma as well as his experiences with the rough-and-tumble world of operatic recruiting. Also extant are some of the letters that Tamburini’s teacher, Bernardo Sabadini, director of music at the Farnese court in Parma, wrote to the cardinal about the singer’s vocal progress and personal life during this period. Finally, we have the minute, the rough drafts for the formal written replies from the cardinal to Sabadini.3 This kind of documentation is, to my knowledge, quite rare, for it gives us access to three points of view—student, teacher, and patron—as we follow the training of the promising castrato over a period of three years. The letters help us reconstruct the relationship among the three; they also allow for a frank appraisal of how Sabadini’s training and Francesco Maria’s active patronage and behind-the-scenes maneuvers assured Tamburini’s success in the operatic world.

2. Early Years

2.1 Giovanni Battista Tamburini was born in Siena to a family of modest means on October 9, 1669; his parents took him to be baptized on the same day.4 Sometime in late 1683, around the time he turned fourteen, the then fatherless Tamburini joined the Siena Cathedral choir at a salary of 4 lire a month and was castrated in order to “set him on the path” toward a musical career.5 His progress after the operation must have pleased the chapel master, because during Tamburini’s first six years of service at the Duomo his salary quickly grew. By September 1689 he was receiving L. 18 a month, which put him among the higher-paid singers at the cathedral. He retained this salary right through 1695, when he left the institution.6

2.2 From the age of fourteen to the age of twenty-six, Tamburini received his primary musical education at Siena Cathedral, which had a long tradition of excellence in such matters.7 The man most responsible for developing Tamburini’s talents was Giuseppe Fabbrini, who took over as music director in 1685 and worked at the cathedral (and at other institutions in the city) until his death in 1708. He was responsible for cultivating a number of fine performers who went on to have operatic careers. Any singer who entered the Siena Cathedral choir at a young age and stayed on through early adulthood could expect to emerge with a solid foundation in vocal production as well as excellent sight-singing skills.8

2.3 The records are silent about when Tamburini first came to the attention of Francesco Maria de’ Medici. It may have occurred as early as 1683, when the cardinal became governor of Siena, or it might have happened just before 1690. It seems likely that Francesco Maria arranged for the castrato’s operatic début because the twenty-one-year-old singer first mounted the stage in two works presented in Florence by the Academy of the Infuocati during Carnival of 1690: La Rosaura and Il Lisimaco (TCC nos. 1, 2). Tamburini débuted for his hometown audience in a revival of Alessandro Scarlatti’s L’onestà negli amori in spring of 1690 and also performed in the 1691 and 1695 Sienese revivals of Scarlatti’s L’Aldimiro and Pirro e Demetrio (TCC nos. 3, 4, 5).9 In the latter production, a broadside issued in Tamburini’s honor compliments his “marvelous” performance as Clearte, who “pours out his pain in piteous song,” identifying the castrato as a “virtuoso of the Most Serene and Most Reverend Cardinal of Tuscany.”10    

2.4 The production of Pirro e Demetrio marked the end of Tamburini’s Tuscan education. Francesco Maria de’ Medici clearly thought that the young man had absorbed all that his native region had to offer and was ready for more intensive and specialized instruction, because in October 1695 he sent him off to Rome.11 We do not know who taught Tamburini during his first year in the Eternal City. In late 1696, however, Francesco Maria commissioned the great singer Domenico Cecchi, known as Cortona,12 who was traveling through Rome on his way to Naples, to ask the composer Bernardo Sabadini if he would be willing to train a young man under the cardinal’s patronage. Sabadini accepted in early November, and from that point until mid-1700 he was Tamburini’s voice teacher.13

3. Operatic Training

3.1 Tamburini’s fervent wish, expressed in a letter of January 12, 1697, was to be more than a “mediocre singer” (musicarolo). In other words, unlike some other performers of the seventeenth century, singing well was not a means to an end, but an end in itself.14 Tamburini’s letters virtually never address specific methods that any of his voice teachers utilized although they do shed some light on his training schedule and repertory. Tamburini’s lessons initially focused on sacred music, probably because that was the repertory that could be most readily performed in Rome. In the letter cited above, Tamburini boasted to his patron that the French Cardinal Janson Forbin liked him better than anyone else in Rome except a certain “Pasqualino,”15 and the castrato speculated that the cardinal had formed this opinion after hearing a psalm setting for solo voice that his first teacher had him perform in the church of S. Lorenzo in Lucina.16 Francesco Maria, however, wanted his protégé trained in opera, and he probably thought Sabadini, a composer who was in Rome in late 1696 to prepare two operas for performance at the Capranica during Carnival, was the right man for the job.17 This is not to say that other genres were off-limits, for we hear of Tamburini performing cantatas, oratorios, masses, and motets while under Sabadini’s tutelage, but these were clearly secondary assignments intended to keep him in practice when not performing theatrical works.18

3.2 Tamburini’s Roman sojourn lasted only through Carnival of 1697. By mid-March, Sabadini had returned to Parma, taking Tamburini with him. The castrato noted that the city was “perfect for solitude and for those who, like me, have to study, because there is no danger that one could be amused by the trite and melancholy novelties of this court.”19 Indeed, one of the benefits of Parma, from the cardinal’s point of view, might have been precisely the lack of distractions one could find in a larger city such as Rome. During his first year in Parma, Tamburini had to reassure his patron more than once that he would not become arrogant and that he would not abandon his lessons. In October of 1697, for example, he informed the cardinal in a somewhat exasperated tone that he knew his vocalises. “If I still had to learn my scales,” Tamburini stated, “I would learn to sing only at the Last Judgment.”20 Earlier that year, he had used vulgar terms to describe all those who believed that he was not studying assiduously enough, and he advised the cardinal to trust in Sabadini’s accounts, as well as those of his fellow singers.21 Even if we can trust Tamburini’s reports about his devotion to practice, his frequent avowals that he was not getting a big head are belied by his delight in informing his patron about sonnets printed up in his honor or about an audience’s insistence that he repeat all his arias.22

3.3 Sabadini might have actually provoked the cardinal’s anxieties over his protégé’s study habits and attitude by expressing his own worries about those issues in one of his early letters.23 We cannot know whether Sabadini, like every private music teacher since the beginning of time, was truly worried that Tamburini was not devoting enough time to practicing or whether he was using this tactic to shield himself from criticism should his student not perform up to standards.

3.4 To give Sabadini his due, he appears to have been an excellent pedagogue, at least in the eyes of his student. Tamburini noted that Sabadini was “born to teach,” and at one point he lamented that he would be a much better singer if only he had been studying with Sabadini instead of with his first teacher in Rome.24 It is possible that Tamburini’s admiration for his teacher grew out of the fact that he was Sabadini’s only student. Even if this were not the case, Sabadini made sure that the castrato felt the full blast of his devotion, especially in the earliest months of their association. In this enterprise, Sabadini had the help of his brother, who took charge of the castrato when the music director was otherwise engaged. Tamburini refers to general assistance that Sabadini’s brother rendered him in Rome and notes that it was the brother who accompanied him around the city and to a performance in Reggio Emilia during the first months of his sojourn in Parma.25

3.5 As for the actual instruction, it appears to have been quite intense, as was the norm.26 In April of 1697, Sabadini assured the cardinal that Tamburini had talent, but that his voice was in “great need of practice.”27 And Sabadini made sure Tamburini got it, for the singer reported having two lessons a day for two to three hours at a time. Sabadini probably spent a great deal of time during these hours-long sessions coaching Tamburini in the arias he wrote especially for the singer’s appearances on the operatic stage.28 Occasionally, Sabadini reviewed basic skills with his student. “Sometimes my teacher will have me sing scales to make sure my technique is secure,” wrote the singer, as if this activity were normally the responsibility of the student outside formal lessons.29 Stage movement and acting might have also been addressed, for in a letter from late 1697 Sabadini commented that Tamburini’s acting style was at that time more refined than it had been earlier in the year.30

3.6 In addition, it seems Tamburini was also expected to help out when other singers came to town. In a letter from September 1697, Tamburini informed Francesco Maria that the Duke of Parma wanted to give him the supervision of the women singers coming to Parma for an opera to be performed later that autumn. Tamburini stated he would refuse that assignment and would ask instead to take care of the other castrati. It is not clear if he was expected simply to show his fellow artists around and make sure they had all they needed or if some musical instruction was part of his responsibility. During these months at least, the operas under preparation featured music by Sabadini; perhaps Tamburini was expected to familiarize the newly arrived singers with the score.31

3.7 Most teachers advised their students to listen to first-rate vocalists as part of their training, and Sabadini was no exception. In May 1697 Sabadini sent his student on a field trip to Reggio Emilia to hear Antonio Ferrini and Margherita Salicola perform.32 In April 1698 Tamburini followed his teacher to Piacenza to hear the opera Il trionfo di Camilla, regina de’ Volsci, which featured a dazzling cast of stars (see 5.4 below). More important, though, the castrato had the chance to work with some of the most talented performers, male and female, then gracing the operatic stages of Italy. In La virtù trionfante dell’inganno, Tamburini’s first operatic outing at Piacenza, the cast boasted the noted Neapolitan castrato Matteo Sassani, known as Matteuccio, as well as the highly regarded Maria Maddalena Musi, nicknamed “La Mignatta” (TCC no. 6). This was a foretaste of a career that would have the Sienese castrato sharing the stage with the greatest singers of the time.

4. Instruction in Social Graces

4.1 Tamburini’s education did not stop with lessons in vocal technique, repertory, and stage deportment. Like a number of other castrati, Tamburini was not from a patrician family, and part of the cardinal’s strategy in sending him to Parma might have been to polish his manners. The cardinal advised him down to matters of appropriate dress: Tamburini responded to a question from his patron about clothes by informing him that he dressed like an abbot, except when traveling to Piacenza and Reggio. On those occasions he wore “country clothes”—a dark twill suit.33 Francesco Maria also wanted his protégé to adopt the right attitude with members of the aristocracy: to be at ease without being conceited. At first, Tamburini found it difficult to strike the right balance. His letters brim with enthusiasm when members of the nobility complimented him; at least once he repeated the accolades word for word to his patron.34 Such a warm reception, as well as his position as the cardinal’s “virtuoso” perhaps gave Tamburini an inflated sense of self that landed him briefly in trouble on a visit home in August 1698. Fabio Spannocchi, one of Francesco Maria’s regular correspondents from Siena, dryly told the cardinal that Tamburini was lucky to be under Medici protection because he had angered a number of noblemen by refusing to take off his hat to them in acknowledgement of their superior position in society. Shortly thereafter, perhaps in recognition of the fact that professional success did not trump breeding in status-conscious Siena, he assumed a more “courteous” demeanor.35

4.2 Tamburini’s touchiness regarding his social standing also emerged during his first year in Parma. In 1697, for example, the court musicians there were gambling with some foreign gentlemen, and Tamburini was watching. One gentleman asked Tamburini why he was not playing; Tamburini stated it was because he did not know how. The court tenor Giuseppe Scaccia, however, commented sotto voce, “With what money?” The remark so enraged the castrato that he rushed out and then returned to the game with a bank draft for 200 doble.36 Tamburini showed Scaccia the draft and declared that Scaccia had better be willing to wager the same sum. He furthermore announced that the lowest stable hand or dishwasher in the employ of Francesco Maria de’ Medici would have 200 doble to spend on gambling. All the gentlemen complimented him on his spirit, and the story made the rounds of the city. Indeed, Tamburini was anxious to tell his patron everything because Matteuccio, who had been present during the incident, was due to travel to Florence and intended to regale the Cardinal with an account. Tamburini wanted to confess before the cardinal found out that he had forged a bank draft to make his point.37

5. Relationships with Other Singers

5.1 Tamburini’s little dust-up with Scaccia was of short duration; the Sienese castrato chose at some point to mend his fences. In a letter written in August 1697, Tamburini told his patron that he and Scaccia got along very well and had developed a bond, notwithstanding the gambling incident. In that same letter, Tamburini also responded to a suggestion that he was not devoted enough to his studies by telling his patron to ask either Sassani or Musi about his performance in Piacenza, for he would be sure to receive a pleasing report, as indeed the cardinal later did.38 Tamburini seems to have been careful to cultivate friendships with well-known male and female singers who shared the stage with him, and Francesco Maria helped in this process of creating professional ties for his protégé.

5.2 The case of Matteo Sassani is instructive. Tamburini first met Sassani in April 1697 in Piacenza when the two castrati performed together in Sabadini’s opera La virtù trionfante dell’inganno (TCC no. 6). In June of the same year, Sassani appeared in Parma at the church of San Francesco during a devotional novena. Sabadini asked his student and the famous castrato to climb up to the organ loft and sing together, clearly on the spur of the moment. Afterward, Sassani talked at length to Tamburini about his gratitude to Francesco Maria for intervening on his behalf so that he might sing in Bologna.39 The two men would sing together again in Florence for an April 1705 performance of the oratorio La costanza trionfante nel martirio di Santa Lucia, with music by Giuseppe Maria Orlandini (TCC no. 34).40 The Sienese castrato described Matteuccio as a “dearest friend,” and certainly the Neapolitan soprano was relaxed enough in Tamburini’s company (or smart enough to know that anything he told Tamburini would eventually reach Francesco Maria’s ears) to voice his reluctance to leave northern Italy in order to go to Spain and to write to him later about the same issue.41

5.3 Tamburini also came into contact with another of the great castrato singers of the day, Cortona. It was Cortona who had, at Francesco Maria’s request, talked to Sabadini about taking on Tamburini as a pupil. The cardinal’s strategy here might have been to bring Tamburini to Cortona’s notice. When Cortona came to Parma, Tamburini worked to ingratiate himself with the singer. Tamburini was in the good graces of Count Alessandro San Vitali, the duke’s chamberlain, and this relationship paid off in November of 1697 when San Vitali provided him “six royal plates of food” from the duke’s kitchen. With such bounty in hand, Tamburini was able to invite Cortona and another singer, Barbara Riccioni, to dine with him, a gesture that procured him “great honor without spending any money,” as he bluntly noted. The lunch happened to fall during the run of L’Atalanta, in which Tamburini had a role (TCC no. 7). Cortona attended the opera that night and it might well have been his memory of the princely meal that prompted Cortona, after the curtain had fallen that evening, to compliment Tamburini on his great improvement since opening night.42

5.4 Matteuccio and Cortona figure prominently in a letter concerning a performance of Il trionfo di Camilla, regina de’ Volsci staged in Piacenza in April 1698.43 Tamburini’s accounts of the performances show him at his most diplomatic. The cast featured two strong female roles, Camilla and Lavinia, each of whom falls in love with a political enemy: Camilla, with Prenesto, and Lavinia, with Turno. Cecchi and Barbara Riccioni (“La Barbara”) took the roles of Turno and Lavinia, which they had performed at the opera’s premiere in Naples two years previously. Sassani and Maria Domenica Pini (“La Tilla”) sang the roles of Prenesto and Camilla. Audience members coming to the opera wore red ribbons if they were fans of Matteuccio and Pini and yellow ribbons if they were instead partial to Cortona and Riccioni. Tamburini reported that three quarters of the audience wore yellow ribbons and furthermore confessed to his patron, “I admire them all and to be tactful, I pretend to be neutral, but I am on the ‘yellow’ side.”44 In an earlier letter, he noted that “the greater glory, both in acting and singing, goes to Cortona, so much that even those who are partial to Mattueccio must of necessity applaud Cortona.”45 Even his friendship with Matteuccio did not trump what Tamburini saw as Cortona’s superior vocal ability.

5.5 The names of many other singers, male and female, dot Tamburini’s letters during these years, but he only occasionally commented on their vocal prowess. We know, for example, that Tamburini went to Reggio Emilia to hear Ferrini and Salicola perform, but his letter to Francesco Maria included only the story about a lance falling to the stage while Ferrini was singing and barely missing him; word was that Ferrini had slapped around a carpenter and this was the carpenter’s revenge.46 He also recounted at length what he heard about the motives for the murder of Francesco Grossi, known as Siface; interestingly enough, they centered on Siface’s arrogance concerning performance contracts rather than his sexual misconduct.47 Tamburini gossiped most freely about his female colleagues and their behavior offstage. In spring of 1698, for example, he hoped to be able to regale the cardinal with accounts of clashes involving the singers Pini and Riccioni, who were both scheduled to perform Il trionfo di Camilla in Piacenza, and who did not like each other.48 During the run of that opera, he informed Francesco Maria that the Florentine court singer Pini “pleased the audience greatly with her style of singing,” but he immediately followed up his compliment with a comment about the expensive gift she received from her current admirer, the Marchese Valfuentes, grandee of Spain.49 When Tamburini was performing in La virtù trionfante dell’inganno (TCC no. 6), he attributed the visit of the Duca D’Arcola not to his love of opera, but rather to his pleasure in conversing with Musi, one of the cast members.50 Late in 1697, Tamburini reported the arrival of the Bolognese singer “La Linarola” for a performance of L’Atalanta (TCC no. 7) and observed that if her voice matched her beauty, she would be marvelous. He furthermore lamented his disgrace that it was only onstage and in character that he would have the chance to wed her; he doubted he would see her offstage, as swarms of gentlemen would be buzzing about her. In fact, he told the cardinal that he intended to keep his distance from her and “do it” instead with a beautiful, young Bolognese castrato.51 Despite the apparent sexual nonchalance expressed here, Tamburini’s fascination with the private lives of his female colleagues apparently masked an attraction to them that would later cause him a great deal of pain and trouble.

5.6 Tamburini was only infrequently uncharitable about the musical talents of his fellow artists in his letters to Francesco Maria, but when he did write disparaging remarks, they were generally aimed at other castrati. A sentiment of schadenfreude emerges in a letter of September 1697, where Tamburini recounts the gossip that the singer “Niccolino” (Nicola Paris) had brought to Parma from Florence regarding Raffaello Baldi’s bad behavior at Pratolino, which was capped off by the loss of his voice. Tamburini smugly expressed the hope that the cardinal would never hear of him losing his voice or forgetting what he had learned.52 In 1699 Tamburini reported that another “Niccolino,” Nicola Grimaldi, who was coming to Parma to perform, was “a good virtuoso, but without a voice, and he has the leading role.”53 Tamburini might have meant to indicate a temporary condition of Grimaldi’s instrument, perhaps caused by sickness or overwork, or he might have simply been jealous of the singer and anxious about his own abilities. Tamburini’s self-doubt emerges most clearly in late 1700, when he complained to the cardinal that his role in Il trionfo di Camilla (TCC no. 18) gave him little opportunity to stand out, as Baldi and Giuseppe Canavese, another Florentine court singer, had the best parts. “Now it’s true that in the second opera, I have the leading role” (TCC no. 19), Tamburini continued, “and if Canavese doesn’t ruin it for me, I hope to cover myself in glory with the many arias Contini has written for me.”54 Tamburini was clearly worried that Canavese would outsing him, and it could be that his habit of boasting about his performances in his letters was a way to compensate for his own insecurities. It is unfortunate that the cardinal’s death in 1711 put an end to the correspondence from and about Tamburini in the Medici archives, for in spring of 1712 the contralto castrato was in Ferrara to sing the role of Argonte in Apostolo Zeno’s drama Teuzzone (TCC no. 51). It would have been most interesting to hear Tamburini comment on the lead singer, his countryman Francesco Bernardi, who had made his operatic début in Siena at the age of thirteen and who was shortly to go on to fame and fortune as the great “Senesino.”55

6. Private Life

6.1 One of the first issues that must be addressed regarding Tamburini’s personal life is the nature of his relationship with his patron. Francesco Maria de’ Medici was a noted voluptuary with a taste for young men.56 Tamburini would not have been the first castrato in a sexual relationship with a powerful patron, and the cardinal might have prized Tamburini for more than his voice when the singer was young.57 Once Tamburini went off to study in Rome and Parma, however, the two appear to have met very infrequently. Indeed, in November of 1703, when the singer was at loose ends—his teacher had gone to Venice and he had no engagement for the season at that time—he inquired about coming to Florence. The cardinal issued an immediate and brusque veto to this plan.58 Nonetheless, the informal tone of Tamburini’s letters and his sexual frankness in certain passages (his reference, for example, to the beautiful Bolognese castrato) allow us to infer that he and Francesco Maria were once in an intimate relationship. Although the cardinal’s ardor may have cooled as Tamburini grew older, he continued to support the singer’s artistic endeavors.

6.2 We catch only a few glimpes of Tamburini’s immediate family in the correspondence. In spring of 1697, Tamburini asked the cardinal for permission to send some of the money he earned to “his relatives in Siena”; later that year, he wrote of his mother, whose health had suffered greatly as a result of the earthquakes that shook his hometown in 1697.59 In late 1698 Tamburini was trying to arrange a marriage for his sister and asked Francesco Maria, as governor of Siena, to provide a job for the man who would take her as wife. The cardinal obliged, and Tamburini saved up his earnings to pay a dowry and then traveled to Siena to witness her wedding in 1699. This is the last we hear of either mother or sister in the castrato’s letters.60

6.3 Perhaps the most interesting events in Tamburini’s personal life emerge in two stories, the first of which tells us much about his determination not to be a “mediocre singer.” In mid-September of 1698, Tamburini was forced to jump from a runaway carriage, receiving quite a few bruises and contusions in the process. Within a few days, he and his teacher traveled to Genoa, which was mounting two operas featuring Sabadini’s music (TCC nos. 9, 10).61 Tamburini was scheduled to sing in the first work, which opened in mid-October. Sabadini reported to Francesco Maria that Tamburini’s singing impressed the impresarios to such a degree that they wanted him to perform in the second opera as well. The swelling from the accident was so bad, however, that the castrato could not move his arm. Sabadini consulted with three doctors, who agreed that Tamburini had dislocated his shoulder; they managed to restore its function, at least partially, but in doing so they caused “more than a little pain” for the singer. Yet through all this, Tamburini managed not to miss a single performance.62

6.4 Tamburini refused a further medical intervention on the arm, notwithstanding Sabadini’s insistence, but another story demonstrates just how much pressure his teacher and patron thought it their right to impose upon the castrato’s most intimate affairs. It was on April 10, 1699, that Tamburini mentioned in an offhand way two female singers who were coming to Piacenza to sing in an opera: Vittoria Tarquini (“La Bombace”) and a certain “Checca Bologniese,” who we can identify as the contralto Francesca Vanini.63 Less than a week later, Tamburini was trying to quash rumors; he hotly informed his patron that Tarquini was teasing him about being in love with Vanini, which he insisted was not true. He informed his patron of his absolute indifference: “I have written you because I am averse to love affairs, and although it is true that this woman finds me appealing, I try to ignore her.”64

6.5 Only a month later, Sabadini told the cardinal quite a different story: Tamburini was mad about Vanini; he took the opportunity of an engagement at Casalmaggiore, north of Parma, to travel all the way to Mantua (without permission) to see her. Sabadini tried everything to discourage this youthful love affair and to remind Tamburini of his duty, but to no avail—he needed the cardinal’s help.65 The immediate solution was to pack Tamburini off to Florence for the summer where he could be under the eagle eye of his patron, to have him learn a part for the September performances of Faramondo at Pratolino (TCC no. 14), and to hope that time and distance would lessen his ardor.66 That tactic failed, however, for in November 1699 Tamburini was still very attached to Vanini. When he was passing through Genoa on his way to Turin, he could not resist going to the opera to hear her perform. Antonio Francesco Carli, one of the singers in the production, gave Francesco Maria a flowery account of what occurred during and after that performance:

It seemed, upon [Tamburini’s] arrival, that the scenery took on a more lustrous glow from his golden suit. Francesca Vanini, a virtuosa of the Most Serene [Duke] of Mantua was doubly blinded; she was with me at that point, as we were waiting to go on stage together. The encounter between the two was stiff as they gazed upon each other. She changed color, and he turned red. In silence and confusion, she was the first to drop her gaze and turn away. Then we were called to our duty, and I observed Tamburini in Urbano Fieschi’s box; he was pretending to be nonchalant, but since love’s flame cannot be hidden, it burned brighter in his breast from the nearness of his beloved, as anyone could see. Then Tamburini went to Giovanni Stefano Durazzo’s box to tamp down his amorous passion. When the curtain fell, Vanini was, as usual, surrounded in her rooms by a horde of admirers, and poor Tamburini followed in their footsteps and that night lodged with Nicolino of Naples, as he usually does. When he arrived at Nicolino’s apartment, which is in the same building where we all stay, he went to visit all the female singers except Vanini. Day broke, and from his casements he fixed his eyes on the diva’s windows, but his gazes were in vain. During his entire sojourn in this city, Vanini never reciprocated his affection; she who on other occasions had granted his every wish. On Thursday, early in the morning, he continued his journey to Turin, and the heavens, perhaps taking pity on his ardor, accompanied him with a downpour of rain.67

This incident suggests that Francesco Maria might have done more than just remove his favorite castrato to Florence when the love affair was fresh. One wonders if the cardinal, perhaps through her patron, Duke Ferdinando Carlo of Mantua, had a hand in directing Vanini to squelch any warm feelings she might have had for Tamburini or suffer the professional consequences. Notwithstanding Vanini’s changed attitude toward him, Tamburini’s feelings persisted for some time. Shortly after leaving Genoa for Turin, he wrote the cardinal begging him to extend his patronage to Vanini, the “poor little thing.”68 And as late as December 1700, an unknown correspondent, reporting on Tamburini’s success in an opera at Livorno (TCC no. 18), wrote that “Tamburini pleased the audience much more than Raffaellino and comports himself well, but it is said that he is in love with Checca.”69

7. Operatic roles

7.1 Francesco Maria de’ Medici seems to have had a good grasp of Tamburini’s vocal abilities, and it appears that he shepherded his protégé carefully through the initial stages of his career. Tamburini was initiated into the world of opera, as expected, by playing small parts. His first roles—Gilbo in La Rosaura and Corebo in Il Lisimaco—were actually comic characters, comedy having a long tradition in the Tuscan theatrical environment (TCC nos. 1, 2).70 It is worth noting that the comic part he played in Siena, Lisardo in Scarlatti’s L’Aldimiro, was a role originally sung by a baritone (TCC no. 4).71 Indeed, it seems that the contralto castrato and the baritone voice often took the same roles, or that roles assigned to one were interchangeable with the other voice type. In a letter of 1697, Tamburini noted that the impresario who had wanted him to sing in Milan engaged in his place the Florentine baritone Pietro Mozzi, because he could not find contraltos.72

7.2 During his apprenticeship in Parma, Tamburini graduated to performing more important parts. As we shall see below, talent and patronage must be given equal credit for this development. As a mature singer, Tamburini had the opportunity to play his largest roles in operas staged in Tuscan territory where the Medici influence was strong: Florence, Pisa, and the singer’s hometown of Siena (TCC nos. 20, 21, 24, 25, 32, 45, 46). He also was cast in an important role in Mantua, another court on the ducal circuit with close ties to the Medici (TCC no. 30) and in Naples, when an opera with a contingent of artists under Tuscan grand ducal protection was mounted there in summer of 1708 (TCC no. 37).73 In 1702 Francesco Maria probably allowed Tamburini to accept the small role of Gismondo in Venceslao (TCC no. 28) in order to give him the prestige of performing at the Grimani theater in Venice with luminaries such as Giovanni Buzzoleni and Diamante Maria Scarabelli.74 Francesco Maria’s relationship with the Grimani might have also influenced Tamburini’s casting in prominent parts for the Neapolitan productions of Carnival 1708–9: L’Agrippina, Il Maurizio, and Il Teodosio, all three dedicated to Vincenzo Grimani, then viceroy in Naples (TCC nos. 40, 41, 42).75 The Tuscan connection also appears to have been operating in some of the last productions in which the singer can be documented: those staged in Fano in 1716 and 1717–8 and in Recanati in 1719, where Tamburini found himself cast with Raffaello Baldi, the Florentine court singer whose vocal troubles Tamburini had commented on so many years earlier (TCC nos. 54, 55, 57, 59, 60).

7.3 Clearly, then, the apprenticeship with Sabadini in Parma was intended as a stepping stone to a larger professional presence for Tamburini on the operatic stages of Italy. Throughout this period, as earlier, Francesco Maria was orchestrating his protégé’s progress, and here we turn back to examine how the cardinal applied his influence at a critical juncture to ensure that Tamburini could have a steady career as an operatic singer.

8. Launching a Career

8.1 One of the more interesting facets of the extant correspondence concerns the business of recruiting singers for operatic productions. In his early years, Tamburini was not allowed to be his own agent; everything had to be cleared through his teacher and his patron. Francesco Maria used his friends and allies to help in this effort, and negotiations were a complex and delicate dance in which money, opportunity, and the elusive quality of honor were in play.

8.2 In early 1697, while still in Rome and shortly after assuming the role of Tamburini’s teacher, Sabadini turned down an opportunity for his student to sing at the Capranica. This is somewhat odd, as Sabadini composed one of the operas and revised or adapted the music of the other opera scheduled for performance at that venue. Was Sabadini worried that Tamburini was not yet up to the challenge? Was he concerned because his success could be attributed to his former teacher and not to himself? All we know is that Sabadini refused to allow Tamburini to take the engagement and that he must have had the cardinal’s blessing to do so. As soon as Sabadini refused the invitation from the Capranica, the renowed librettist Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (Sabadini’s collaborator on the second Capranica opera)76 and the music-loving Contestabile Filippo Colonna II were asking for Tamburini’s services at the Tordinona. It was the Cardinal del Giudice (certainly in the role of proxy for Francesco Maria) who informed Tamburini that he would never allow the castrato to perform in what he described as the “dreadful, feeble work” being prepared at that theater.77 Sabadini was also concerned that the very tight time frame would not allow Tamburini to shine. And Tamburini commented that, having turned down 100 doble at the Capranica, he would not have been pleased to sing as part of a weaker cast at the Tordinona.78

8.3 The experience in Rome sums up the factors that influenced singers’ decisions about whether to take an offered part or not. Who the other cast members were figured high among these considerations. Tamburini begged the cardinal over and over to allow him to take an engagement in Milan for the 1698 season because all the great virtuosi of the day were already engaged to sing there. The company a singer kept was not, however, the only matter of importance.

8.4 Money was also crucial, and negotiations could go on for months with no guarantee of a successful outcome and while other opportunities passed by. During July and August of 1697, Tamburini was trying to negotiate (with the cardinal’s permission) a contract with the impresario Abbate Bielate for an operatic performance in Genoa. Tamburini requested 70 doble if the abbot paid his travel and expenses. The abbot responded that he did not want to think about travel, food, or the servant Tamburini proposed to bring along but he did offer the singer a place to stay. Tamburini’s price then went up to 80 doble. Bielate could not pay 80 doble, so Tamburini lowered his price to 70 doble. The abbot offered the castrato 60 doble, and Tamburini agreed to write to the cardinal for permission to perform. Tamburini was still waiting for a response in early September when he heard that the opera would not be staged, ostensibly because of the lack of singers and a dispute over a box. Later in September, Tamburini had the real story: the operatic enterprise had fallen apart after the abbot had run off with a woman.79

8.5 The kind of role offered was unquestionably paramount. In 1697, after Tamburini was ensconced in Parma, Sabadini asked Francesco Maria to allow the castrato to perform a role in Piacenza during the month of April; another singer had been scheduled to sing, but his patron had decided to send him to Reggio Emilia instead. Taking a role that another performer had turned down for something better was not something many singers would agree to, as it might reflect badly on their honor and reputation, both to be jealously guarded at all times. Indeed, just a year later, in 1698, Tamburini wrote the cardinal that he was glad to have turned down a part in an upcoming performance of Camilla in Piacenza; Cecchi had seconded his decision, noting that the part offered no chance for the castrato to excel and might have instead damaged his standing in the north.80 In 1697, however, Tamburini’s circumstances were different: he was still relatively unknown. Even so, Sabadini had to offer the cardinal incentives for allowing his protégé to take the role. Sabadini explained “it would be an opportunity for the singer to advance himself in the profession”; he furthermore noted that the part was “not bad” and he promised to assist the castrato.81 Since Sabadini was the composer of the opera, he could no doubt adjust Tamburini’s part to show him off to best advantage. It was in this context that Sabadini made the remark about Tamburini’s voice needing “great exercise.” The cardinal allowed Tamburini to take the part for a modest salary of 25 doble,82 probably so that he could make his northern début in a company of good singers (the cast included Sassani and Musi), garner some attention, and perhaps attract offers for future seasons (TCC no. 6).          

8.6 The plan worked; Tamburini sang well and immediately received offers to sing in Milan, Genoa, and Brescia. Here is where the letters from all three parties allow us to untangle a web of conflicting motives and desires. In early May 1697 Francesco Maria replied to a now-lost letter from Sabadini and informed him that he was willing to have Tamburini sing outside of Parma, but that Sabadini should refuse any offers of principal parts, for the cardinal would suspect that Tamburini was in a cast of inferior singers. He told Sabadini that when the opportunity arose for Tamburini to sing a secondary but not minor role (parte di mezzo) in an opera with a cast of excellent singers, then he would defer to Sabadini’s judgment.83

8.7 At this point Sabadini was stuck in Parma, as his own patron, Duke Francesco I Farnese, had refused to allow him to go to Rome for the 1697–8 Carnival season. Sabadini may have been either slightly jealous of Tamburini’s Milanese offer or simply loath to part with his talented student when he informed the cardinal that it was better for Tamburini to have no engagements than to go off and perform far from his teacher. As he noted, the lesson was more important than the performance.84 Tamburini was telling the cardinal another story: he truly wanted to go to Milan, where an all-star cast, including Nicola Paris, Francesco Pistocchi, and Vittoria Costa (among others), had been assembled, and where Francesco Maria himself, it appears, had already made tentative provisions for him to sing.85 Sabadini bolstered his own position by telling the cardinal that the Duke of Parma wanted to “make use of his services” and that Tamburini would certainly have a chance to perform.86 Francesco Maria appears to have used Sabadini to get to the Duke of Parma. He played his hand in June, while the offer from Milan was still alive. He informed Sabadini that if the Duke of Parma intended to use Tamburini in an opera, he would allow his protégé to stay in town, but if the castrato would be singing only a cantata or an oratorio, then he would rather send him to Milan.87 Sabadini made sure his employer saw the letter.88 Duke Francesco Farnese understood the message, and in late June 1697 Sabadini was able to report that the duke was very pleased that Francesco Maria had conceded Tamburini for Carnival.89

8.8 And so instead of singing, as Sabadini noted, the third or fourth part in an opera in Milan, Tamburini was cast in two important secondary roles in Parma. He played Aminta in the pastoral opera L’Atalanta performed in autumn of 1697 and Arideo in Furio Camillo during Carnival of 1697–8. Sabadini was the sole composer of L’Atalanta, whereas Furio Camillo featured music by Giacomo Perti and Sabadini (TCC nos. 7, 8). In both productions, it seems, the composer made sure that Tamburini’s arias especially suited his voice and that all the music was arranged to show him off to the best advantage.90 The Carnival production was graced with numerous scene changes and machines, and the scenery was the work of the famous designer Ferdinando Galli-Bibiena. Cardinal Francesco Maria de’ Medici’s diplomatic maneuvers had obtained exactly the kind of roles he wanted for his favorite singer.

9. Epilogue

9.1 We can never know the extent of Tamburini’s talent. Certainly, he must have had a pleasing voice, for otherwise he would not have been able to sustain a career for very long. A diary entry for the performance of the oratorio La costanza trionfante nel martirio di Santa Lucia in Florence in 1705 provides perhaps the most impartial judgment on Tamburini’s abilities (TCC no. 34). The document notes that Sassani, who sang the part of Saint Lucy, “astonished and amazed everyone,” that Canavese performed “with great valor,” and that Tamburini “also did rather well.”91 That is, Tamburini could hold the stage with the most excellent voices of the day, but he was not at their level. It goes without saying, then, that Tamburini depended upon his patron to create the conditions necessary for him to make his way in the world of opera at the turn of the eighteenth century. As we have seen, Francesco Maria probably engineered Tamburini’s operatic début in Florence, and he was clever enough to arrange for Tamburini to study voice with a composer who could write with the castrato’s abilities in mind. When Sabadini took off for Madrid in mid-1700, the cardinal sent Tamburini to Bologna to continue his vocal training with Carlo Antonio Benati (after rejecting Sabadini’s suggestions that the castrato study with either Antonio Bissoni in Parma or Giacomo Perti in Bologna).92 He also took care of Tamburini in other ways: he paid him a yearly annuity through 1705 and provided him with clothes.93 Francesco Maria gave up his cardinal’s beret in 1709 in a disastrous attempt to save the Medici family from extinction, but he never deserted his favorite singer. His patronage saved Tamburini from jail when the singer was caught with a loaded gun in a crowded marketplace near Bologna in 1710.94 Tamburini’s crush on Vanini and the outcome of that affair suggest that protection came at a price, although this might have been a blessing in disguise given the prevailing societal attitudes concerning relationships between castrati and women.95 Tamburini was able to profit from the cardinal’s connections during his prime years, singing in some of the most important centers in Italy, including Venice and Naples.

9.2 It is clear what Tamburini received from this arrangement. Less evident are the reasons why Francesco Maria de’ Medici chose to champion a singer who he knew was best suited for secondary roles. I speculated that Tamburini might have at one time been Francesco Maria’s lover. It is possible, therefore, that the cardinal’s patronage was inspired by a lingering, strong affection for Tamburini. Then, too, Francesco Maria might have enjoyed the power he evidently wielded over the eager-to-please castrato. It should also be noted that, aside from serving as an agent in the court of Parma and reporting on political events, Tamburini kept the cardinal (and the Florentine court) up-to-date on operatic enterprises, musical styles, and the movements of singers.96 He seemed, furthermore, to have some grasp of his patron’s non-musical tastes: in one letter, he offered the cardinal a young, tall moor from Venice and in another, he wanted to let both the cardinal and Grand Prince Ferdinando know about an art collection including works by Correggio and Parmigianino that could be purchased at a very low price.97 Any number of singers, however, might have served just as well in these capacities and might also have been capable of setting the stage on fire with their vocal prowess.

9.3 Perhaps we should seek the motive for patronage in Francesco Maria’s character. According to a contemporary account of his life, he lived in the moment and was fond of jests and games. The wildest young men in Florence congregated at his villa at Lappeggi to play and exult, much to his delight. Women dressed as men and young men dressed as women in order to serve at table, on the dance floor, and in bed. When the tallest, most magnificent tree in his garden detracted from all the other plants he wanted his guests to admire, the cardinal had it chopped down. Another notable incident involved a joke Francesco Maria played on the courtiers and noblemen who came daily to Lappeggi to pay him their compliments and eat at his expense. One day, he bought a young donkey and asked his cook to prepare it as a meal. After all had eaten and sung the chef’s praises, Francesco Maria had the donkey’s bloody head and hoofs brought to the table.98

9.4 Games of all kinds were an important part of patrician social life, and what mattered was not content but style. As Roger Freitas has so elegantly stated, “in the world of courtly pastimes it was the quality of wit that was most often prized and admired.”99 Perhaps Francesco Maria treated patronage as another kind of aristocratic entertainment. If so, it might have amused him to see just how far his power and connections could promote the career of a good but second-tier singer. It is also possible that his support of Tamburini was a witty response to Grand Prince Ferdinando’s sponsorship of top-flight vocalists (that is, “anything you can do, I can do just as well, even with material of lesser quality”). Or perhaps Francesco Maria saw Tamburini as one of the “shorter plants” in his garden and delighted in showing that he was worthy of admiration in his own right.100

9.5 Whether it was spurred by affection, display of authority, ludic behavior, or some combination thereof, Francesco Maria’s gamble paid off. After his stalwart’s protector’s death in early 1711, Tamburini was taken under the aegis of the Tuscan court (TCC nos. 48, 49, 57) and then found a new patron in Queen Maria Casimira of Poland (TCC nos. 52, 54, 55). Right through 1719, he worked steadily in the regional theaters of Ancona, Fano, and Recanati (TCC nos. 53–60).

9.6 The case of Giovanni Battista Tamburini suggests the power that patient, persistent, and intelligent sponsorship could exert on the career of singer who lacked the kind of voice that made impresarios and audiences swoon. Whatever his motives, Cardinal Francesco Maria de’ Medici emerges as a most discerning patron for Tamburini because he knew the castrato’s strengths and his limitations. Although his influence may have garnered some prime parts for his favorite singer, he understood that Tamburini was best suited for parti di mezzo—secondary roles. Tamburini certainly worked assiduously to perfect his instrument, but it was Francesco Maria who furnished the means for him to become more than a mere musicarolo in the Siena Cathedral choir.


My thanks, as ever and always, to Nello Barbieri, who dedicated many hours to the archival transcriptions and to their translations in English, and whose occhio di lince caught many mistakes and infelicities in the initial drafts. Any mistakes that remain are my own.

I also want to thank Francesca Fantappiè. While in Italy during the academic year 2011–2, I was fortunate to make her acquaintance. Neither of us were aware that we had both worked with correspondence of Francesco Maria de’ Medici, had both found Tamburini’s letters (among other things), and had both submitted articles on the singer to press. In June 2012, Francesca Fantappiè graciously sent me proofs of her article, “Dalla corte agli impresari. Giovan Battista Tamburini: Strategie di carriera di un contralto tra Sei e Settecento,” which has just appeared in Musica e storia 17, no. 2 (August 2009): 293–352. Fantappiè delves much more deeply than I into Tamburini’s later career, his roles, and his relationship with the Medici court. I urge anyone with an interest in this material to read her article.


*Colleen Reardon is Professor of Music at the University of Calfornia, Irvine. Her research focuses on musical culture in Siena during the early modern period. She is the author of Agostino Agazzari and Music at Siena Cathedral, 1597–1641 (Oxford, 1993) and Holy Concord within Sacred Walls: Nuns and Music in Siena, 1575–1700 (Oxford, 2002). Her current project is a study of opera in Siena between 1669 and 1733. This article represents an expanded version of papers first presented at the annual meetings of the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music in April 2007 and the American Musicological Society in November 2007.

1 Archivio di Stato di Firenze (I-Fas), Mediceo del Principato 5835, no. 680, Tamburini’s letter from Piacenza, dated April 25, 1697: “È due giorni che qua si trattiene il Duca del Sesto assieme con una sua donna che tiene per divertirsi nominata per sopra nome La Trombettina, assai bella, e la conduce ogni sera all’opera dove se ne stanno tutti e due in un palchetto a vista di tutti a gridare ‘E viva,’ e a me detta donna mi favorisce più che all’altri e ciò puol’ essere per simpatia che à la Tromba di essere in compagnia del Tamburo.”

2 The Tamburini Career Chronology (hereafter TCC) presents an overview of the singer’s stage career, with information on the works in which he appeared, the roles he took, and the names of his fellow singers (if known).

3 The letters cited in this essay are all preserved in the Archivio di Stato, Florence, Mediceo del Principato (hereafter I-Fas, MP) and form part of the massive correspondence addressed to Cardinal Francesco Maria de’ Medici. Tamburini’s letters are grouped together in I-Fas, MP 5835, 5836, and 5838. In I-Fas, MP 5835 and 5836, the letters are numbered (but the folios are not); in 5838, neither folios nor letters are numbered, and the only way to identify a document is by the sender and date of the missive. Letters from Sabadini and other correspondents, as well as Tamburini’s letters from after 1699, appear scattered throughout other filze. All letters cited in the notes are addressed to Francesco Maria de’ Medici unless otherwise stated. Tuscans began the New Year on 25 March and often (but not always) dated their letters accordingly. When citing documents from January through March dated in Tuscan style, I transcribe the year given in the letter and include the modern calendar year in square brackets. I also should note that I have left intact the sometimes unorthodox spelling and grammar found in the documents. This essay barely scratches the surface of Tamburini’s letters, which are a rich font of information for anyone interested in the musical, cultural, and social history of Parma and Piacenza at the turn of the eighteenth century or in the biographies of singers from the period. In the TCC, I have cited passages in the correspondence relating to the individual productions in which Tamburini sang.

4 Archivio di Stato, Siena (I-Sas), Pieve di San Giovanni 151, no. 480.

5 The payment to the norcino who performed the operation, which took place on December 6, 1683, is found in Archivio dell’Opera Metropolitana, Siena (hereafter I-Sd—or Opera del Duomo, Archivio Musicale) 633 (olim 730), Giornale G, Ricordi dal 1671–92, fol. 119v. The document specifies that Tamburini was the son of a barber, Bastiano, who was dead at the time of the operation. For more on the Siena Cathedral’s long-standing tradition of castrating boys to preserve their voices, see Reardon, “Siena Cathedral and its Castrati,” in Sleuthing the Muse: Essays in Honor of William F. Prizer, ed. Kristine K. Forney and Jeremy L. Smith (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press), 201–17.

6 See I-Sd 1090 (olim 800), Distribuzioni e salari 1679–89; I-Sd 1091 (olim 801), Distribuzioni e salari 1689–98. The highest paid adult singers in the choir received L. 20; the boys earned between L. 2 and L. 6. An average salary for a cathedral singer at the time was L. 14.

7 Frank A. D’Accone, The Civic Muse: Music and Musicians in Siena during the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 277.

8 Reardon, Agostino Agazzari and Music at Siena Cathedral, 1597–1641 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 45; Reardon, “Siena Cathedral and its Castrati,” 206–8. For examples of the musicianship exercises Sienese chapel masters published for their pupils’ use, see Reardon, “Cantando tutte insieme: Training Girl Singers in Sienese Convents,” in Young Choristers, 650–1700, ed. Susan Boynton and Eric Rice (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2008), 210–5.

9 I will have more to say on Tamburini’s performances in Siena in A “Sociable Moment”: Sienese Opera Patronage and Performance, 1669–1733 (forthcoming).

10 The broadside is preserved at Yale University Library, Beinecke 1996 + 104 3:18 and is addressed to “signor Gio: Battista Tamburini, virtuoso del Serenissimo e Reverendissimo Cardinale di Toscana.” The lines concerning his singing come from stanza 2 of the poem: “sciogli in canto pietoso il tuo dolore.” An earlier broadside commemorating Tamburini’s performance in the 1690 production of L’onestà negli amori is preserved in Siena in the archive of the Accademia dei Rozzi (I-Sr),VII.2, fol. 146r.

11 See I-Fas, Congregazione di Carità di S. Giovanni Battista (hereafter I-Fas, CCSGB) 173, fol. 155v, 27 October 1695: “A spese diverse, ducati undici moneta pagati a Lorenzo Bandini procaccio per haver condotto a Roma il musico Tamburini.” This was not Tamburini’s first trip to the Eternal City; payment records from Siena Cathedral note that he had “gone to Rome” between December 1691 and February 1692; see I-Sd 1091 (olim 801), opening 84 right. No documents have yet surfaced to illuminate his activities there during those months. In sending Tamburini off to Rome to study, Francesco Maria was following a strategy adopted by his nephew, Grand Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici. See Robert Lamar Weaver and Norma Wright Weaver, A Chronology of Music in the Florentine Theater 1590–1750 (Detroit: Information Coordinators, 1978), 68.

12 Information on many of the singers cited in this essay can be found in individual articles in the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 4 vols., ed. Stanley Sadie (London: Macmillan, 1992), as well as at Grove Music Online and Oxford Music Online. See also John Rosselli, Singers of Italian Opera: The History of a Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Patrick Barbier, The World of the Castrati: The History of an Extraordinary Operatic Phenomenon, trans. Margaret Crosland (London: Souvenir Press, 1996); Angus Heriot, The Castrati in Opera (1956; repr. New York, 1974); and Claudio Sartori, I libretti italiani a stampa dalle origini al 1800, 6 vols. (Cuneo: Bertola e Lucatelli, 1990–4), 6: II, Indice dei cantanti.

13 I-Fas, MP 5776, fol. 1794r, Sabadini’s letter from Rome, dated November 6, 1696: “Avanti che il musico Cortona partisse di qua per Napoli mi fece credere ch’avrei incontrato il benignissimo gradimento dell’Altezza Vostra Serenissima se mi fossi rissoluto d’accettare in educazione un certo giovane ch’ho già veduto e che depende dal stimatissimo suo gran patrocinio. Hora perché l’istessa fortuna ancorché maggiore della mia scarsa habilità ma per altro uguale alla somma venerazione che ossequiosamente professo all’Altezza Vostra Serenissima mi viene ripromessa da Monsignor Agostini, stimo mio debito confessargliene riverentemente la stima con dichiararmi di non haver altra gloria che quella mi può provenire dall’umiliarmi a suoi clementissimi cenni.” Sabadini was court composer in Parma from 1686–1700 and most famous for his operas performed in honor of the wedding of Odoardo II Farnese and Dorothea Sophia of Neuburg-Pfalz in 1690; see Lorenzo Bianconi and Jennifer Williams Brown, Grove Music Online, s.v. “Sabadini [Sabatini], Bernardo” (accessed August 13, 2007). The Medici connection to Parma was strong: in 1628, Margherita de’ Medici, daughter of Cosimo II, married Odoardo Farnese, Duke of Parma. After the death of her husband in 1646, Margherita ruled as regent of Parma until her son came of age. See Irene Mamczarz, Le Théâtre Farnèse de Parme et le drame musical italien, 1618–1732 ([Florence]: Leo S. Olschki, 1988), 20, 311–5.

14 The castrato Atto Melani, for example, exploited his connections as a singer to move into a career as a diplomat; see Roger Freitas, Portrait of a Castrato: Politics, Patronage, and Music in the Life of Atto Melani (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 149–200.

15 Either Pasqualino Betti or Pasqualino Tiepoli, both active in Rome during the late seventeenth century; see Thomas Edward Griffin, “The Late Baroque Serenata in Rome and Naples: A Documentary Study with Emphasis on Alessandro Scarlatti” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1983), 216, 220, 313, 333, 352; Ursula Kirkendale, “The Ruspoli Documents on Handel,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 20, no. 2 (Summer 1967): 231, 236; Rosselli, Singers of Italian Opera, 48; and Sartori, I libretti italiani a stampa, 6: II, 86, 638.

16 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 677, Tamburini’s letter from Rome, dated January 12, 1696 [1697]: “È tornato di Napoli Mommo ed una mattina mi volse sentire in molte cantate, e tutto che havesse l’orechie assaporate da quei musici di prima sfera, quali oggi si trovano in Napoli, mostrò di molto gradire anco il mio e si dichiarò ch’io non sarei stato musicarolo ma che mi sarei fatt’ ogn’ onore, e disse che non havevo buttato il tempo a studiare e godeva di sentire testificarsi da suoi proprii amici che il Cardinal Giansone, huomo di difficile contentatura, haveva asserito che doppo Pasqualino io gl’ero piaciuto più d’ogn’ altro musico in Roma, il che m’immagino fosse quando nella chiesa di S. Lorenzo in Lucina si trattenne a sentire tutt’un salmo quale mi fece a solo cantare l’altro maestro.” This is the earliest letter by Tamburini that I have been able to uncover.

17 Elisabetta Natuzzi, Il Teatro Capranica dall’inaugurazione al 1881: Cronologia degli spettacoli con 11 indici analitici (Naples: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 1999), 125–8.

18 See I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 677, Tamburini’s letter from Rome, dated January 12, 1696 [1697] (cantatas); MP 5777, fols. 470r–v, Sabadini’s letter from Parma, dated April 4, 1697 (oratorio); MP 5835, no. 683, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated June 21, 1697 (motet); MP 5836, no. 673, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated February 14, 1698 (oratorio); MP 5780, fols. 955r–956r, Sabadini’s letter from Parma, dated May 29, 1699 (mass).

19 I-Fas, MP 5835 no. 679, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated March 15, 1697: “E in vero ritrovo questa città molto approposito per la solitudine e per chi deve attendere come me allo studio, perché non vi è pericolo che divertischa la mente le novità di questa corte perché sono assai usate e malinchoniche.”

20 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 700, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated October 4, 1697: “Sento dall suo riveritissimo foglio che m’esorta ha [sic, a] francharmi nelle note, onde gli replico che se ciò dovessi fare adesso imparerei a cantare il giorno dell Giuditio, havendo io fatto questo studio molto tempo, non ostante però il mio mastro di quando in quando mi fa esercitare nelle medeme note per maggiormente assicurarami nella musica.”

21 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 691, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated August 2, 1697: “Ricevo in quest’ordinario il suo riveritissimo foglio dal quale sento che vi sia de’ B.F. che non voglin credere che io studi e che abbia qualche poco dello studiato. Però spero che i suddetti con il tempo diventeranno astrologi delle minchionerie e per accertare poi Lei della verità non credo che gli bisogni che io adduca testimoni perché puole a suo piacere ritrovarne il riscontro dal proprio mio mastro come anco da Matteuccio e dalla Mignatta che ànno recitato meco nel teatro di Piacenza.” The abbreviation “B.F.” might mean “baron fottuti.”

22 See, for example, I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 703, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated November 8, 1697: “Gli dirò solo senza nulla di vana gloria che tutte l’arie che ho cantato in quest’opera mi è convenuto iarsera replicarle da capo due volte e da questo argumento che abbino gradito il mio modo di cantare e di recitare.” See also I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 704, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated November 22, 1697: “Mercoledì sera mi fu tirato i sonetti, e a nessuno di chi recita con me sonno stati fatti, si bene per me son borie di poca sustantia.” The habit of boasting about his own performances persisted; after a performance in Mantua in early 1704 (TCC no. 29), Tamburini wrote that “if he were capable of arrogance, he would be the most vainglorious man in the world.” See I-Fas, MP 5784, fol. 56r. The only sonnets in Tamburini’s honor that I have been able to uncover were published in his hometown; see ref. 10.

23 I-Fas, MP 5777, fol. 536r, Sabadini’s letter from Piacenza, dated April 18, 1697: “Non vorrei però che il medemo [Tamburini] s’insuperbisse per questo applauso riportato e tralasciasse di studiare.”

24 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 677, Tamburini’s letter from Rome, dated January 12, 1696 [1697]: “Sotto a questo maestro si fa ogni giorno maggior progresso, ed oltre l’affetto con cui mi da lettione e l’essercitio continuo con cui mi assiste il fratello, Don Bernardo pare proprio nato per insegnare.” I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 696, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated September 13, 1697: “E Dio volesse che il tempo che sonno stato in Roma con quell mastro fossi stato sotto la direttione di questo, che adesso sarei più che perfetto nel mio esercitio perché la letione che mi da questo mastro è di due o tre hore per volta et è due volte il giorno e Lei mi creda che gli preme farmi diventare bravo al pari di qualsivoglia altro musico per il modo del cantare ne il quale ne son non poco avanzato.”

25 See, for example, I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 679, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated March 15, 1697, and ref. 24. The trip to Reggio Emilia is discussed below.

26 See Giovanni Andrea Angelini Bontempi’s description of music education in Rome, cited in Bianconi, Music in the Seventeenth Century, trans. David Bryant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 61. For an overview of singers’ training throughout the centuries, see Rosselli, Singers of Italian Opera, 91–113.

27 I-Fas, MP 5777, fol. 470r–v, Sabadini’s letter from Parma, dated April 4, 1697: “Il giorno pure dell’Annunciata lo feci cantare nell’oratorio ducale, dove non si portò male, ma molto ha di bisogno la sua voce d’esercitio, che per altro ha della habilità.”

28 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 696, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated September 13, 1697: “Nel istesso tempo ha fatto sapere il Duca al mio mastro che compongha per me la prima parte di quest’opera, onde io la vado imparando mentre il mio mastro la compone.”

29 See ref. 20.

30 I-Fas, MP 5777, fol. 1600r, Sabadini’s letter from Parma, dated November 8, 1697: “Per hora posso testificare all’Altezza Vostra Serenissima che il sudetto [Tamburini] si fa honore, ed è piacciuto a tutti, essendosi assai moderato nell’attione da che recitò a Piacenza l’aprile passato.”

31 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 696, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated September 13, 1697: “Presento che questo Duca mi vogli dare in consegnio le cantarine acciò ne tenghi esatta cura, onde se me ne sarà fatta istanza ho voglia di recusare la carica perché non mi riescirebbe imparare l’opere, e fagrli [sic] rispondere che piglierò in consegnio l’altri musici castrati.”

32 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 681, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated May 3, 1697. The end of this letter is badly bound and can be found at the end of no. 682.

33 I-Fas, MP 5836, no. 681, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated June 27, 1698: “Per rispondere ad ogni richiesta che Lei mi fa nel suo riveritissimo foglio dico che vesto da abate e ho sempre vestito, fuori che nel occasioni che sono ito a Reggio e a Piacenza al opere avendo in tali luoghi vestito da campagna con un abito di saia scuro puro e civile.” Tamburini’s sartorial tastes underwent a change in 1699; see ref. 67 below describing the clothing he wore in Genoa when he went to hear Vanini sing.

34 I-Fas, MP 5836, no. 684, Tamburini’s letter from Turin, dated December 12, 1698: “Io poi ho incontrato un sommo compatimento non solo da tutta questa nobiltà ma ancho molto da questa corte a segnio che molto mi ha inanimito l’avermi questo Duca mandato a chiamare verso la fine del opera al suo palchetto dove vi era la Duchessa e mi disse, ‘la Duchessa mia et io siamo molti soddisfatti del opera, dell’altri musici ma più imparticolare di voi.’”

35 See Reardon, “Camilla in Siena and Senesino’s Début,” Studi musicali, nuova serie, 2, no. 2 (2011): 294. For more on Spannocchi, see Reardon, “Fabio Spannocchi: impresario e osservatore del teatro musicale a Siena alla fine del Seicento,” in Archivi, carriere, committenze: Contributi per la storia del patriziato senese in età moderna, Atti del convegno, Siena, 8–9 giugno 2006, ed. M. Raffaella de Gramatica, Enzo Mecacci, and Carla Zarrilli (Siena: Monte dei Paschi, 2007), 313–23.

36 References to money during this period can be confusing and contradictory. However, it is clear from other references that 200 doble (sometimes spelled dobole and sometimes doppie) was a great sum of money. For his performances in Turin during Carnival of 1698–9 (TCC nos. 11, 12, 13), for instance, Tamburini received 140 Spanish doppie and gifts worth 70 doppie; see I-Fas, MP 5838, unn. folio, Tamburini’s letter from Turin, dated February 26, 1699.

37 Tamburini recounts the entire incident in I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 683, a letter from Parma dated June 21, 1697.

38 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 691, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated August 2, 1697: “Il suddetto musico [Scaccia] è quell’istesso che fui necessitato di mostragrli [sic] la politia falsa delle dugento dobole … però fra me e il istesso passa gran confidenza e amicitia.” See also I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 696, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated September 13, 1697: “Sento che la Migniatta vada dicendo bene di me et io ne godo che accertino Lei che io non butto il tempo.”

39 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 683, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated  June 21, 1697: “Giovedì mattina in tempo che dovevo cantare un mottetto a questo duca essendo a sentir messa nella chiesa di S. Francescho celebrandosi ivi la Novena di S. Antonio, giunse da Bolognia Matteuccio di Napoli assieme con Ferrini, e saliti su l’organo, il mio mastro mi fece cantare assieme con Mattiuccio con il quale parlai di poi a lungho e mi disse essere a Lei molto tenuto per averli intercessa la licenza dall Vice Re che possa presequire l’opera a Bolognia.”

40 This oratorio is the only piece in which Tamburini can be documented singing a female role. For a description of the performance, see Warren Kirkendale, The Court Musicians of Florence during the Principate of the Medici (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1993), 489–90.

41 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 683, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated June 21, 1697: “Mi dice Mattiuccio doppo la recita di Pratolino va asieme con Ferrini a recitare a Genova per questo autunno e averebbe caro che mi ci ritrovasse anch’io essendo mio bono amico.” I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 696, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated September 13, 1697: “L’ordinario passato ebbi lettere da Matteuccio di Napoli quale mi dice che si trova molto travagliato per le stravaganze di quell Vice Re quale fine adesso non sa risolverlo se deve andare ho [sic, o] non andare in Spagnia. Quale se andesse molto mi dispiacerebbe perché si allontanerebbe un carissimo mio amico che ha molta parsialità per me.” I-Fas, MP 5836, no. 681, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated June 27, 1698: “Li do nuova come si ritrova in Parma Matteuccio musico napolitano con il quale ogni giorno tratto seco e si mostra poco desideroso di andare in Spagna benché abbia già ricevuti i tre mila ducati per il viaggio imperoché è molto innamorato di questi paesi della Lombardia.”

42 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 704, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated November 22, 1697: “Domenica mattina il Conte Alisandro S. Vitali, mastro di camera di questo Duca, cavaliere molto parsiale per me, mi fece fare nella cucina dell Duca sei piatti reali di robba con i quali invitai a pranzo Cortona con la Barbara e mi feci molto onore senza spender denari, e poi quella sera si recitò di nuovo l’opera dove Cortona riconobbe in me molto miglioramento dalla prima sera che mi sentì.”

43 The opera, on a libretto by Silvio Stampiglia, with music by Giovanni Bononcini, took Italy by storm. The performance in Piacenza was the third revival since the work’s premiere in Naples in 1696. See Lowell Lindgren, “I trionfi di Camilla,” Studi musicali 6 (1977): 89–159.

44 I-Fas, MP 5836, no. 677, Tamburini’s letter from Piacenza, dated April 24, 1698: “Seguitano l’opere con i medesimi applausi e stima de’ virtuosi, comparendovi tutta via de’ forestieri … dai medemi è suscitata una gara tra un partito e l’altro; cioè per il partito della Barbara e di Cortona si è da molte dame e cavalieri posto il segnio di un nastaro giallo e quella della Tilla e Matteuccio posto un nastaro rosso. Ma se devo dirli il vero la maggior parte delle quattro tre sonno del nastaro giallo.… Io per altro stimo tutti e per pulitica mi mostro neutrale ma per altro son dal partito giallo.”

45 I-Fas, MP 5836, no. 676: Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated April 17, 1698: “Meritando però di esser sentita da qual si voglia persona del mondo la sudetta opera [Camilla] imparticolare per la competenza che è fra Cortona e Matteuccio, restando però superiore di gloria al altro Cortona, tanto nel cantare che nel recitare, assegnio che l’istessi partiali che sonno per Matteuccio sonno stati necessitati applaudir Cortona.”

46 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 681, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated May 3, 1697. The end of this letter is badly bound and can found at the end of no. 682.

47 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 682, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated June 7, 1697.

48 I-Fas, MP 5836, no. 675, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated March 27, 1698.

49 I-Fas, MP 5836, no. 676, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated April 17, 1698: “È pure gradita la Tilla per il suo modo di cantare e il marchese Valfuentes grande di Spagnia è venuto da Milano per sentire l’opera et à regalato la medema d’un gioello di diamanti di valor di cento cinquanta dobbole.”

50 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 680, Tamburini’s letter from Piacenza, dated April 25, 1697: “Il Duce D’Arcola è pure molti giorni che si trattiene qua. Non so se sia che gli piaccia l’opera ho [sic, o] pure che gli diletti la conversatione della Migniatta.”

51 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 701, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated October 11, 1697: “Fra queste donne che sonno venute da Bolognia ve n’è una detta per sopra nome La Linarola, quale se corrisponde la sua virtù all viso che ha è cosa di maraviglia, e questa per mia disgratia mi toccherà a sposarla in palcho solamente, che di poi non credo fora della scena poterla più vedere dall moscheo de’ cavalieri che haverà intorno. Onde io starò alla lontana e me la farò con un certo soprano pur bologniese bellissimo giovane, buono anzi buonissimo figliolo.” “La Linarola” was Angela Cocchi; see Corrado Ricci, I teatri di Bologna nei secoli XVII e XVIII (Bologna: Successori Monti, 1888), 97.

52 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 697, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated September 19, 1697: “Mi ha hanco soggiunto l’istesso Niccolino nella maniera che si porta Raffaellino havendomene detto molto male oltre a dirmi che habbi perso la voce. Si maraviglia per la scuola che ha hauto di cinque anni in Roma, canti nella maniera che chanti. Lo dirò non per superbia ma per solo speranza che Lei non habbia haver mai di me queste nuove di dovevunque luogho anderò a recitare se Iddio non mi volesse gastigare con farmi perdere la voce o sdimenticare quello che ho imparato.” That this “Niccolino” was Nicola Paris is confirmed by Tamburini’s statement earlier in the letter that the singer was on his way to perform in Milan; see Sartori, I libretti italiani a stampa, 6:II, 497.

53 I-Fas, MP 5838, unn. folio, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated April 10, 1699: “È venuto qui per quest’opere un tal Niccolino di Napoli, che è un buon virtuoso, ma senza voce, e questo fa la prima parte.” Tamburini quickly changed his mind about Grimaldi; the two ended up as traveling companions and roommates later that year (see refs. 65 and 67), and Tamburini placed the singer among the best in the field when they performed together in Venice during Carnival of 1702–3 (TCC nos. 27, 28); see I-Fas, MP 5785, fol. 78r, Tamburini’s letter from Venice, dated January 20, 1703.

54 I-Fas, MP 5840, fols. 642r-643r, Tamburini’s letter from Livorno, dated December 19, 1700: “Siamo qua all’ordine per andare in scene coll’opera la seconda festa di Natale, e sarà la Camilla, dove ò poca parte da farmi onore, essendosi prese le meglio Canavese e Raffaellino. Ben è vero che nella seconda opera ò la prima parte, e se Canavese non me la fa guastare, spero farmi onore con molte ariete che mi à fatto il Contini.”

55 See Reardon, “Camilla in Siena and Senesino’s Début,” 305–25.

56 Harold Acton, The Last Medici, rev. ed. (London: Methuen, 1958), 161, 224–30; Vita di Cosimo III, sesto granduca di Toscana. Vita del Principe Francesco Maria già cardinale di Santa Chiesa. Vita del Gran Principe Ferdinando di Toscana (Florence: “Giornale di erudizione,” 1887; reprint, Bologna: Forni, 1967), 25–43.

57 Freitas, Portrait of a Castrato, 101–32.

58 I-Fas, MP 5785, fols. 1694r–v, Donato Legnani’s letter from Bologna, dated November 6, 1703: “Dalla annessa lettera del Tamburini suo virtuoso intenderà come egli desidera venire costì mentre Vostra Altezza Serenissima e Reverendissima non comandi in contrario. Il motivo che adduce è che si trova senza recita questo carnevale e di più il Benati ch’è il suo maestro se ne va a Venezia.… Possa essere che questo carnevale costà in Firenze lo pigliassero quelli impresari nella opera…. [Draft note appended to letter in a different hand]: Sua Altezza non lo vorebbe in Firenze in veruna maniera e se vuole andare a Siena, vada.” It was Legnani, and not Benati, who seems to have kept in touch with Francesco Maria on all matters regarding Tamburini while the castrato was in Bologna.

59 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 680, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated April 25, 1697; MP 5835, no. 700, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated October 4, 1697.

60 I-Fas, MP 5836, nos. 684 and 685, Tamburini’s letters from Turin, dated 12 and 27 December 1698; I-Fas, MP 5838, unn. fols., Tamburini’s letters from Parma, dated 27 March and 16 April 1699, and a letter from Siena, dated October 1699.

61 Sabadini reported the carriage accident to Francesco Maria in a letter from Parma, dated September 19, 1698 (I-Fas, MP 5779, fols. 532r–533v).

62 I-Fas, MP 5779, fols. 691r–v and 694r, Sabadini’s letter from Genoa, dated October 18, 1698: “Domenica passata andò in scena la prima opera … e devo pur dire a Vostra Altezza Reverissima con quell’ingenuità che devo che il Tamburino si porta molto bene ed è piaciuto a tutti a segno che per la seconda vogliono in tutte le maniere che reciti.… Devo pur dire a Vostra Altezza Reverendissima come il male del Tamburino non è stato conosciuto a Parma e né meno a Genova, se non da pochi giorni in qua; e questo a causa della gran grossezza e tumore concorso, onde è sempre stato giudicato fosse semplice maccatura, come già scrissi a Vostra Altezza Reverendissima, ma dal non poter fare liberamente tutti li moti del braccio, ha messo qualche dubbio vi potesse essere qualche altra cosa ed a questo effetto si sono fatte molte consulte con li primi di Genova periti in tal mestiere, ed hanno risolto hieri mattina fargli un poco d’estensione per rimettere a suo loco un osso che dicevano fosse uscito di suo loco, e questa seguì felicemente con non poco dolore del Tamburino però, e di questo successo ne resterà pienamente informata l’Altezza Vostra Reverendissima dalla qui inclusa attestatione delli tre periti, acciò scorga l’Altezza Vostra Reverendissima che si è fatto tutto quello humanamente si è potuto per rimetterlo del tutto nella pristina sua salute e già confessano li medemi che si è di molto acquistato, ma se il Tamburino havesse hauto pazienza di sopportare questa mattina un altro poco di dolore, era del tutto risanato, ma questo è rimasto così spaventato che non vi è stato rimedio per quante prediche li habbi fatto di poterlo indurre a questa seconda operazione.… Per questa causa pure non ha [Tamburini] mai traslasciato di recitare e dimani sera pure reciterà.”

63 I-Fas, MP 5838, unn. fol., Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated April 10, 1699.

64 I-Fas, MP 5838, unn. fol., Tamburini’s letter from Piacenza, dated April 16, 1699: “La medema [Vittoria Tarquini] in ricompenza mi dà la burla che io sia innamorato d’una tal Ceccha Bologniese che ha recitato il carnevale passato in Fiorenza. E perché oltre a darmi la burla di ciò che non è vero, dubito che non ne scriva costà, massimo che oggi li ho visto rispondere a un di Lei foglio, mi so’ tanto più insospettito e perciò piglio i passi avanti con digrli [sic] che non creda ciò che gli possa essere detto. Ho scritto perché sonno alieno dalli amori e ben che sia vero che questa donna abbi qualche sorte di genio con me, io non li do retta.”

65 I-Fas, MP 5780, fols. 955r–956r, Sabadini’s letter from Parma, dated May 29, 1699: “Vivo così geloso della gratia di Vostra Altezza Serenissima che mi stimerei indegno dell’honore de riveriti commandamenti di Vostra Altezza quando non l’avisassi di quanto occore intorno alle procedure di Tamburino, di cui havendo io tolerate in Piacenza le su giovanili debolezze, per essersi egli in quel tempo incapricciato d’una tal Francesca Vannini che recitava in detto teatro, ed havendo io a tutto mio potere impediti questi suoi primi amori, credevo d’haverlo rimesso in dovere … ma ritornato in Parma col motivo di andare a cantare una messa a Casal Maggiore dove fu egli veramente richiesto, intendo essersi in compagnia d’un tal Nicolino Grimaldi portato a Mantova a rivedere la detta Francesca senza parteciparmene cosa alcuna.”

66 See I-Fas, MP 5780, fol. 1089r, Sabadini’s letter from Parma, dated June 26, 1699, in which he refers to Tamburini’s upcoming trip to Florence, as per the cardinal’s orders. See also I-Fas, MP 5780, fol. 1090r, Francesco Maria’s draft response to Sabadini from his villa at Lappeggi, dated July 14, 1699: “È comparso qui felicemente il Tamburini.… Io spero che nella futura recita di Pratolino egli habbia a farle onore col mostrare il profitto che ha cavato dalla sua direzione.”

67 I-Fas, MP 5780, fols. 1968r–1969r, Antonio Francesco Carli’s letter from Genoa, dated November 14, 1699: “Comparve in questa Dominante tutto brio e fastoso il Tamburini domenica prossima or scorsa su l’ora e mezza di notte, mentre si recitava. Parse appunto all’arrivo del medesimo che la scena prendesse più lustro dal reflesso dell’abito dorato, e doppiamente restò abbagliata la Signora Francesca Venini virtuosa del Serenissimo di Mantova, quale meco trovavasi in quel punto dovendo ella sortir meco per far scena. L’incontro fu molto sostenuto da ambi le parti, e li sguardi d’ambidue furono accedenti [sic]e reciprochi; ella si mutò di colore, egli s’accese di rossore, e fra il silenzio e la confusione la prima cedette e li voltò il tergho. Indi fossimo invitati al nostro offizio, ed osservai il Tamburini nel palcetto [sic] del Signor Urbano Fieschi, che dissimulando con sguardi faceva la gatta di Masino, ma come la vampa d’amore è tale che non si può tenere ascosa, ben ogni uno s’avvide che la vicinanza del oggetto vie più gle l’accendeva nel seno. Poscia si trasferì nel palcetto del Signor Gio. Stefano Durazzo per divertire l’amorosa passione, onde calata la tela fu servita come al solito la sudetta virtuosa alle sue stanze da schiera d’amanti, ed il povero Tamburini seguì le pedate de medesimi e per quella notte alloggiò con Niccolino di Napoli col quale ha sempre soggiornato. Arrivato nel quartiere del sudetto virtuoso, che pur si ritrova nell’istessa habitazione in cui tutti soggiorniamo, andò a far visita a tutte fuori che alla sudetta signora. Venne il giorno e dalle finestre sue contemplava quelle della diva, e consumava li suoi sguardi con poco frutto, mentre in tutto il suo soggiorno in questa città non ha mai trovato corrispondenza da quella che altre volte compiaceva ogni sua volontà. Giovedì dunque su le 14 ore egli prese il camino per Turino, forsi il cielo compassionando il suo ardore l’accompagnò con un diluvio di pioggia.” The two operas staged in Genoa in autumn of 1699 were Carlo, re d’Alemagna and Tito Manlio, but it seems the librettos do not include cast lists. See Remo Giazotto, Il melodramma a Genova nei secoli XVII e XVIII (Genoa, 1941), 51.

68 I-Fas, MP 5838, unn. fol., Tamburini’s letter from Turin, dated December 17, 1699: “Mi duole che non si ritroverà a Livorno, dove l’averei pregata del suo patrocinio apprò della Checca Venini, come le ne ho supplicata a boccha, che poveretta il ciel sa come li anderà.”

69 I-Fas, MP 5840, fol. 438v, letter from an unidentified correspondent in Pisa, dated December 27, 1700: “Tamburino suo musico piace molto più di Raffaellino e si porta bene, ma è innamorato, per quello che è stato detto, della Checca del Guadagni.”

70 See James Samuel Leve, “Humor and Intrigue: A Comparative Study of Comic Opera in Florence and Rome during the Late Seventeenth Century” (Ph.D. diss., Yale University, 1998); Marco Bizzarini, “L’epistolario inedito di Apostolo Zeno,” Studi musicali 37, no. 1 (July 2008): 109–13.

71 The libretto issued for the premiere of L’Aldimiro (Naples, 1683) lists “Stefano Carli, baritono” as the singer playing Lisardo. The baritone register for Lisardo is also evident in a score for the opera, rediscovered at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1989 and transcribed in modern edition for a performance in 1996. See Alessandro Scarlatti, L’Aldimiro, ed. Michelle Dulak and George Thomson (Oakland: Mallard Leisure Systems, 1996). A contralto performed the part of Lisardo in the 1686 Livorno revival of the opera.

72 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 700, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated October 4, 1697: “Ho nuova di Milano che il Duca del Sesto ha preso in mia vece un tal Pietro Mozzi fiorentino non havendo potuto trovar contralti per le sue opere.”

73 I will examine the characteristics of the roles that Tamburini played in a future essay.

74 Tamburini sang in a second opera in Venice that season. There, too, he was probably cast in a minor role; see TCC no. 27.

75 Weaver and Weaver, A Chronology of Music in the Florentine Theater, 61–6.

76 The opera was L’Eusonia overo La dama stravagante; see Natuzzi, Il Teatro Capranica, 126–8.

77 The opera was probably La clemenza d’Augusto, which opened on February 4, 1697, and was not enthusiastically received by the public. The first opera at the Tordinona, Fausta restituita all’impero, had a scandalous run. One incident involved a spectator who fell from his seat and was killed; as he fell he struck a young female singer who had gained entrance to the theater dressed as a man. At the end of January, the pope suspended performances of this opera for three days after a report of the use of obscene language by the singers playing the comic parts. See Alberto Cametti, Il Teatro di Tordinona poi di Apollo, 2 vols. (Tivoli: Arti Grafiche Aldo Chicca, 1936), 2:364–7.

78 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 678, Tamburini’s letter from Rome, dated January 26, 1696 [1697]: “Gli devo dar nova che terminate le istanze di Capranica son cominciate quelle di Tordinona mentra stava mercordì sera per principiar l’opera in Capranica ed io al solito me ne stavo col mio maestro, venne da me il Marchese del Bufalo e mi significò che il Cardinal Ottoboni ed il Contestabile desideravano parlarmi nel palchetto. Mi portai subito ad inchinarmeli e mi richesero mi volessi compiacere recitare in Tordinona una parte nella second’opera sogiungendomi che sarebbe stato lor peso e pensiere impetrarmi la necessaria licenza da Lei, ed io risposi che quando da Lei mi fosse stato commandato non potevo se non ubidire, ed intanto ne passassero parola col mio maestro, il che subito lo fecero parlare dal Prencipe di Palestrina, quale sentito il mio maestro, stante che lui haveva dimostrato poca sodisfatione chi’io recitassi la prima volta che richiese per Capranica, e mostrava dispiacerli che adesso dovessi recitare a Tordinona, e disse il mio maestro che l’angustia del tempo era grande e che se bene io mi sarei fatt’onore non però tanto quanto desiderava, non potendomi per hora assistere come vorebbe con altre ragioni che li adusse. Niente di meno il seguente giorno il maestro ed io ci portammo dal Cardinale Del Giudice acciò per quella parte non ne venisse il commando, e il cardinale disse che mai haverebbe permesso ch’io recitassi in una commedia così fiaccha e cattiva com’in quest’anno com’è quella di Tordinona…E si come sarò pronto ad ubidire ogni cenno o suo o del Cardinale del Giudice, così non mi curo doppo haver lasciato cento doble in Capranica venir molto meno a recitare in una compagnia molto peggiore.”

79 The saga unfolds in a series of letters that Tamburini addressed to the cardinal from Parma; see I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 689, dated July 19, 1697; no. 690, dated July 26, 1697; no. 692, dated August 9, 1697; no. 693, dated August 23, 1697; no. 695, dated September 6, 1697; and no. 697, dated September 19, 1697.

80 I-Fas, MP 5836, no. 675, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated March 27, 1698: “Io per altro mi trovo sempre più contento non avere accettato la parte che in quest’opera mi volevano dare e l’istesso Cortona mi ha detto che ho fatto benissimo a non farla perché non averei auto campo veruno di farmi onore, dicendomi da vantaggio che averei diminuito, in far questa parte, quel poco di concetto e forse buono che fanno di me in questi paesi.” See also MP 5838, unn. fol., Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated April 10, 1699: “Doveva in quest’opera recitarvi Pistoccho bravissimo huomo, ma questo gli è mancato per non essersi aggiustato nei prezzi. Volevano in sua vece che recitasse [sic] io, ma perché è poca reputatione dei musici recitar le parti che da altri dovevano esser rappresentate, consigliato da don Bernardo, ha fatto con termini propri che io la ricusi.”

81 I-Fas, MP 5777, fols. 470r–v, Sabadini’s letter from Parma, dated April 4, 1697: “Con l’occasione della fiera di Piacenza si recita una mia opera, nella quale doveva recitare Gio. Battista Ruberti del Signor Duca di Modona, ma questo essendo stato impegnato per l’opera di Reggio dal suo padrone non ha potuto venire, in mancanza del quale ho stimato bene di proporre il Tamburini servitore dell’Altezza Vostra Serenissima … mi sono preso l’ardire d’impegnarlo per le recite della sudetta opera, confidato nella somma clemenza di Vostra Altezza, che sarà per gradire quest’eletione da me fatta a fine che il giovane possi sempre più esercitarsi nella professione della musica. La parte non sarà cattiva, e sarà da me assistito con quella pontualità che si ricerca, sì che voglio sperarne bene.… Il giorno dell’Annunciata lo feci cantare nell’oratorio ducale, dove non si portò male, ma molto ha di bisogno la sua voce d’esercitio, che per altro ha della habilità.”

82 Tamburini reports his salary in a letter from Piacenza dated April 25, 1697 (I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 680).

83 I-Fas, MP 5777, fols. 610r–v, draft response from Francesco Maria de’ Medici in Florence to Sabadini, dated May 4, 1697: “Da quanto mi viene scritto da Piacenza, sento che il Tamburini vadi continuando le sue recite anche con qualche applauso, e che da ciò abbiano preso motivo alcuni di ricercarlo per altre opere; ed io per dirla a Lei non sarei lontano dal prestarli il mio consenzo, ma non vorrei che egli avesse a far la prima parte, poiché avrei giusto motivo di dubitare che gl’altri compagni fossero molto inferiori a lui; ma quando vi fusse la congiuntura di appoggiarlo a qualche compagnia di virtuosi, e che potesse farsi onore con una parte di mezzo, mi rimetto in ciò a quel che Ella giudicasse di suo miglior servizio. È ben vero che io amerei che gli sortissi l’occasione di recitare in codesta città, più che in ogni altro luogo, affinché egli avesse la sorte di dependere totalmente dalla di Lei buona direzzione.”

84 I-Fas, MP 5777, fols. 642r–v, Sabadini’s letter from Parma, dated May 10, 1697: “In ordine a riveritissimi commandamenti dell’Altezza Vostra Serenissima dirò havermi detto qualche cosa il Tamburini circa l’essere stato richiesto dalli impresarii dell’opere di Milano e Brescia, a cui risposi che volevo parlassero con me per poterlo partecipare all’Altezza Vostra Serenissima, ma insino ad hora nessuno me n’ha fatto la richiesta. Dissi però all’hora al Tamburino che haverei stimato assai meglio per lui il stare appresso di me senza recita che l’havere la medema lontano da me, e potrebbe essere che facendosi opere questo Carnevale a Parma, come credo, havesse la recita e stasse vicino a me ancora, non volendo il mio Padrone Serenissimo per questo Carnevale darmi licenza, volendosi servire di me, sì che succendendo questo verrebbe nell’istesso tempo ad incontrare la soddisfatione intera di Vostra Altezza Serenissima, che sarebbe di recitare alla presenza di queste Altezze Serenissime e nell’istessa congiuntura non perderebbe la letione, che preme un poco più della recita.”

85 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 682, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated June 7, 1697: “In tal particolare non so se non molto ringratiarla che Lei mi abbia concesso al Duca del Sesto essendo la di lui generosità molto nota tra i musici, oltre al onore che averò di recitare in un teatro di Milano in compagnia di virtuosi di prima sfera, sapendo che vi deve recitare il famoso Pistocchino, servitore del Duca di Aspach, Niccolino detto de Branzvic, servitore del detto Duca di Aspach, il famoso Borini, virtuoso di Sua Maestà Cesarea che di presente recita in Bolognia, un tal Franceschini tenore del Duca di Modana e di donne la Tilla di Fiorenza, la Vittorina, virtuosa del Duca di Mantova e si crede la Brogina pur di Fiorenza.”

86 I-Fas, MP 5777, fol. 751r, Sabadini’s letter from Parma, dated May 31, 1697: “Havendomi fatto intendere il mio Serenissimo Padrone che per il Carnevale venturo non vuole concedermi licenza di poter andare a Roma, mi dà a credere che vogli servirsi di me, sì che crederei che infalibilmente facesse pure recitare il Tamburini servitore di Vostra Altezza Serenissima. Per meglio assicurarmi ho fatto capitare sotto gli occhi del Padrone Serenissimo la lettera di Vostra Altezza, e dal medemo ho ricavato che facendo qualche cosa, come credo certissimo, e ritrovandosi costì [sic] il Tamburini, si prevalerà del medemo.”

87 I-Fas, MP 5777, fol. 752r, draft response from Francesco Maria to Sabadini, dated June 8, 1697: “Mi recherò sempre ad honor singolare che codesti Serenissimi Principi si prevagliano del Tamburini ogni volta che lo giudichino atto a renderli serviti; e quando lo vogliano per la recita di qualche opera già Ella sa che l’animo mio è di concederlo liberamente; ma se poi volessero servirsene per solamente qualche cantata, oratorio o cosa simile, in tal caso amerei che egli fosse a recitare a Milano, secondo l’intenzione da me data al S. Duca del Sesto; onde Ella veda di non impegnarlo costì fuor del caso sudetto di qualche opera.”

88 I-Fas, MP 5777, fol. 842r–v, Sabadini’s letter from Parma, dated June 14, 1697: “Il benignissimo foglio dell’Altezza Vostra Reverendissima ho fatto di novo capitare sotto gl’occhi del mio Serenissimo Padrone, quale mi fa dire che vedendo con quanta bontà gl’esibisce il suo servitore Tamburini, si prevalerà del medesimo questo Carnovale con il farlo recitare nel suo teatrino in un opera che pensa di fare l’Altezza Serenissima, onde di buon core mi sono ancor io impegnato nel vedere adempita la mente dell’Altezza Vostra Reverendissima, quale dice di concorrere volentieri, quando habbi da servire questi Serenissimi in un opera, ma non già in cantata overo oratorio. Questa sera pure ho fatto che il sudetto Tamburini scrivi al Signore Duca del Sesto e si disimpegni con l’E. S. con il fargli sapere l’impegno contratto con questo Serenissimo. Godo nell’istesso tempo haver ubbidito l’Altezza Vostra Reverendissima e mi rallegro con l’istesso Tamburini che per quest’anno non vada a Milano, poiché andando, in prima era necessario facesse una 3a o 4a parte, e poi chi sa che qualità di parte gli poteva essere destinata, il che non succederà a Parma, mentre spero haverà campo di far honore a l’Altezza Vostra Reverendissima ed a se stesso. Insino ad hora non posso lamentarmi del sudetto Tamburini, e se seguita spero ne ricaverò qualche cosa di buono.”

89 I-Fas, MP 5777, fol. 913r, Sabadini’s letter from Parma, dated June 27, 1697: “Non ho mancato subito di far vedere il riveritissimo foglio di Vostra Altezza Reverendissima al Serenissimo Duca mio Signore quale ha infinitamente gradito la somma bontà di Vostra Altezza nel concedergli il Tamburini per il Carnovale venturo.”

90 I-Fas, MP 5835, no. 701, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated October 11, 1697: “Io poi non so esprimegrli [sic] quanta parsialità e premura habbi per me il mio mastro che io mi facci onore in queste commedie e perciò non tralascia modi veruni di farmi distinguere dall’altri con compormi dell’arie e aggiustarmi le parti del opere in bonissima forma.”

91 Kirkendale, The Court Musicians in Florence, 490.

92 I-Fas, MP 5781, fols. 792r-793 r, Sabadini’s letter from Parma, dated May 6, 1700: “Sono molti mesi che si vocifera ch’io dovessi portarmi a Madrid, per commando de miei Serenissimi Padroni, ma come erano chiamati molti altri virtuosi ancora, e poi si pose in silentio la partenza di questi, così ancora credevo fosse svanita la mia, e perciò non ho mai comunicato a Vostra Altezza Reverendissima questo affare. Hora finita la fiera di Piacenza tengho ordine di partire per quella corte e partendosi sabbato venturo per colà il Duca del Sesto, ho stimato proprio unirmi seco per il viaggio, conducendo ancora esso signor Duca Cortona. Non tralascio in tanto di parteciparlo a Vostra Altezza, acciò commandi cosa dovrà fare Tamburino, quale starà in mia casa sino agli ordini che gli verranno prescritti da Vostra Altezza. Io però come sempre ho nutrito un buon zelo per il detto Tamburini, direi con tutta riverenza che se Vostra Altezza lo appoggiasse sotto la direttione di Antonio Bissoni, che sta in Piacenza, non potrebbe fare se non bene, ed io medemo ho detto qualche cosa al sudetto Bissoni, quale haverebbe somma ambitione di ubbidire l’Altezza Vostra Serenissima e servire nel medemo tempo il Tamburini. Per più capi lo stimerei a proposito, prima per il cantare, e poi ancora per il suonare, havendo in casa il suo organista, che potrebbe insegnare al sudetto di suonare. Vi sarebbe ancora in Bologna il Perti, ed altri ancora, ma essendo città di molti passatempi, temo che poco applicarebbe alla virtù, essendo per altro Piacenza città più tosto di sollitudine che d’altro.” Tamburini traveled to Bologna in August of 1700 to begin his studies with Benati, which lasted at least through late 1703; see letters from Donato Legnani in Bologna to Cardinal Francesco Maria in I-Fas, MP 5781, fols. 1314r–v and MP 5785, fol. 1694r.

93 Payments for Tamburini’s travel, board, clothes, training, and other miscellaneous expenses from 1695 through 1705 are in ASF, CCSGB 173, fol. 155v; CCSGB 174, fols. 105v, 128r, 130r, 133r, 151r; CCSGB 175, fols. 121v, 122r, 125r.

94 I-Fas, MP 5791, fols. 103r–104r, Ferdinando Vincenzo Ranuzzi Cospi’s letter from Bologna, dated March 11, 1710: “Non ho maggior contento che in umiliare a Vostra Altezza i miei rispetti. Questo essercizio continuo della mia venerazione ha ora un impulso più preciso dall’occorso seguito nella Terra del Bagno mio feudo, sopra la persona di Giovanni Battista Tamburini, del Comune di Pietra Colora, trovato colà da sbirri in giorno di mercato con una pistola carica di canna, e con polvere sul focone, per cui giustamente carcerato, e riconosciuto munito d’una patente dell’Altezza Vostra, fu con giudizio, senza aggravii, fatto subito scarcerare da quel mio comissario.”

95 Barbier, The World of the Castrati, 124, 141–3; Heriot, The Castrati in Opera, 56–7; Mary E. Frandsen, “Eunuchi Conjugium: The Marriage of a Castrato in Early Modern Germany” Early Music History 24 (2005): 53–7.

96 See, for example, I-Fas, MP 5838, unn. fols., Tamburini’s letter from Turin, dated November 19, 1699: “La musicha [dell’opera L’incoronazione di Dario] è bellissima et io fo copiare arie, quali le manderò speditamente costà alla Gran Principessa.” Another interesting tidbit is in I-Fas, MP 5838, unn. fols., Tamburini’s letter of December 17, 1699: “Il duca di Sesto ha auto ordine di Spagnia di mandare colà molti musici con cantarine e in specie Cortona, Luigino che serve il duca di Modana e Buzzoleni che serve il imperatore, onde si crede che voglino introdurre l’opere in musica, e questo è manifattura di di [sic] Matteuccio di Napoli.”

97 I-Fas, MP 5836, no. 676, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated April 17, 1698: “È capitato da Venetia un moro di bellissima statura grande assai, sciente di moltissime lingue … e voleva il medesimo cavaliere farne regalo a me acciò poi lo mandassi a Lei”; see also no. 682, Tamburini’s letter from Parma, dated July 4, 1698: “In quest’ordinario ho molta scarzezza di nuove dar darli, solo mi occorre dirli che mi è capitato congiuntura di veder da un particolare moltissimi quadri, grandi e piccoli, bellissimi del Coreggio, de’ Caracioli, del Parmigianino, di Giulio Clovi, del Civetta, et altri autori insigni, fra l’altre un paesetto bellissimo del Brugola e di tutto questo gliene do avviso accaso che Lei o il Prencipe Ferdinando volessero applicare; a me darebbe l’animo farli aver a buonissimo prezzo cosa che non so se ad altri li bastasse l’animo prevalersi di questa bona congiuntura a cagione del bisogno che si ritrova questo padrone dei quadri.”

98 Vita del Principe Francesco Maria, 28–35. Francesca Fantappiè, “Per una rinnovata immagine dell’ultimo cardinale mediceo. Dall’epistolario di Francesco Maria Medici (1660–1711),” Archivio storico italiano 166, no. 3 (2008): 495–531, has filled out the formerly one-dimensional view of Francesco Maria as nothing more than a gadabout. His letters show that he was an astute politician, a highly respected cardinal, and an indefatigable advocate for the entire Medici family. This does not, however, negate the fact that he also appears to have thoroughly enjoyed life’s pleasures.

99 Freitas, Portrait of a Castrato, 217–9.

100 Leonardo Spinelli characterizes Tamburini as a “wild card” who could “plug the holes” in grand ducal entertainments when a substitute singer was needed. See his Il principe in fuga e la principessa straniera. Vita e teatro alla corte di Ferdinando de’ Medici e di Violante di Baviera, (1675–1731) (Florence: Le Lettere, 2010), 112.

Appendix: Tamburini Career Chronology

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