Great Singers, First Series eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 150 pages of information about Great Singers, First Series.

III.

Among the remarkable male singers of Gabrielli’s time was Caffarelli, whom his friends indeed declared to be no less great than Farinelli.  Though never closely associated with La Cuochet-tina in her stage triumphs (a fact perhaps fortunate for the cantatrice), he must be regarded as one of the representative artists of the period when she was in the full-blown and insolent prime of her beauty and reputation.  Born in 1703, of humble Neapolitan parentage, he became a pupil of Porpora at an early age.  The great singing-master is said to have taught him in a peculiar fashion.  For five years he permitted him to sing nothing but scales and exercises.  In the sixth year Porpora instructed him in declamation, pronunciation, and articulation.  Caffarelli, at the end of the sixth year, supposing he had just mastered the rudiments, began to murmur, when he was amazed by Porpora’s answer:  “Young man, you may now leave me; you are the greatest singer in the world, and you have nothing more to learn from me.”  Hogarth discredits this story, on the ground that “none but a plodding drudge without a spark of genius could have submitted to a process which would have been too much for the patient endurance even of a Russian serf; or if a single spark had existed at first, it must have been extinguished by so barbarous a treatment.”  Caffarelli did not rise to the height of his fame rapidly, and, when he went to London to supply the place of Farinelli in 1738, he entirely failed to please the English public, who had gone wild with enthusiasm over his predecessor.  Farinelli’s retirement from the artistic world about this period removed from Caffarelli’s way the only rival who could have snatched from him the laurels he soon acquired as the leading male singer of the age.  After Caffarelli’s return from England, his engagements in Turin, Genoa, Milan, and Florence were a triumphal progress.  At Turin he sang before the Prince and Princess of Sardinia, the latter of whom had been a pupil of Farinelli, as she was a Spanish princess.  Caffarelli, on being told that the royal lady had a prejudice in favor of her old master, said haughtily, “To-night she shall hear two Farinellis in one,” and exerted his faculties so successfully as to produce acclamations of delight and astonishment.  He always seems to have had great jealousy of the fame of Farinelli, and the latter entertained much curiosity about his successor in public esteem.  Metas-tasio, the friend of the retired artist, wrote to him in 1749 from Vienna about Caffarelli’s reception:  “You will be curious to know how Caffarelli has been received.  The wonders related of him by his adherents had excited expectations of something above humanity.”  After summing up the judgments of the critics who were severe on Caffarelli’s faults, that his voice was “false, screaming, and disobedient,” that his singing was full of “antique and stale flourishes,” that “in his recitative he was an old nun,” and that in all that he sang there was “a whimsical tone of lamentation sufficient to sour the gayest allegro,” Metastasio says that in his happy moments he could please excessively, but the caprices of his voice and temper made these happy moments very uncertain.

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Great Singers, First Series from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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