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A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Durastanti, Margherita

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DURASTANTI, Margherita, a prima donna at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket, during Handel's management. She was born about 1695, and, like Senesino, was engaged from the Dresden Theatre. She was a married woman when she came here, and the following quotation from the 'Evening Post' of March 7, 1721, shows that she soon acquired favour at court:—'Last Thursday, his Majesty was pleased to stand godfather, and the Princess and Lady Bruce godmothers to a daughter of Mrs. Durastanti, chief singer in the Opera-house. The Marquis Visconti for the King, and the Lady Litchfield for the Princess.' This was so unusual a favour, that it seems likely that either she or her husband was of a noble family. She had already appeared in 1720 in company with Senesino. Her popularity continued: in 1721 she played the principal female parts in 'Muzio Scevola'; in 'Arsace'; and in 'Odio e l'amore,' probably a pasticcio. On Jan. 12, 1723, the 'Otho,' or 'Ottone,' of Handel was produced, and Durastanti played Gismonda, but a formidable rival had appeared in Cuzzoni, who sang the principal part of Theophane. Durastanti, however, continued to sing through this and the next season, in spite of Cuzzoni, and performed in 'Flavio,' 'Coriolano,' 'Erminia,' and 'Farnace.' In 24 she played Sesto in 'Giulio Cesare,' and appeared also in 'Calfurnia' and 'Vespasiano.' She took her leave of the public at her farewell performance in 'Calfurnia,' in a song written by Pope for her—some say at the desire of her patron the Earl of Peterborough—which ended with this couplet,

    'But let old charmers yield to new;
     Happy soil, adieu, adieu!'

If she understood the meaning of the words, her modesty was astonishing, and sets a brilliant example to all singers. Durastanti returned to London in 1733, in company with Carestini, Scalzi, and the two sisters Negri, to help Handel to withstand the opposition of Cuzzoni and Farinelli at the other house. Against old Porpora, their composer in ordinary, Handel was strong enough to put on a bold front; not so his singers against the company commanded by Porpora. On Jan. 26,1734, Handel produced his 'Ariadne,' on March 11 'Parnasso in Festa,' and subsequently a revival of 'Ottone'; in all which Durastanti took her part. She never appeared again in England, nor is she mentioned as having appeared subsequently on any other stage. She seems to have been an estimable and faithful artist, and her popularity in London only yielded, as it might well do, to the exceptional powers of Cuzzoni.

[ J. M. ]