A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Guadagni, Gaetano

1504657A Dictionary of Music and Musicians — Guadagni, GaetanoJulian Marshall


GUADAGNI, Gaetano, one of the most famous male contralti of the last century, was born at Lodi[1] about 1725 (Fétis) or, perhaps, later. Nothing is known of his early history. In 1747 he was singing at Parma: in 48 he came, very young, to London as 'serious man' in a burletta troupe, with Pertici, Laschi, Frasi, etc. 'His voice attracted the notice of Handel, who assigned him the parts in the Messiah and Samson, which had been originally composed for Mrs. Cibber,[2] in the studying which parts,' says Burney, 'he applied to me for assistance. During his first residence in England, which was four or five years, he was more noticed in singing English than Italian. He quitted London about 1753.' A year later he sang at Paris and Versailles, after which he went to Lisbon to ing under Gizziello, and in 1755 narrowly escaped destruction during the earthquake. To Gizziello he owed much of his improvement and refinement of singing. His ideas of acting were derived much earlier from Garrick, who took as much pleasure in forming him as an actor (for 'The Fairies' of Smith), as Gizziello did afterwards in polishing his style of vocalisation. After leaving Portugal, he acquired great reputation in all the principal theatres of Italy. There he sang the part of 'Telemaco,' written for him by Gluck, who procured his engagement in 1766 at Vienna, as 'Orfeo.' Having excited both admiration and disturbance in that capital, he returned to London in 1769. ' As an actor he seems to have had no equal on any operatic stage in Europe: his figure was uncommonly elegant and noble; his countenance replete with beauty, intelligence, and dignity; and his attitudes and gestures were so full of grace and propriety, that they would have been excellent studies for a statuary. But, though his manner of singing was perfectly delicate, polished, and refined, his voice seemed, at first, to disappoint every hearer, for he had now changed it to a soprano, and extended its compass from six or seven notes to fourteen or fifteen' (Burney). The same writer gives a curious criticism of his style, too long to quote here, from which it appears that he produced his best effects by singing unaccompanied and by fining off his notes to a thread. He had strong resentments and high notions of his own importance, which made him many enemies. He sang under J. C. Bach in the Lent of 1770, and later in the same year was heard at Verona by the Electress of Saxe, who brought him to Munich, where he remained in great favour with the Elector till the death of that prince. In 1766 he sang at Potsdam before Frederick II, who gave him a handsome gold snuffbox studded with brilliants,—the finest he had ever given. In 1777 he returned to Padua. There Lord Mount-Edgcumbe heard him (1784) in a motetto, and found his voice still full and well-toned, and his style excellent. He insisted on Lord Mount-Edgcumbe going to his house, where he entertained him with fantoccini, which he exhibited on a little stage, and in which he took great delight. This writer puts his death in the next year, 1785; but Fétis fixes it much later, in 1797. He died possessed of considerable wealth, which he spent liberally and charitably.
[ J. M. ]
  1. Or Vicenza (Burney).
  2. He sang also in 'Theodora' (1750).