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Caffarelli [Cafariello, Cafarellino, Gaffarello] [Majorano, Gaetano ]locked

  • Winton Dean

(b Bitonto, April 12, 1710; d Naples, Jan 31, 1783). Italian mezzo-soprano castrato. After studying under Porpora at Naples, he made his début at Rome in 1726, in a female part in Sarro’s Valdemaro. His success was rapid: he sang in Venice, Turin, Milan and Florence before returning to Rome in 1730 as chamber virtuoso to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. He enjoyed a triumph in Hasse’s Cajo Fabricio and Porpora’s Germanico in Germania in 1732. After singing in Pistoia, Genoa, Venice, Milan and Bologna (1730–33), he made his Naples début in Leo’s Il castello d’Atlante (1734), and settled there in a post in the royal chapel. Over the next 20 years he appeared at Naples in operas by Pergolesi, Porpora, Hasse, Perez, Leo, Latilla, Sarro, Vinci, Cocchi, Abos and others, and latterly (1751–3) in Traetta’s Farnace, Giuseppe Conti’s Attalo rè di Bitinia, Gluck’s La clemenza di Tito and Lampugnani’s Didone.

He appeared frequently elsewhere, in Rome again in 1735, Milan in 1736 and London in 1737–8, when he made his début at the King’s Theatre in the pasticcio Arsace and created the title roles in Handel’s Faramondo and Serse. He also appeared in Madrid by royal invitation in 1739, and in the late 1740s and early 1750s in Florence (where Horace Mann thought he sang ‘most divinely well’ in an anonymous Caio Mario), Genoa, Rome, Vienna (where his performance in Jommelli’s Achille in Sciro was the subject of barbed criticism from Metastasio in letters to Farinelli), Turin, Venice, Lucca and Modena. In 1753 Louis XV invited him to Versailles and he remained in France until 1754, singing in several works by Hasse, but left under a cloud after seriously wounding a poet in a duel.

Caffarelli made his last Italian operatic appearances at Rome and Naples in 1754. In 1755 he was engaged for Lisbon, where he sang in four operas, three of them by Perez. He visited Madrid in 1756 and spent some time with Farinelli, before returning to Naples and retiring from the stage (though he continued to sing in cantatas and serenatas). In 1763 he refused an invitation to manage the S Carlo theatre. He was a favourite with royal families everywhere and amassed a substantial fortune, with which he bought himself a dukedom, an estate in Calabria and a palace in Naples. In 1770 Burney recognized signs ‘of his having been an amazing fine singer’.

Caffarelli’s voice was a high mezzo-soprano. The compass in the two parts Handel wrote for him is b to a″. By many judges he was ranked second only to Farinelli, and by some above him. According to Burney, ‘Porpora, who hated him for his insolence, used to say, that he was the greatest singer Italy had ever produced’.

Grimm reported from Paris:

It would be difficult to give any idea of the degree of perfection to which this singer has brought his art. All the charms and love that can make up the idea of an angelic voice, and which form the character of his, added to the finest execution, and to surprising facility and precision, exercise an enchantment over the senses and the heart, which even those least sensible to music would find it hard to resist.

Caffarelli’s principal enemy was his own temperament; he was notorious for overbearing arrogance both to fellow artists and to the public. He had spells under house arrest and in prison, for assault, misconduct at a performance (of Latilla’s Olimpia nell’isola d’Ebuda, 1741), when he indulged in indecent gestures and mimicry of other singers, and for humiliating a prima donna in Hasse’s Antigono (1745). He was constantly late for concerts and rehearsals, and sometimes failed to turn up. He is said to have mellowed in old age and given large sums to charity; Burney was charmed by his politeness.


  • ES (A. Della Corte)
  • E. Faustini-Fasini: ‘Gli astri maggiori del bel canto napoletano: Gaetano Majorano detto “Calfarelli”’, NA, 15 (1938), 121–8, 157–70, 258–70
A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800 (Carbondale, IL, 1973-93)
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