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John Rosselli

(It.: ‘first musician’)

In the 17th century, Musico meant a professional singer or musician of either sex; it later came to mean a castrato. With the decline and then the disappearance of the operatic castrato after 1800, the practice of assigning a leading male part (primo uomo) to a high voice continued from about 1800 to 1850 with a woman singing in breeches, described as primo musico (or simply musico). As with the older primo uomo part for castrato, the primo musico role was usually that of a lover or aristocratic friend (such as Tancredi in Rossini’s opera or Maffio Orsini in Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia). A musico was often but not invariably a contralto or mezzo-soprano; Giulia Grisi had a contract as both prima donna and primo musico and demanded that it be rewritten to specify primo musico soprano (to Alessandro Lanari, 9 July 1830, I-Ms Coll. Casati 659)....