GIROLOMO CRESCENTINI - CASTRATO & COMPOSER
Phone: 212-860-5541 * Fax: 917-677-8247
An extraordinary two-page autographed letter of appeal for a pupil which launched a series of both scandalous and fortunate events. The letter comes with an attached address panel by the legendary castrato, composer and pedagogue to the poet and author, Marchesa Orintia Romagnoli Sacrati (Sagrati), Naples, December 18, 1828.
Madame La Marquesa Sagrati
Precious Mrs. Marchesa,
In the circumstance that Mrs. Lina Freppa leaves from Naples, she begs to ask her honest and good family to her allow her to go to France for an indefinite time, in order to see to the repair of heavy losses that her Consort unfortunately and involuntarily has suffered in commerce. I wanted to write a letter for you Dear Madam Marchesa to ask you to help her do some good by making you aware of this knowledge, as not so much the friendship that binds me to this good and respectable family, but how much the rare gift and the sublime talent that Mrs. Lina has for music makes me grateful to tell her with the heart of my heart to do what she has to do. Together with the help of Madame who has made infinite raptures of her performances and she deserves to be helped always and particularly at this moment that she is going to undertake the next steps of her musical career. Which I hope with her singing and her ability to play the pianoforte, combined with her fine education, will allow her to sell herself quickly.
Every attention that you Most Precious Madame Marquesa will make to act on this recommendation, I will look at it as a brand of your good thoughts for me as well as a confirmation of the generous feelings of your beautiful soul always as you have done in the past to protect and favor honest people, under whose auspices you will have to regain my aforementioned recommendation. So please protect her and assist her with all your care, be that I am sure that you will appreciate all the satisfaction in having not only accepted my recommended request but also granted her benefits to it.
I hope that the greetings from you are in perfect standing, which will make me really happy to have your blessing by means of your prayers for me.
You honor me with your venerable commands, and believe me and the sentiments of my highest esteem and veneration.
You are very kind and most valuable Mrs. Marchesa,
Naples 18 December, 1828
Your most highly devoted and obedient Servant
Cav Girolamo Crescentini
Crescentini writes a letter on behalf of his pupil, Lina Freppa (1803-1870) the daughter of Marshal Joseph Cottrau and his wife, the Countess Adelaide Girault d’Egrefeuille which led to a series of events which could only be described as operatic. Freppa was born Jeanne Nicoline Cottrau in Paris, one of seven children and raised in Naples where her father was a Field Marshal and Councilor to Joachim Murat; Napoleon’s appointed King of Naples. In her father’s capacity as Secretary of the Accademia di Belle Arti their home was constantly filled with important artists, composers and musicians of the day. One of those musicians, the revered castrato Girolomo Crescentini, took her elder brother, Guillaume as a pupil. Guillaume became a composer and arranger, particularly of Neapolitan songs and a partner in the French publishing house B. Girard which he directed from 1828-1846. Lina showed musical promise and was also sent to Crescentini to study voice and piano. She met Giovanni Freppa, a man from poor circumstances who arrived in Naples as a painter, sold firewood and coal for a living and on the side was a singer-pianist. She married Freppa around 1824, which likely was a problem for her parents, as he was a man much below her station. By 1828, she was ready to make her debut as a professional singer and her husband conversely was a mess; bankrupt and was known as a libertine having numerous affairs. Dr. Michele Monseratti describes Freppa in his 2005 book, Le cognizioni intuili: saggio su Lo spettatore fiorentino di Giacomo Leopardi in translation, …..of the time Freppa became known as an infected man in that genus and very dedicated to the game of advantage, to libertinage and to join with the gallant intertwining of the ladies, called of good thunder…..
Crescentini wrote the above letter to his friend, Marchesa Orintia Romagnoli Sacrati (1762-1834). She was a published author and poet, well connected, wealthy and considered a liberal and scandalous. By this point however, she was old and wheelchair bound. His letter in his flowery roundabout way boils down to a request to give Lina introductions to her connections in France. (The Cottraus’s had been out of Paris at this point for many years.)
Giovanni Freppa must have been entirely aware of the letter and within days, snuck into Florence in the dead of night and arrived at the Marchesa’s home where he soon became her lover, was set up in a nearby studio to paint and a few years later, her sole heir. Depressed by the state of her marriage and her husbands liason with the Marchesa, Lina and her mother left Naples in 1829 and returned to Paris. This was a huge scandal with the local aristocracy at the time, but nothing new for the Marchesa. For those who queried her about Freppa, she would tell them he was her “house guest”. A “house guest” who hung around for 5 years until her death. Lina, a great beauty and without a need for money, successfully established herself as a singer and voice teacher in Paris in an apartment at the edge of the rues Faubourg and St. Germaine where she taught and held salons. Good fortune would shortly come her way!
Vincenzo Bellini knew the Cottrau family from his Conservatory days in Naples where he and Lina’s elder brother Gillaume were both students of composer Niccolo Zingarelli. He visited her when he came to Paris in 1833 and when she invited him to her next salon, he brought along his friend Frederic Chopin. The pair for months regularly accompanied her on the piano where she sang the latest Neapolitan songs composed, or published by her brother as well as Italian and French arias. By 1834, the Bellini and Chopin’s friends Franz Liszt and Ferdinand Hiller also attended her salons. Lina became a muse to Chopin, completely smitten, he wrote and dedicated his 4 Mazurkas op. 17 to her. As Lina and Giovanni, both Catholics never actually divorced, Chopin’s relationship with her was scandalous and Chopin’s father felt obliged to write to him, Just take care of yourself dear child, a young man can easily err…..be always circumspect and give no course for errors. Liszt, was also enchanted with Freppa and she sent him to her brother when he went to Naples on his “pilgrimage” in 1837. Liszt used her brother Guillaume’s themes for his fiendishly difficult “Tarantella Napoletana” in his “Années de pèlerinage, Deuxième année: Italie, Venezia e Napoli" . In 1833, her teacher, Crescentini dedicated his method, “20 Leçons de Chant” to her and a few years later, Donizetti dedicated his free-standing aria, “N’ornerà la Bruna Chioma” to Lina.
Post script: After the Marchesa’s death in 1834, Giovanni Freppa as her sole heir had her buried in the cloister of the Basilica Santa Croce. Now flush with his inheritance and bored, Freppa established himself first as a publisher with the philosopher Giacomo Leopardi which ended at the philosopher’s death in 1837. He then went to work as an antiques dealer and ran as we now know an operation on the fringe of legitimacy and by the late 1850’s, he conspired with the sculptor Giovanni Bastianini and Majolica plate maker Francesco Giusti to sell forged Renaissance artwork. Bastianini’s sculptures fooled the most important museums in Europe and Freppa sold them to every important museum in Europe, from the Louvre to the National Gallery in London. The first discovery of the forgery scheme was by a private customer and involved Giusti’s plates and was called the Benivieni Affair. When that forgery came to light, the entire scheme unraveled for everything sold by Freppa and was called, The Freppa Scandal.
Also, as an interesting factoid, the future murderous aristocrat, Marie La Farge, who was the first criminal prosecuted with scientific forensic evidence was Lina’s vocal pupil. La Farge while in prison, wrote of her studies with the soprano in her autobiography.
Bizarrely, both Giovanni and Lina separated for 41 years, passed in the same year, 1870.
Girolamo Crescentini (1762-1846) is considered by many to be the greatest castrato after Farinelli. He studied in Bologna with the composer and singer Lorenzo Gibelli (1718-1812). Crescentini was subjected to castration to preserve his soprano voice prior to puberty. He made his opera debut in Padua in 1782 in the title role of Sarti’s opera "Didone Abbandonata". The same year he created the title role of Adriano in Cherubini's opera "Adriano in Siria". Cherubini also wrote the opera "Artserse" for Crescentini.
He arrived in London in 1785 and received a variety of positive and negative reviews from the press and by choice never sung there again.
The castrato next appeared in the Italian cities of Milan, Leghorn, Padua, Venice and Turin. His La Scala debut occurred on December 26, 1785 in the World Premiere of Rispoli's Opera "Ipermestre" as Linceo and the title role of Tarchi's opera "Ariarte". He then spent two seasons at the San Carlo in Naples 1787-1789 singing the lead male roles in all ten of the operas presented. He sung two World Premiers in the two seasons, Ippolito in Paisiello's "Fedra" and Giulio Cesare in the same composer's opera "Catone in Utica". Crescentini appeared at the Teatro Argentina in Rome in 1791 and 1793, and spent the season in Venice in 1794.
In 1796 he made his most important creation, Romeo in Zingarelli's "Giulietta e Romeo" at La Scala, but not before writing an additional aria for himself entitled, " Ombra Adorata Aspetta” which became known as “Romeo's Prayer”. He performed the opera throughout Europe. From 1797 to 1801 he was in Lisbon as Director of the Teatro São Carlo. In 1798 he created the title role of Cimarosa's opera "Gli Orazi e i Curiazi" at La Scala and he toured this opera throughout Europe. The same season he created the title role of Zingarelli's opera "Meleagro" in the La Scala world premiere. He did not appear at La Scala again until 1804, where he created the title role in Mayr's "Alonso e Cora". His final bow at La Scala was the same season as Romeo.
Maria Teresa, the Queen of Austria, hired Crescentini to become the Court Sopranist and music professor to her children. In Vienna, he sung concerts at court, throughout the city and in opera. After the Battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon heard Crescentini sing “Romeo's Prayer” and wept. For Crescentini’s moving performance, he awarded the castrato The Order of the Iron Crown, causing a problem with the Parisians as it was an Italian order. Further, Napoleon through intermediaries offered the singer a huge salary to move to Paris. While in Paris, Crescentini not only performed, but was named a Professor at the Conservatoire. He retired from the stage in 1812 due to a decline in his voice and moved to Bologna and taught at the Liceo Musicale, then on to Rome to St. Cecilia and in 1825, Naples, where he was appointed Professor at the Real Collegio di Musica.
While a Professor in Italy, Crescentini was one of the most influential pedagogues, for both singers and composers. His lessons in the beauty of the legato line and his dislike of the cabaletta established the early roots of Bel Canto. His method, Raccolata di ejercizi per il canto published in 1811 found acolytes in Gioacchino Rossini and Vincenzo Bellini while conservatory students. Rossini later rejected the castrato voice and changed opera while doing so. Crescentini also published numerous other methods, vocal exercises and solfege books during his life. The famous French writer Maurice-Henri Beyle, known by his pen name Stendahl wrote in his book, The Life of Rossini in 1824, But I know already, without this additional proof, that France could produce voices as exquisite as any in the world; the trouble is that our teachers of singing are no Crescentinis…
As a composer, Crescentini was perhaps most famous for the arias, ariettas, chamber cantatas with orchestra as well as vocalises for his own performance and that of his students. Most of his compositions were written after 1797; some were published, others have been lost to time.
His pupils included singers, soprano Isabella Colbran (Rossini’s first wife), contralto Giuseppina Grassini, castrato Luigi Rottelini, soprano Lina Cottrau Freppa, Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma (Napoloeon’s 2nd wife) and tenor Raffaelle Mirate. Composers included, Guillaume Cottrau, Alexis de Garaudé and Giacinto Marras, and conductor, Michael Costa. Several important singers of the day well into their careers sought his advice and studied with him including, tenor Giacomo David and sopranos Giuditta Pasta and Angelica Catalani.