Castrato singer Senesino was born Francesco Bernardi in 1686 in Sienna, the son of a barber. He started in the Sienna Cathedral choir, made his stage debut in Venice in 1707, and by 1717 was creating a sensation whilst singing in Dresden. He joined Handel’s Royal Academy of Music at Cannons House, Little Stanmore, in 1720.
He is the castrato most associated with Handel’s opera seria and created seventeen leading roles for the composer. He also sang in eight of Bononcini’s operas and in seven by Ariosto. Senesino’s engagement with the Royal Academy coincided with that of the ‘Rival Queens’ (the sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni), but his personal relationship with Handel was never an easy one.
When the rival Opera of the Nobility started in 1733 Senesino went to join them and got the opportunity to sing with the other great castrato of the age, Farinelli. Senesino left England three years later, singing in Florence and Naples before retiring to Sienna. He died in 1758.