Dictionary of London Immigrants |||

1825-1861 - Haymarket (Westminster)

Singer Giovanni Battista Velluti, known as Giambattista, was born on 28 January 1780 in Pausula (renamed Corridonia by Benito Mussolini in 1931) in the Marche region. A temperamental and extrovert character (some singers refused to appear with him), he was the last of the great castrati. A local doctor castrated him at the age of eight apparently as treatment for a high fever. He became friends with Luigi Cardinal Chiaramonte, later Pope Pius VII, after singing a cantata sometime in his teenage years. He made his debut at Forli in 1800. The last great castrato roles were composed specifically for him: Arsace in Rossini’s Aureliano in Palmira (1813 - the singer enraged the composer at the liberties he took with his music) and Armando in Meyerbeer’s Il crociato in Egitto (1824).

Meyerbeer’s opera opened in London 1825. Giambattista was the first castrato to appear in the capital for twenty-five years. In 1826 he took over management of the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, but his career as a theatre manager ended following financial wrongdoings. Velluti was renowned for his sexual escapades to the astonishment of those who did not understand that the singer’s genitalia still functioned. Upon his retirement from the stage, castrati never again appeared on the stage of Europe’s opera houses. Velluti died in January 1861.

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