Antonia Merighi

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Antonia Merighi in a caricature by Antonio Maria Zanetti

Antonia Margherita Merighi (born Bologna – died by 1764) was an Italian contralto active between 1711 and 1744 and particularly known today for her performances in operas by George Frideric Handel.[1]


Antonia Merighi's initial career was in Italy, where for several years she was a virtuosa singer at the court of Violante Beatrice, Grand Princess of Tuscany and sang in theatres in Tuscany as well as in Venice, Parma, Turin, Mantua, Naples and her native Bologna, often in travesti roles. In Naples, she created the role of Iarba in the premiere of Domenico Sarro's Didone abbandonata (Teatro San Bartolomeo, 1 February 1724) and appeared in at least 18 other operas there.

She moved to London in 1729, where for two seasons, she sang in many of Handel's operas, sometimes in roles created for her by the composer (Matilda in Lotario, Rosmira in Partenope and Erissena in Poro), and sometimes in soprano parts from earlier operas adapted for her voice. She returned again to London in 1736 and in 1738 where she sang in the premieres of three more operas by Handel as well as in operas by other composers. She also sang in Handel's benefit concert at the King's Theatre in 1738. According to Winton Dean, her last opera performances appear to have been in Munich during the 1740 Carnival season.[2] After her retirement from the stage, she lived in Bologna. Merighi was married to the tenor Carlo Carlani (1716–1776).

Contemporary accounts[edit]

The Daily Courant of 2 July 1729 published names and descriptions of the new singers for Handel's 1729 season at the King's Theatre:

Mr. Handel, who is just returned from Italy, has contracted with the following persons to perform in the Italian opera: Sig. Bernacchi, who is esteemed the best singer in Italy; Signora Merighi, a woman of a very fine presence, an excellent actress, and a very good singer, with a counter-tenor voice ; Signora Strada, who hath a very fine treble voice, a person of singular merit; Sig. Annibale Pio Fabri, a most excellent tenor and a fine voice; his wife, performs a man's part exceedingly well; Signora Bertoldi, who is a very fine treble voice".[3]

Mary Delany, Handel's lifelong friend and supporter, was one of the few invited to the rehearsals for the 1729 season. In a letter to a friend, she wrote of his new singer:

La Merighi [...] her voice is not extraordinarily good or bad. She is tall, and has a very graceful person with a tolerable face. She seems to be a woman about forty; she sings easily and agreeably.[4]

When Merighi returned for the 1736 season after an absence of several years, Delany wrote:

Merighi — with no sound in her voice, but thundering action, a beauty with no other merit [5]

Merighi's acting ability (and that of the castrato, Nicolo Grimaldi) was also noted by Giambattista Mancini in his 1774 Pensieri e riflessioni pratiche sopra il canto figurato:

Nicola Grimaldi, alias Cavalier Niccolino, possessed the art of recitative and acting to such perfection that although he was very poor in other talents and did not have a beautiful voice, he became very singular. The same is true of Madame Merighi.[6]

Handelian roles[edit]

Antonia Merighi is known to have sung the following roles in Handel's operas performed at the King's Theatre in London:[7]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Her surname also appears in some sources as Merichi or Merigi. Her death is assumed to be in 1764 or earlier as that was the year her husband remarried. See Dean (2001) pp. 181-82
  2. ^ Dean (2001) pp. 181-82
  3. ^ Quoted in Delany p. 184.
  4. ^ Quoted in Streatfeild (1910) p. 111
  5. ^ Quoted in Streatfeild (1910) p. 139
  6. ^ Mancini (1774/1912) p. 177
  7. ^ List is based on Casaglia (2005).