Giusto Fernando Tenducci

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Giusto Fernando Tenducci

Giusto Fernando Tenducci, sometimes called "il Senesino"[1] (ca. 1736 – 25 January 1790), was a soprano (castrato) opera singer and composer, who passed his career partly in Italy but chiefly in Britain.


Born in Siena in about 1736, Tenducci became a castrato, and he was trained at the Naples Conservatory. Castration was illegal in both Church and civil law, but the Roman Church employed castrati in many churches and in the Vatican until about 1902; and throughout the 17th and 18th centuries the public paid large sums of money to listen to the spectacular voices of castrati in the opera houses.

In 1753, when he was about seventeen, Tenducci made his professional opera debut in Venice, as Gasparo in Ferdinando Bertoni's Ginevra.

In 1757 and 1758 he was active at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples.

From 1758 to 1765 he was in London, where he was heard at both the King's Theatre and the Royal Opera House.

He then sang in Ireland, Scotland and Italy. In 1765 in Dublin he met Dorothea Maunsell, whom he married in 1766. In 1768 he returned to London from Edinburgh, where he remained for almost the rest of his life. He taught singing to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Paris in 1777–1778. Impressed with his teacher's singing abilities, Mozart wrote a concert aria for him which is now lost (K. 315b).

He returned to Italy just months before his death in January 1790 in Genoa.[2]

Marriage: 1766–1772[edit]

Although a castrato, Tenducci married 15-year-old Dorothea Maunsell in 1766. In 1772, that marriage was later annulled on the grounds of non-consummation or impotence, which was one of the few grounds that women could use to sue for divorce. However, Giacomo Casanova claimed in his autobiography that Dorothea gave birth to two children. His subsequent biographer Helen Berry was unable to corroborate this claim and suggests that they may have been the children of Dorothea's second husband, Robert Long Kingsman.[3]

Two portraits of Tenducci were painted by Thomas Gainsborough – one is now in the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in the University of Birmingham, the other was sold from the collection of Yves Saint Laurent.

Appearance in literature[edit]

In 1766, Tenducci sang the part of Arbaces in Arne's opera Artaxerxes in Dublin.[4] A group known as the "frolicsome Dublin boy" sang a song about him: "Tenducci was a piper's son/ and he was in love when he was young,/ and all the tunes that he could play/ was Water parted from the say." [5] James Joyce quoted and parodied that song in Finnegans Wake, II.3.[6]

Tenducci is mentioned in Robert Fergusson’s poem ‘The Canongate Playhouse in Ruins’; while in Edinburgh, Tenducci sang three songs with lyrics by Fergusson.[7]

Further reading

  • Helen Berry: The Castrato and His Wife: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011
  • D. Maunsell, True and genuine narrative
  • Patrick Barbier: The World of the Castrati: London: Souvenir Press, 1996
  • Angus Heriot, The Castrati in opera: London: Secker and Warburg, 1956
  • F. Habock, Die Kastraten und ihre Gesangkunst, 1927


  1. ^ Not to be confused with Francesco Bernardi, "Senesino" par excellence.
  2. ^ "Giusto Fernando Tenducci at". Archived from the original on 2012-04-01. Retrieved 2010-09-02.
  3. ^ "Picture of the Month September 2009 Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci [c.1773-5]". Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
  4. ^ English Minstrelsie, "Notes to Songs," p. v
  5. ^ English Minstrelsie, "Notes to Songs," p. v
  6. ^ Annotations on Finnegans Wake, p. 371
  7. ^ Fergusson, Robert, 1750-1774. (2000). Selected poems. Robertson, James, 1958-. Edinburgh: Birlinn. ISBN 1841580848. OCLC 45260235.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

External links[edit]