A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Carestini, Giovanni

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CARESTINI, Giovanni, one of the greatest of Italian singers, was born at Monte Filatrano, Ancona, about 1705. At the age of 12 he went to Milan, where he gained the protection of the Cusani family, in gratitude to whom he assumed the name of Cusanino. His voice, at first a powerful clear soprano, afterwards changed to the fullest, finest, and deepest contralto ever, perhaps, heard. His first appearance was at Rome 1721, in the female part of Costanza in Buononcini's 'Griselda.' In 1723 he sang at Prague, at the coronation of Charles VI as King of Bohemia. The following year he was at Mantua, and in 1725 sang for the first time at Venice in the 'Seleuco' of Zuccari, and in 1726 with Farinelli and Paita. In 1728 and 30 he visited Rome, singing in Vinci's 'Alessandro nell' Indie' and 'Artaserse.' Owen Swiny, happening to be in Italy with Lord Boyne and Mr. Walpole, wrote to Colman from Bologna, on July 12, 1730, mentioning letters which he had received from Handel, and goes on to say: 'I find that Senesino or Carestini are desired at 1200 guineas each, if they are to be had. I am sure that Carestini is engaged at Milan, and has been so for many months past.' Senesino was engaged for London on this occasion; but three years later Handel was more fortunate, and Carestini made his début here on Dec. 4, 1733, in 'Cajus Fabricius,' a pasticcio; and his magnificent voice and style enabled Handel to withstand the opposition, headed by Farinelli, at the other house. In 34 he sang in 'Ariadne,' 'Pastor Fido,' 'Parnasso in Festa,' 'Otho,' 'Terpsichore,' 'Deborah,' and 'Athaliah'; and the next season in 'Ariodante' and 'Alcina.' In the cast of the latter his name is spelt Carestino, as it is also by Colman. In 'Alcina' occurs the beautiful song 'Verdi prati,' which he sent back to the composer as not suited to him. Handel on this became furious, ran to the house of the singer, and addressed to him the following harangue: 'You tog! don't I know petter as yourseluf vaat es pest for you to sing! If you vill not sing all de song vaat I give you, I will not pay you ein stiver' (Burney). In 1735 Carestini left England for Venice, and for twenty years after continued to enjoy the highest reputation on the continent, singing at Berlin in 1750, 54, and 55. In 55 he was engaged at St. Petersburg, where he remained till 58, when he quitted the stage, to retire to his native country and enjoy a well-earned repose. Shortly after, he died. He was held in the highest esteem by Handel, Hasse, and other composers, in whose works he had sung. Quantz says: 'he had one of the strongest and most beautiful contralto voices, which extended from D (in the F clef) to G above the treble clef. He was also extremely perfect in passages which he executed with the chest-voice, according to the principles of the school of Bernacchi, and after the manner of Farinelli: in his ornaments he was bold and felicitous. He was also a very good actor; and his person was tall, handsome, and commanding. There is a good mezzotint of him by J. Faber, engraved in 1735 from a picture by George Knapton, of which a fine impression is now rare.

[ J. M. ]