Senesino (real name, Francesco Bernardi)

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Senesino (real name, Francesco Bernardi)

Senesino (real name, Francesco Bernardi), celebrated Italian castrato alto who took his professional name from his birthplace; b. Siena, c. 1680; d. probably there, c. 1759. He began his career in Venice (1707–08). After singing in Bologna (1709) and Genoa (1709, 1712), he again appeared in Venice (1713–14); then sang in Naples (1715–16). In 1717 he was called to the Dresden court, where he was a prominent singer until he was dismissed for unconscionable behavior during a rehearsal in 1720. Handel heard him during a visit to Dresden, and engaged him for the Royal Academy of Music opera productions in London, where Senesino made his debut at the King’s Theatre on Nov. 19, 1720. He remained with the company until 1728, although his arrogance caused bitter disputes with Handel. After singing in Venice (1729), he was reengaged by Handel and Heidegger for the new Academy opera productions in London (1730–33). Senesino’s dislike for Handel prompted him to lend his support to the Opera of the Nobility, with which he was associated from 1733 to 1736. After appearances in Florence (1737–39), he retired from the operatic stage (1740). Although Senesino was personally disagreeable to many of his colleagues, there was no denying the greatness of his vocal abilities; indeed, in spite of their disagreements, Handel wrote no fewer than 17 roles for him.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire