Cuzzoni, Francesca (c. 1698–1770)

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Cuzzoni, Francesca (c. 1698–1770)

Italian soprano. Born in Parma, Italy, around 1698; died in Bologna in 1770; married Sandoni (a harpsichordist); studied with Lanzi.

Made debut in Parma (1716); made debut in London, creating Teofane in Handel's Ottone (1723); created several other Handel roles, including Rodelinda, Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare, Asteria in Tamerlano, and Lisaura in Allesandro.

In 1716, Francesca Cuzzoni made her debut in Parma. In 1722, after her Italian success, she arrived for a London engagement having married in transit the harpsichordist who had been sent to retrieve her. She scored a sensation in her 1723 London debut, creating the role of Teofane in Handel's Ottone. Though Cuzzoni was described physically as "short and squat" and of negligible acting ability, her voice was reputed to be of the highest quality. Joining Handel's Royal Academy company, she was its leading prima donna until the arrival of Faustina Bordoni in 1726. The subsequent rivalry, spurred on by a titillated public and eager press, culminated in a slugging match between the two divas during a performance of Bononcini's Astianatte in 1727. Soon after, Cuzzoni returned to Italy. Through the years, she made two more appearances in London, the last in 1750. By then, she was nearly voiceless and heavily in debt. It has been reported that she was bailed out of prison by the prince of Wales. After another incarceration in Holland, she returned to Italy and supported herself with button-making; she died in poverty in Bologna in 1770.