Gabrielli, Caterina (1730–1796)

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Gabrielli, Caterina (1730–1796)

Italian soprano. Name variations: Catterina; La Cochetta or La Cochettina. Born in Rome on November 12, 1730; died in Rome in April 1796; daughter of a cook; studied with Garcia, Porpora, and Metastasio; sister of Francesca Gabrielli.

Caterina Gabrielli, the daughter of Prince Gabrielli's cook, was known as La Cochetta or Cochettina. When she was 14, the prince over-heard her singing a difficult song of Baldasare Galuppi's while walking in his garden. Under the prince's aegis, she became a pupil of Garcia and Porpora and made her triumphant debut at Lucca in 1747 in Galuppi's Sonfonisba. Beautiful, accomplished and capricious, she enjoyed further success in Naples in 1750, singing in Jomelli's Didone. In Vienna, she studied under Metastasio and charmed Francis I. Gabrielli was known for her bravura style and her many eccentricities.

In 1765, a very wealthy Gabrielli left Vienna for Sicily where she was imprisoned for 12 days by the king because she would not sing her role in an opera above a whisper. While incarcerated, she entertained, paid the debts of poor prisoners, and distributed gifts. The king had no choice but to set her free, and she became more popular than ever. From Sicily, she went to Parma; from Parma, she journeyed to Russia in 1768, where she asked for 5,000 ducats as salary at the court of Catherine II the Great . When an astonished Catherine replied that the sum was more than she paid a field marshal, Gabrielli replied: "Then let your field-marshals sing for you."

Gabrielli appeared in London for the 1775–76 season, but Londoners were wary of her unconventional behavior. Charles Burney thought her "the most intelligent and best bred virtuosa with whom he had ever conversed, not only on the subject of music, but on every subject concerning which a well-educated female, who had seen the world, might be expected to have information." She sang with Pacchierotti at Venice in 1777 and with Marchesi in Milan in 1780. Soon after, she retired in Rome with her sister Francesca Gabrielli , who had remained with her throughout her travels as seconda donna. Gabrielli died of a neglected cold in April 1796.