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Giusto Tenducci: Castrato, Celebrity...Scoundrel



Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci (1735 - 1790) was a celebrated castrato in 1760s Dublin who led a colourful life. People flocked to hear him perform and he counted Johann Christian Bach, Mozart and Thomas Arne among his illustrious admirers. He briefly taught singing to Mozart. However, it was for his relationship with his Irish singing student 15 year old Dorothea Maunsell, and their subsequent elopement and marriage, that gained Tenducci his greatest notoriety and, ultimately, a jail sentence in Cork.


In 1766 Tenducci appeared in Arne's opera 'Artaxerxes' in Dublin, and thrilled audiences with his rendition of the aria 'Water Parted from the Sea'. Such was the level of his celebrity that schoolchildren in the street took up the refrain "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". James Joyce quotes this in Finnegan's Wake.


'The Trials of Tenducci - A Castrato in Ireland' was released in 2021 by the Irish Baroque Orchestra, under the direction of Peter Whelan, IBO's Artistic Director, and with celebrated Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught portraying Tenducci. It features modern day premieres of orchestral music, songs and arias associated with Tenducci, and which were familiar to 18th century Irish audiences. Peter Whelan, speaking about the release of The Trials of Tenducci - A Castrato in Ireland says, "I am intrigued by Tenducci's story, his larger-than-life personality and his wide-reaching influence as a castrato on opera. We're thrilled to have our own Irish opera star Tara Erraught perform the songs and arias associated with Tenducci. I'd love these new recordings to whet people's interest in the music of mid-18th century Ireland during Tenducci's time here, his close artistic relationships with many composers, and the wonderful songs he popularised." The selection of recordings on The Trials of Tenducci - A Castrato in Ireland reflect Tenducci's musical connections with several composers.

These include: Pierre Van Maldere reputed as the first composer of symphonies in Dublin, Tommaso Giordani who taught John Field and composed and arranged operas for the Smock Alley and Crow Street Theatres, Johann Christian Fischer who performed with Bach and Tenducci, and who wrote a set of variations on the Irish folk song Gramachee Molly as the finale for his Seventh Oboe Concerto. We also hear two songs by Tommaso Giordani closely associated with Tenducci; Water parted from the sea by Thomas Arne; an arrangement of The Braes of Ballenden arranged by Johann Christian Bach which was a particular favourite of Tenducci.




Image: Tara Erraught and Peter Whelan, with Giusto Tenducci (Mark Stedman).

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