Margherita Durastanti or the Love of Singing

LA Cantarina: The story of an almost forgotten SINGING Artist...

 …IS THE FINAL GOAL OF THIS WEBSITE and I'm already writing fictional stories (and a  play is planned) about her, as fiction is the only way to make her personality come to life. On this website, though, I'm devoting myself to the facts...

If you want to read fiction you are invited to visit my other blog: https://baroque35.wordpress.com/

I also wrote an essay, in which she features: https://www.academia.edu/25722552/A_writers_perspectives_on_Handels_life

There is another essay, specifically about her, in the making!

 

She was a great European stage personality of the early 18th century – a fantastic singer and a brilliant actor.  She had a dark soprano, which over the years lowered to a mezzosporano, could sing chromatically, and was able to manage dissonant leaps and pauses with difficult re-entries. This enabled her to sing in very dramatic terms and to evoke various and/or strong emotions in an aria or a cantata. A great example is the cantata "La Lucrezia" by G.F. Handel. As C. Steven LaRue (cf. "Handel and his Singers", The Creation of the Royal Academy Operas 1720-1728, 1995) says it, she must have been a great musician as well.

The only contemporary artist to have focused on arias sung by Margherita was the late Lorraine Hunt with Nicholas McGegan (see: Arias for Durastanti, harmonia mundi, 1991, re-issued 2008), but this was twenty years ago, a long time has passed since. It may be that she is being more and more forgotten and will soon be only known to a small circle of musical historians. I hope not - hence this website!  You will see, there are quite a few arias eligible for another CD...

From all I can say at this point, Margherita’s career was strongly affiliated with George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). They worked closely together in Rome from 1706 to 1708. Like Handel she was in touch with Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725). She sang in his operas in Napels (1715/16).  However, other composers might have influenced her career decisively:  Attilio Ariosti for example, who was also in court service in Mantua (but before she started there) and later wrote "Il Corioliano", an opera in which she starred and which contributed to her fame in London, or Antonio Caldara, who was court composer in Mantua, too, and later was employed in Rome.

Her collaboration with Handel spans over almost 30 years, from 1706, when he had just come to Italy, until 1734, when she sang for him for the last time in London at a point of crisis (but with considerable success!).

 

It seems impossible to find information about Margherita’s childhood and youth at this stage, so I will start with a list of works we know she sang…

 

All comments and information on Margherita are very welcome and most appreciated!

MYSTERIES

300 years and more have left plenty of questions and mysteries to be solved.

Tracing the lives of artists who lived several hundred years ago is like a detective story. You've got only limited information here and there about one composer, while other sources reveal information about a particular singer. And slowly you feel there must be a link between them, even if there are no facts to prove it.

The latest collection of documents about Handel ("Collected Documents", by Burrows, Coffey, Greencombe, and Hicks: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=D-ycAwAAQBAJ&dq=Complete+documents+Handel&source=gbs_navlinks_s) allows to recreate her life better, at least her time in Rome and London. The other very useful source is the collection of letters by the librettist Rolli.

NAMES

La Cantarina ("canterina" means "enthusiastically singing lady") is the name by which she is referred to in the Ruspoli (her patron in Rome) account books: the female singer, so to speak.

There are two spellings of her real name: "Durastante" (in the Ruspoli books and in some cast lists) and "Durastanti" (in the majority of cast lists and always in London, except in letters). One version might be an old spelling, while other one (Durastanti) is the more modern one. She signed receipts in both spelling variants. Her first name is sometimes written as Margarita.

In his autobiography, composer Georg Philipp Telemann recalls his stay in Dresden and remembers Margherita as the “Gräfinn” or in English “Countess” (see Georg Philipp Telemann: “Singen ist das Fundament zur Musik in allen Dingen”, Eine Dokumentensammlung, ed. by the publishing house Heinrichshofen, Wilhelmshaven, 1981, page 207). This may be connected to her husband's title.

 

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© Anita Sikora

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