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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 17 (2011) No. 1

Published 2015

Sirens on the Danube: Giulia Masotti and Women Singers at the Imperial Court

Janet K. Page*

1. Introduction

2. From Venice to Vienna: Giulia Enters Imperial Service

3. Female Musicians at the Imperial Court

4. Giulia and Music at the Imperial Court

5. Marriage, Motherhood, Widowhood, and Imperial Service

6. Giulia’s Legacy

7. The Habsburg Court and a Prima Donna’s Career



  • Example 1: Draghi, Il ratto delle Sabine, “Già di Marte”
  • Example 2: Draghi, Il ratto delle Sabine, “Vaga pace”
  • Example 3: Draghi, Il ratto delle Sabine, “E del figlio di Citera”


  • Table 1: Female Professional Musicians


1. Introduction

1.1 Vincenza Giulia Masotti was one of the finest singers of her time, “the most superb woman in the world,” as the singer Nicola Coresi described her in 1665.[1] Her voice, wrote one eloquent admirer, was “infused by nectar purified in the foundry of the Graces.”[2] The object of intense bargaining wars among the Venetian theaters in the 1660s and early 1670s (the negotiations are described in Beth Glixon’s article in this volume), she opened the door to astronomical salaries for prima donnas, matching those of the castrati.[3] Masotti exercised extraordinary power—demanding, and getting, the largest part, winning the right to examine the music before agreeing to sing, and having her salary assured. Her tastes and demands influenced operatic repertoire and even the construction of individual operas (as Valeria De Lucca and Beth Glixon tell us in this volume). A star singer was responsible for an opera’s success,[4] and Giulia raised this responsibility to an art.

1.2 In 1673 the singer, then in her mid-twenties, left all this behind and moved to Vienna, where she remained for the rest of her life, with occasional visits to Italy.[5] Some of her reasons for abandoning a spectacular operatic career can be guessed: an exhausting schedule of travel and performance; the wearing process of negotiation; and persistent ill health, detailed in intimate letters to Cardinal Sigismondo Chigi (the letters are examined by Colleen Reardon in this volume).[6] As this article reveals, the possibilities of greater security, a more varied career, and social advancement likely also influenced her decision.

1.3 Initially appointed chamber musician to the court of Empress Claudia Felicitas, Giulia entered a very different musical environment, one in which female singers had little public presence and did not usually appear on the opera stage. Even so, the Habsburg court teemed with music. Musical accomplishment was considered a badge of nobility, an aural representation of the harmony of the world embodied by the Habsburgs as rulers; members of the imperial family promoted music as a reflection of their public image, and themselves sang, played, and composed.[7] The court’s large musical establishment included many women, mostly wives or daughters of court musicians, who were paid for musical services. Giulia, employed in her own right, was something of an anomaly, and her career throws into relief seventeenth-century employment practices for female musicians.

2. From Venice to Vienna: Giulia Enters Imperial Service

2.1 Creating a living Wunderkammer, that fashionable accoutrement of Germanic (and other) courts, the Habsburgs “collected” some of the most sought-after singers of the age. Giulia was first sought for the court of Margarita Teresa of Spain, first wife of Emperor Leopold I.[8] At the time of Margarita Teresa’s marriage, in 1666, Antonio Cesti, then director of theatrical music at the Viennese court, hinted to Marco Faustini in Venice that he should not count on having the prima donna, as she was to be offered a position in the empress’s service.[9] But this did not come to pass, perhaps because Giulia was not yet ready to relinquish her stage career or because Margarita Teresa, who “always wanted to hear Spanish music,”[10] preferred a musician from her native country; the musico Jaime Richas served in her Spanish household, the only professional musician to be an official member of her personal court.[11] Once singers had been tempted to the imperial court, Emperor Leopold did not like to lend them out, a situation of which Giulia was probably well aware.[12]

2.2 Margarita Teresa died in March 1673, and the emperor chose a new bride, Claudia Felicitas, a member of the Tyrolian branch of the Habsburg family. Giulia traveled to Innsbruck, the bride’s home, to take part in the festivities surrounding the official announcement of the imperial engagement. The long day of ceremonial, September 5, 1673, concluded with an entertainment, which unfolded in the courtyard of the Neue Burg, the musicians entering on a grand, decorated conveyance.[13] According to an anonymous Breve descrizzione del viaggio, et arrivo in Gratz della Maestà dell’Imperatrice Claudia Felice, “the happy day closed with the sweet sounds of a serenade of instruments and exquisite voices, the highlight of which was the singing of the famous Signora Giulia Romana, who has combined diligent study with her great natural talent, reawakening on the banks of the Tiber the fabled memories of the ancient Sirens, of whom it is said that through the sweetness of their singing they captured more in their time than all the pirates of Africa could capture today.”[14]

2.3 Innsbruck, closer to Venice than to Vienna (less than 40 km south of Innsbruck, just over the Brenner pass, lay Venetian territory), had been a northern showplace for Italian opera under the rule of Claudia Felicitas’s father, Archduke Ferdinand Karl, and that of his brother and successor Siegmund Franz. When the latter died in 1665, the Italian operatic establishment was disbanded and many of the musicians were hired by the emperor. Among those active in Innsbruck had been Antonio Cesti and the librettist Giovanni Filippo Apolloni, later Giulia’s close associate;[15] Ferdinand Karl had built an opera house in the Venetian style, and Cesti’s famous La Dori, an opera with which Giulia became closely associated, had received its premiere there.[16] Although music languished in Innsbruck after the death of Siegmund Franz, some thread of this web of relationships seems to have remained.

2.4 The wedding of Claudia Felicitas and Emperor Leopold took place in Graz on October 15, 1673, and a reference in the court accounts, dated Graz, October 29, 1673, authorizes “eine Musicantin Julia” to use a sedan chair, together with a carriage and four horses for her servants and necessary goods, for her journey to Vienna. Several other new members of the household received the same accommodation, including the empress’s music master Antonio Maria Viviani, who accompanied her from Innsbruck.[17] Giulia arrived by early December—she received a gift on St. Nicholas’s day, December 6[18]—joining the household of the new empress, to serve “in dennen Cammer musicalib[us].”[19] In Vienna, Giulia was paid a salary of 1,500 florins yearly[20]—not an astronomical sum, but more than most other musicians, and she received perks such as firewood and medicine, as well as gifts of money, luxury foods, and household goods.[21] She also found some familiar company: the soprano Antonio Pancotti had appeared in La Dori with her at S. Luca in 1662/63; the basses Angelo Maria Lesma and Giulio Cesare Donati and the tenor Giuseppe Maria Donati had appeared on the Venetian stage in the 1660s; and the librettist Nicolò Minato had been active in Venice in the 1660s, working with Giulia at SS. Giovanni e Paolo.[22]

2.5 Claudia Felicitas was an accomplished musician who sang and played the harpsichord and lute.[23] Emperor Leopold heard her in October 1665 while on a visit to Innsbruck and reported that the twelve-year-old princess “sings pretty well. The manner is perfect, which could not be otherwise, coming from Cesti.”[24] Like her parents before her, the new empress seems to have been fond of Italian music. And, unlike her predecessor, Claudia Felicitas was interested in female musicians. Her household included, besides Giulia, Theresia Schmelzer, a violinist, daughter of the then vice-Kapellmeister Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, appointed as a Cammerdienerin;[25] Anna Maria del Riccio, whose particular musical talent is unrecorded (she was a daughter of the dancing master Giovanni Antonio del Riccio);[26] and “una ragazza che canta di Musica,”[27] who arrived at court in May 1674.[28]

3. Female Musicians at the Imperial Court

3.1 Claudia Felicitas’s female musicians were not the first such women to perform at the imperial court (see Table 1). Many women, conveniently available among the wives and other relatives of court singers, instrumentalists, or other employees, were paid as musicians, typically receiving small stipends. The standard salary for both an apprentice musician and a female musician was 360 fl. a year.

3.2 One of the earliest women to be paid for musical services at the Habsburg court in the seventeenth century was Angela Staupin, paid 20 fl. a month as a Kammermusikantin from July 1617 to July 1618 and possibly the “excellent singer and lute player from among the women of the imperial court” who took part in a ballet with musical interludes performed in Prague in 1617.[29] Among the Italian comedians who performed at court in the early seventeenth century were several women, one of whom was a noted singer, Virginia Ramponi Andreini.[30]

3.3 A list of personnel at the court of Ferdinand III names nine women as “Mußicallische Weibs-Perszohnen” in 1637, with salaries ranging from 2,000 fl. a year (Margherita Basile Cattaneo) to 150 fl. (Lucia Gentile).[31] Maria Bertali, wife of the Hofkapellmeister Antonio Bertali, was among them, receiving the usual 360 fl.,[32] and her name came up once again in the course of negotiations concerning Giulia’s salary that took place at the time of the latter’s projected marriage (see below, 5.25.3). Bertali also appears in the Hofzahlamtsbücher (court payment books) among the Frauen, a catchall category at the end of the long list of court chaplains, musicians, dancers, poets, and so on, in the section headed Eleemosynarius Hoff-Caplan und gesambte Musici.[33] How long Bertali was active as a musician is unknown, but her stipend was confirmed in 1660 and devolved to her son in 1666, after her death.[34]

3.4 In documents concerning the future nun-composer Maria Anna von Raschenau, who was a chamber musician at court in the 1660s, three women, “Bertalin, Morazin, und Rossin,” were mentioned as precedents both for the employment of a Musicantin and for the stipend to be paid her.[35] The identity of Morazin is undetermined.[36] Francesca Rossi, the wife of the court tenor Christophoro Rossi,[37] appears in the 1637 list and also in the Hofzahlamtsbücher among the Frauen.[38] She was still receiving her stipend in 1666 but died in November of that year.[39] She was further identified as a “Kay[serliche] Cammermusikantin when the sum of 400 fl. was awarded to her three sons after her death.[40]

3.5 A few female performers of the early part of the century, under the rule of Emperors Ferdinand II and Ferdinand III, had enjoyed careers beyond the imperial court. Margherita Basile Cattaneo, a sister of the more famous Adriana Basile Baroni, entered imperial service by 1630, together with her husband Ettore Cattaneo Daddi, in the aftermath of the war of the Mantuan succession (the second wife of Emperor Ferdinand II was Eleonora Gonzaga [1598–1655], daughter of Duke Vincenzo I of Mantua).[41] In that year, imperial troops had overrun Mantua, and several musicians had transferred to the imperial establishment in Vienna. Lucia Rubini, also from Mantua, the wife of the violinist Giovanni Battista Rubini, was a guest at the imperial court in 1627/28 and 1629 (when she sang the title role of La Maddalena) and joined the court Kammermusik in 1630.[42] Both women were in the emperor’s entourage when he traveled to Regensburg in 1630,[43] and in January 1631 they appeared in the court chamber music.[44] Lucia Rubini, along with her daughter Leonora, appeared in a comedia in musica, La gara musicale, honoring the birthday of Emperor Ferdinand II in 1634.[45] In April 1637, when Ferdinand III succeeded his father, Lucia was being paid 600 fl. yearly.[46] In that year, both couples entered the service of Archduchess Cecilia Renata on her marriage to the king of Poland and followed their new patroness to Warsaw.[47] Rubini soon returned, and she petitioned the court for a reward.[48] She died in spring 1638, and her children were awarded the 1,000 fl. requested “in recompense for her ten years of most faithful service, made with all humility and obedience to the most August house of Austria.”[49] By 1639 Margherita had also returned to Vienna; she petitioned the court in that year for the continuation of her pay, citing nine years of service, and in 1641 she was handsomely rewarded by the emperor with a gift of 3,000 fl.[50]

3.6 Eleonora Gonzaga-Nevers (1630–86, sister of Carlo II Gonzaga-Nevers, Duke of Mantua), the third wife of Emperor Ferdinand III, employed the occasional female singer in the musical household she maintained as a widow, consisting almost entirely of Italians. She employed a twelve-year-old Italian girl with a beautiful voice and fine technique (1662–3) as well as a Signora Poncelli (1670).[51]

3.7 The hiring of Giulia thus continued a long tradition of employing women musicians at the imperial court. In the period just preceding Giulia’s arrival, these women were primarily singers and relatives of court musicians, and they appeared most often in chamber music, of which there was apparently a lively tradition. Several girls received musical training at court and were awarded scholars’ stipends for that purpose. The prima donna Giulia, used to adulation, was unlikely to confine herself to such an understated role.

4. Giulia and Music at the Imperial Court

4.1 Giulia’s musical activities in Vienna during the time of Claudia Felicitas are documented in a series of letters sent by the emperor to Ferdinand Bonaventura, Graf Harrach, then Habsburg ambassador in Madrid.[52] The emperor and empress were united in their love for music and much enjoyed the prima donna’s singing. She performed frequently for their personal entertainment in Haus Concerten (chamber music), often with the soprano castrato Vincenzino,[53] sometimes with the empress herself, and sometimes with other singers. In a letter of May 17, 1674, for example, the emperor reported a Haus Music with the empress, Giulia, das Magdl (the singing girl), Vincenzino, and Pancotti. “The empress first sang a duet with Giulia.… And the empress played the bass with Vincenzino singing as well as with Giulia…. The empress sang [by herself], and also a trio with Pancotti [and] Giulia.”[54] Masotti sang on one occasion in 1674 with another female singer, La Pandolfina. Giovanni Battista Heirmans wrote from Venice on October 6, 1674, that “I have been told that La Pandolfina has sung before the empress, and that she must [sing] again with Giulia, and I’ll find out how that goes very soon[?], and who attends, and with that I close.”[55] In Carnival 1676 Giulia participated in a chamber music performance at court, singing in a piece by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer.[56]

4.2 Giulia also appeared on the opera stage. She sang the role of Eraclea in Antonio Draghi and Nicolò Minato’s Il ratto delle Sabine in performances on June 9 and 10, 1674, ordered by the empress in honor of the emperor’s birthday.[57] The role of Licenia, “bambina Sabina,”[58] was also taken by a female singer, a lady-in-waiting of the empress, and the Florentine representative in Vienna, Giovanni Chiaromanni, remarked in a letter that the appearance of these female singers on the stage contravened long-held Viennese court custom.[59] The emperor reported to Graf Harrach that “Giulia performed with complete perfection.”[60]

4.3 Vincenzino also appeared in the opera, in the role of Mirena.[61] As the two “Sabine rapite,” Giulia (Eraclea) and Vincenzino (Mirena) have the last word, before the final ballet and its Introduzione. Eraclea’s subject is war: “Già di Marte la severa tromba rigida tacerà; E del figlio di Citera sol la face risplenderà” (At that time, Mars’s harsh, severe trumpet will be silenced; And from the son of Cythera alone will shine a resplendent light) (Example 1). Mirena’s focus is peace: “Vaga Pace qui d’intorno vaghi ulivi hà sparsi già, e con lucido soggiorno la bell’Iride apparirà” ([He has] already spread beautiful peace among the beautiful olive trees, and the beautiful Iris [the rainbow] will appear with clear stay [i.e., bringing lasting clear skies] (Example 2). Eraclea sings a showstopping piece in which she imitates a trumpet, and Mirena sings a virtuosic aria, with roulades suggestive of the radiance of the rainbow that symbolizes peace. The two singers conclude with a duet, returning to the words “E del figlio di Citera sol la face risplenderà” (Example 3). The images of sound and light reflect the brilliance of the performance itself and aptly illustrate the image of splendor, power, and political harmony, all linking back to the ancient world, that the Habsburgs wished to promote as the qualities of their reign.[62] Adding to the imperial luster, two of the most sought-after singers of the day appeared together on the stage, something that had never been managed in Italy.[63] In a further layer of meaning, Vincenzino’s name, Ulivicciani, is embedded in the text he sings, drawing further attention to this famous singer’s participation.

4.4 On October 30 of the same year Giulia sang in Il fuoco eterno custodito dalle Vestali, an especially lavish production intended to celebrate the birth of an imperial heir, with text by Minato and music by Antonio Draghi, Emperor Leopold, and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer.[64] The child was a daughter rather than the desired son, but the performance, after several delays, went ahead anyway. The singers included Giulia, a young female singer (das madl), Gio. Paolo Bonelli[65] Forni (Balthasar Ferri?),[66] Vincenzo (Vincenzino),[67] Clemente,[68] and a young Viennese castrato, Franzl,[69] who was the star of the evening. It is tempting to suggest that Giulia took the role of “Claudia, nobilissima Vestale,” in honor of her patroness.[70] According to Emperor Leopold’s account:

The day before yesterday, the great theater piece [the opera] was finally performed. It was almost six hours long, and it went really well and won great applause.… Giulia, the singing girl, Giovanni Paolo, Forni, Vincenz[in]o, and Clementi all sang well, as usual. The new German castrato Franzl did wonders; he has a strong voice able to fill the theater, [and] Viviani has taught him so well that he pronounces [Italian] as if he had known the language all his life. All in all, it was a very beautiful thing.[71]

4.5 After the death of Claudia Felicitas on April 8, 1676, Giulia remained in Vienna, and her salary was transferred from the personal household of the empress to the Hofkapelle. Her name now appears in the Hofzahlamtsbücher among the Frauen. Giulia’s career also entered a new phase, as she joined the ranks of the wife-musicians and disappeared from view.

5. Marriage, Motherhood, Widowhood, and Imperial Service

5.1 “Giulia is head over heels in love” reported the emperor on November 1, 1674.[72] The object of her affection was Andreas Anton Schmelzer, son of Johann Heinrich, and the two were soon engaged.[73] But no such marriage took place, the engagement having been broken off, although not by Giulia. In an undated letter, apparently from autumn 1675 or around that time, Johann Heinrich reported that

The cause was that she had promised to bring 20,000 fl. here for him, and the first payment was to have been in August; however, nothing arrived except a few trinkets of little value, at which my son said bluntly that if she withholds her wealth, the wedding is off. And since we suspected that she didn’t have the means which she herself had claimed, [since] she requested nothing beyond that which she was entitled to through the interest, which my son had known about before, he was very happy, and so am I, and almost the entire court supports him.[74]

5.2 Giulia first tried to patch up matters, and when this did not work out, she, or perhaps her patrons, immediately looked about for another suitable candidate. On February 20, 1676, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer wrote, not very kindly, to Prince-Bishop Karl von Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn: “the news, however, which even the imperial family is talking of, is about the singer Giulia. She requested 2,000 crowns from Rome so that my son would have to marry; when this ruse came to light, he very luckily wormed his way out of it again. Now she has someone else, named Kugler, but this is not working out so well either.”[75] On August 29, 1676, after considerable negotiation over salary and perks,[76] Giulia married the young violinist Ignaz Leopold Kugler, son of the court Konzertmeister Burckhardt Kugler. Ignaz Leopold, then about twenty-two years old (born ca.1654), had been a court scholar receiving a stipend for musical training but was now appointed to the Hofkapelle. The couple married at court, and the ceremony took place in the empress’s chambers, “in the presence of many courtiers.”[77] A court wedding was a favor granted usually to courtiers and ladies-in-waiting, and that the couple married in this way reflects the high esteem in which Giulia was held. The court’s wedding gift to the couple was a specially commissioned silver and gilt cup, the sort of gift that would be given to a lower-ranking nobleman;[78] a court employee usually received a sum of money, fifty or perhaps one hundred florins.

5.3 Giulia retained her salary, now 1,860 fl., even though this was much more than usual for a female singer (a fact pointed out by court officials, who wanted to reduce her salary to the standard 360 fl.).[79] She now gained the social security of marriage and also acquired noble status: Burckhardt Kugler had been ennobled in 1672, and the family became Kugler von Edlfeldt (Schmelzer too had been similarly ennobled in 1673, the family becoming Schmelzer von Ehrenruef).[80] The continuation of Giulia’s salary, as well as a raise for Ignaz Leopold, allowed the couple to live comfortably. They were living in the Ungarisches Haus, near the Augustinian monastery (that is, very close to the Hofburg) in 1679, and they owned a house of their own on the Graben—a prestigious, centrally located address—by 1684; this house they had inherited from Burckhardt Kugler, who had died on October 6, 1683.[81] The couple had at least four children.[82] Giulia’s husband Ignaz Leopold died in January 1686 at the age of thirty-two.[83]

5.4 Giulia’s musical activities are little documented after the time of Claudia Felicitas, but there were many possibilities for performance at court. However, a passage among the documents concerning the marriage negotiations suggests that she may have been losing her voice as early as 1676: “in any case it is not known if your majesties will be able to make further use of this supplicant in singing, and if she can continue to use her voice….”[84] If not able to sing, Giulia may have perhaps coached or directed the frequent private performances by court ladies, her fame and her noble status giving her the authority to do this. In November 1680, for example, “eine schön comödie” was performed by ladies of the court in a private performance; they are reported to have “acted, sung, and danced extremely well.”[85] Giulia and her husband apparently maintained a good relationship with Dowager Empress Eleonora. The dowager empress served as honorary godmother to two of the couple’s children: Eleonora, named after herself, and Ferdinand, named for her late husband, Emperor Ferdinand III.[86] Such marks of favor suggest that the singer remained active at court into the 1680s and that her service was appreciated. Giulia was also a successful teacher, as is revealed by praise of her daughter Teresia’s singing (see Reardon, “Letters from the Road,” 4.3).

5.5 Around 1695 there was talk of Giulia returning to Italy for health reasons, and she did indeed visit Rome the following year, apparently taking her daughter Teresia with her.[87] By this time she was so thoroughly naturalized that she had added the name “Joanna” to the obviously foreign “Vincenza Giulia.”[88] She remained on the court payroll until her death on June 26, 1701.[89] At the time of death her age was given as fifty.

6. Giulia’s Legacy

6.1 Giulia had commanded a high salary, appeared on the stage, and apparently held considerable prestige at the Habsburg court, reviving attitudes toward female singers that had vanished there after the 1630s. But after her brief period of high-profile activity, no other women took her place. The standing of women singers began to rise around 1700, shortly before Giulia’s death and following the arrival in Vienna of the new Italian virtuoso style of da capo aria and brilliant orchestration (its earliest exponents there were Carlo Agostino Badia and the brothers Giovanni and Antonio Maria Bononcini). Women performers began to appear in the Hofkapelle lists in their own section, headed Sängerinen and following the Sopranisten, the male sopranos. The first of the Sängerinen were Anna Maria Lisi Nonetti and Kunigunde Sutter, both appearing in court payment books from 1700. These women were not only chamber musicians but also sang in feste teatrali with other professional musicians. It seems that they did not immediately appear on the stage.

6.2 Lisi, the dominant female performer, had married the imperial court composer Carlo Agostino Badia in October 1700.[90] She apparently came directly from Italy, where she had served the court of Ferdinando de’ Medici in Florence and also sung in Siena, Milan, and Mantua, among other places.[91] She performed in feste teatrali at the imperial court from 1700. In Badia’s Le gare dei beni, an Applauso poetico per musica of 1700, performed for the name day of Empress Eleonora Magdalena (July 24), Lisi was the only woman singer.[92] In a work performed for the birthday of Amalia Wilhelmine, wife of Archduke Joseph, Lisi was joined by an amateur, the courtier Countess della Torre; they are the only women performers listed.[93] Lisi was paid 1,800 fl. annually, more than most other musicians and as much as only a few other favored singers.

6.3 Among the other women, Kunigunde Sutter received 1,080 fl., equal to the salary of the highest-paid instrumentalists and some second-rank singers.[94] Other women singers were wives of court musicians, as before. Giulia’s daughter Teresia (1682–1711), who married the theorbist and composer Francesco Conti in 1705, apparently sang at court; she was identified at the time of her death as an “imperial court Musicantin.”[95] Women amateurs sang in productions for birthdays and name days of imperial women: the production for Amalia Wilhelmine’s birthday in 1702 (April 21) was Badia’s La concordia della virtù, e della fortuna, performed by three women of the court: Fräulein della Torre, Fräulein Sereni, and Countess Zernini.[96]

6.4 Real change appears to have come with the ascension to the throne of Joseph I in 1705; it was then that women returned to the opera stage. Sutter appeared in operas and oratorios from 1706, as did Lisi; several other women who were wives or daughters of court musicians, but not officially members of the Hofkapelle, also appeared in such productions from around this time.[97] One Katharina Kapler was a member of the Hofkapelle in 1707–13 and appeared on the stage in 1707.[98]

6.5 For a prima donna treated as such by the court and paid a prima donna’s salary, the court had to wait until 1713, for Maria Landini. Landini first appeared in Vienna in 1710, in operas and oratorios by Fux (La decima fatica d’Ercole, October 1, 1710), Giovanni Bononcini (Muzio Scevola), Marc’Antonio Ziani (La sapienza umana), and Camilla da Rossi (S. Alessio).[99] She was appointed to the Hofkapelle in January 1713 and married Francesco Conti in October 1714.[100] From that time, she appeared in leading roles in all of Conti’s operas. Her salary was 4,000 fl., the largest paid to a court musician of either gender at that time.

7. The Habsburg Court and a Prima Donna’s Career

7.1 Prima donnas in the seventeenth century often had short careers, and Giulia seems to have been among them, beginning her rise in her teens and apparently burning out about fourteen years later. One danger of such a meteoric career was that the singer, when no longer a new, rising star, would be forgotten and die in poverty. Giulia’s attempts to provide for her life in retirement through a position in court service (with its promise of a pension), the cultivation of good connections (such as those with Dowager Empress Eleonora), marriage, and the attainment of noble status, show uncommon astuteness and perseverance but also reveal the limited options that society allowed such women. Her attempts to gain security were even fodder for gossip and amusement when she pushed beyond what was deemed acceptable. But Giulia seems to have succeeded. She retained the good will of the emperor, who resisted attempts to reduce her salary, she married a husband of noble status, and she died a widow in her own house. In 1705 her nobly born, musically educated daughter Teresia married Francesco Conti, one of the most respected musicians at the imperial court, bringing with her a large dowry.[101]

7.2 Leopold I had preferred castrati to female opera singers. But hidden in pay lists and court documents are numerous female musicians, mostly singers, suggesting that chamber music employing them was a common feature of court life. For imperial musicians, music making was a family affair, with women receiving musical training and supplementing the family income with their performances. For this very musical and musically status-conscious court, Giulia—or at least the challenge of acquiring her services—proved irresistible. And for the singer, the prospect of performing in chamber music with other fine musicians and as an equal with members of the highest nobility, may have been just as attractive. Over time, Giulia fell into the more usual role of musical wife, perhaps as her voice left her. But her reputation and negotiating skills, honed during her years in Italy, enabled her to maintain a high status and salary, preparing the way for the next wave of prima donnas.


The author is grateful to her co-researchers in this project, Valeria De Lucca, Beth Glixon, and Colleen Reardon, for their advice, enthusiasm, and scholarly generosity. She is also grateful to the late Alison Dunlop and to Constanze Gröger (Pfarre St. Michael), Michael Lorenz, and Rita Steblin for their assistance with Viennese archival matters; to Giulio Ongaro, for help with Italian translations; to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful advice; and to this journal’s editor, Kelley Harness, for her careful work.

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