A castrato sends in his bill…

Invoices from famous castrati are pretty rare, but there is no reason why there shouldn’t be more of them around. The reason is that some of the best castrati gave singing lessons, and thus presumably sent in bills for their services. One of the greatest singing masters of them all was the brilliant Domenico Mustafa, who was also a composer and was appointed perpetual director of the Sistine Chapel in 1878.

Born in 1829 in Perugia to a Turkish father, the young Domenico doubtless had a good voice (it was later described as ‘ sweet and pleasant as that of a woman’) and, as was the custom, was castrated before puberty as a way of generating an income for his impoverished parents . He later was quoted as saying that he’d risk being indicted for murder if he could discover the man who had castrated him’. He joined the Sistine Chapel as a chorister at the age of 19.

This invoice and letter date from 18 February 1870, when Mustafa was aged 41. He had already been director of the Sistine Chapel choir for ten years and as such must have been in great demand as a private singing tutor. For six lessons plus the sheet music he charged Signorina Holland ( perhaps an English lady ) a total of 67 francs and 50 centimes. Why the sum should be in francs, I don’t know.

Later on, in 1892, Mustafa gave lessons to the famous French soprano Emma Calve, teaching her to employ her celebrated ‘fourth voice‘, which was an unnaturally high falsetto. After hearing Mustafa himself performing this weird sound Calve described it as ‘ strange, sexless, superhuman, uncanny ‘.

Mustafa retired at the aged of 73 to his luxurious villa in Montefalco where he died in 1912. ‘ Villa Mustafa ‘became a hotel and is now a museum to his memory. [R]

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