is Ended, but the Architrave Lingers
As an ex-musician who never made nearly the money I deserved, I am pleased to note evidence of at least one local musician who made it really big and then was not shy about mouthing off about it. Above the entrance to his home is still inscribed:
AMPHYON THEBAS EGO
DOMUM A.D. MDCCLIV
The musician in
question is Gaetano Majorano (1710-1783) [standard
Italian spelling is "Maiorano"], the great castrato
mezzo-soprano known as "Caffarelli"
from the 18th century, when the altered male
voice ruled the operatic stage. The residence in
question is at via Carlo de Cesare 15 (photo), at
the south end of the Spanish
Quarters, just a few minutes walk from
the San Carlo opera house.
The inscription is a rather synthetic way of saying
"Amphion is to Thebes as I am to my home. 1754."
was born in Bitonto, near Bari, and studied in Naples. He
sang in Naples for some 20 years and was widely regarded
as one of the great voices of his day. He appeared
elsewhere in Italy and abroad, as well. He was known for
being surly, temperamental, rude and, later in life,
generous and polite. Go figure. Both the Venetian
playwright Carlo Goldoni and the great librettist Metastasio mention
him in their memoirs and letters as being a wondrous and
obnoxious talent. After singing for Louis XV in Versailles
once, he was rewarded by the monarch with an ornate snuff
box. Majorano complained to the royal gift-bearing
messenger that there was no picture of the king on the
box. The messenger told Caffarelli
that those were only for ambassadors. "Well, then," said
the singer, "have His Majesty get ambassadors to sing for
him." He was arrested once for sitting in the audience and
shouting insults to singers on the stage. He
mellowed enough later in life to be offered the
directorship of San Carlo, which he refused.
Majorano amassed enough wealth to buy an estate nearer to his birthplace farther south and also to build a beautiful home in Naples at the address mentioned above. The building was designed by Sanfelice, one of the noted architects of the day. The inscription recalls the Greek myth of the twins Amphion and Zethus at work to build Thebes. While Zethus, a hunter, had to grunt and struggle to lift stones into place for the city wall, Amphion, using the golden lyre given to him by Hermes, played and sang so sweetly that the stones lifted themselves and slid into place. In modern terminology, he had chops. And so did Majorano: "Just as Amphion built Thebes with his great musical skill, so have I built my home with mine."
are a few stories about the inscription. Leopold Mozart
took his son, Wolfie, over to the house in 1770 when they
were on tour in Naples. Father explained the mythology to
son and also held Caffarelli up as an example of what kind
of money you could really make as a musician. (Obviously,
the lecture didn't take.) Another story claims that the
inscription was at some point during the singer's lifetime
defaced with graffiti that read "Ille cum, tu sine" (He with, you
without), referring to something —a
couple of things, really— that
Amphyon had, but Caffarelli no longer had. Some sources
think the graffiti must have been put there by a clever
kid. That's not too likely, since those kids couldn't (and
still can't) be depended on to handle a simple phrase in
Italian, much less Latin. It was probably a jealous rival.
Now, if only I could make some money with my instrumentum computatorium on the tela totius terrae, I could come up with something similar.
Many thanks to Knud Posborg for reminding me
of this place.
[For related items, see the general entry on Castrati and Farinelli.]