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Amherst Early Music presents: Black Bodies and Black Voices
March 28, 2021 @ 5:00 pm - 5:30 pm
AEM’s second in a Series of Free Lectures
Black Bodies and Black Voices: Gio. Buonaccorsi, an enslaved Black singer at the Medici Court, with Emily Wilbourne
On the 14th of October, 1662, the opera impresario Vettor Grimani Calergi wrote from Venice to Prince Mattias de’ Medici in Florence to discuss the singers for the upcoming opera season. He put in a particular plea in order that the Medici Cardinal’s black slave could participate. Above and beyond the moor’s “esteemed virtue” as a singer, Grimani professed interest in the novelty of his character, explaining that what perhaps in Florence had become “ordinary,” would be “new, and never before seen” on the Venetian stage. This singer is identifiable as Giovannino Buonaccorsi, and his presence in Florence can be traced through a surprisingly rich archive of payment records, libretti, scores, descriptions, letters, costume designs, poetry, as well as a remarkable double portrait: Baldassarre Franceschini’s Ritratto di suanatore di liuto con cantore moro (ca. 1662). In this paper I read this painting closely, placing it alongside new archival documents to think about the ways in which black performance was normalized in mid-century Florence and the means by which blackness signified in relation to slavery and servitude, shaping Giovannino’s access to performance opportunities on and offstage.
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