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The Court Jester and the Black Castrato: Giovannino Buonaccorsi at the Medici Court

Emily Wilbourne, Associate Professor of Musicology at CUNY Graduate Center and Queens College

September 9, 2022 · 4:30 pm6:30 pm · 102 Woolworth

Department of Music

The Musicology Colloquium series presents a talk by Professor Emily Wilbourne.

Giovannino Buonaccorsi was an enslaved, Black soprano singer, active at the Florentine court from at least 1651 until his death on August 15, 1674. A wealth of archival detail relating to Buonaccorsi is extant, including payment records, opera libretti, scores, descriptions, letters, costume designs, a portrait, and a poem attributed to him. He sang chamber music at the court, performed in a series of operas in mid-century Florence, and at least one season on the public stage in Venice. Buonaccorsi is thus the rare seventeenth-century Black performer whose life in Italy can be documented with any accuracy. In many ways, Buonaccorsi is a singular figure, yet my time in the archives makes perfectly clear that Buonaccorsi was but one of numerous court retainers who were racially or ethnically marked and who labored as entertainers, including singers, dancers, trumpet players, and buffoons. In this paper, I consider Buonaccorsi as a jester figure and as a Black castrato singer with a marked and characteristic relationship to musical performance as labor.

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