Gaetano Majorano (12 April 1710 – 31 January 1783) was an Italian castrato and opera singer, who took his stage name Caffarelli from Domenico Caffaro, his patron. Like Farinelli, Caffarelli was a student of Nicola Porpora. Born in Bitonto, he was one of the rare documented cases of a child so enamoured of singing that he asked to transition. When aged ten, he was given the income from two vineyards owned by his grandmother, so that he could study grammar and, especially, music: “to which he is said to have a great inclination, desiring to have himself castrated and become an eunuch”. He became the favorite pupil of his master Porpora. In 1726 he made his debut at Rome in Domenico Sarro’s Valdemaro, singing in a female role (as did many castrati at the start of their careers). His fame spread rapidly throughout Italy during the 1730s, with performances at Venice, Turin, Milan, Florence, before returning to Rome for a great success in Johann Adolf Hasse’s Cajo Fabricio.
His time in London was not particularly successful, public memory of Farinelli being too strong, but at the King’s Theatre during the 1737-38 season he created roles in the pasticcio Arsace and Handel’s Faramondo, in addition to the title role in Handel’s Serse, singing the famous aria “Ombra mai fù”. In 1734 the singer had taken up a post at the royal chapel of Naples, and over the next twenty years he often performed at the Teatro di San Carlo. At Naples he sang for Pergolesi, Porpora, Hasse, and Leonardo Vinci, not to mention starring in Gluck’s La Clemenza di Tito. In later years he worked at Madrid (1739), Vienna (1749), Versailles (1753), and Lisbon (1755). His career in France, to which he had been invited by Louis XV, was suddenly cut short after he badly wounded a poet during a duel. After 1756 he sang little, though in 1770 Charles Burney heard him and praised his “expression and grace.” Always a favorite of royal families and a first-rate castrato who could command vast fees, Caffarelli made a large fortune, and was able to buy himself a dukedom and impressive estates in Naples and Calabria. Caffarelli was notorious for his unpredictability and displays of temperament, both on and off stage.
In fact, his behaviour led to duels and spells of house arrest and imprisonment for assault and for misconduct during performances. On the other hand, with Handel, also a famously fiery character, he seems to have been able to coexist on a peaceable basis. Time, furthermore, seemed to soften Caffarelli. In the latter years of his life he donated extensively to charity, and when Burney met the singer then he was impressed by his politeness. Caffarelli’s voice was that of a mezzo-soprano, with an extensive range and a high tessitura. Those who heard him sing ranked him only behind Farinelli among the finest singers of that time. Even at the end of his career, Burney thought that he had been “an amazing fine singer”.