Porpora, Niccolo Antonio



Italian teacher and composer; born and died in Naples. He always wrote his name Niccola, but in his works it is printed Niccolo. His father was a bookseller and Niccolo was well educated. His musical training was received from Padre Gaetano of Perugia, and Mancini at the Conservatorio de San Loreto. He became chapelmaster to the Portuguese ambassador, and produced his first opera, Basilio, re di Oriente, in 1709, at the Fiorentini Theatre in his native city, and in 1710 wrote the opera, Berenice, for the Capranica Theatre at Rome. About tvyo years later he set up his famous singing school at Naples, and in 1719 he became one of the faculty of the Conservatory at San Onofrio. He is considered the greatest singingteacher that ever lived, and his pupils, Farinelli, Caffarelli, Mingotti, Uberti, Tosi, and other famous singers, bear witness to his perfect technical training. He started for Vienna in 1725, but stopped en route at Venice, where he taught at La Pieta, one of the schools for girls, and later at the Conservatorio degli Incurabili. In 1728 he went to Dresden, where he taught Princess Marie Antoinette and was director of the Court Opera. His compositions up to that time include the operas, Flavio Anicio Olibrio; Faramondo; Eumene; Issipile; Adelaida; Semiramide; Imeneo in Atene; Siface; Meride e Selinunte; and Ezzio. In 1729 he was given leave of absence to go to London, where he was placed in rivalry with Handel. The next year he obtained a lease of the  King's Theatre, displacing Handel, and by introducing Fafinelli he nearly conquered his rival, but on the departure of Farinelli in 1736 Porpora was forced to close his house with almost as heavy loss as Handel sustained, when a few weeks later he became a bankrupt. He now settled at Venice and shortly became director of the Ospedaletto Conservatory.


In 1745 he moved to Vienna in the retinue of the Venetian ambassador, and stayed there for three years, spending part of his time in teaching Haydn. From 1748 to 1751 he was in Dresden. He returned to Naples between 1755 and 1760, and there spent the remainder of his life as chapelmaster of the Cathedral, and head of the Conservatory of San Onofrio. At his death he was so poor that a subscription had to be raised for his burial expenses. His operas are almost entirely devoid of dramatic interest and are but elaborately ornamented pieces showing the qualities of the singers. His six oratorios are also forgotten. He shows real ability in his cantatas. He also wrote many masses and other churchmusic. Biographies of him by Marchese Villarosa and Clement are included in Memorie dei Compositore and in Musiciens Celebres.