ROSSI, MADAMA EUROPA DE’, highly accomplished professional singer in the court of the Gonzaga family in late 16th and early 17th century Mantua. The sister of the composer and musician Salamone De’ *Rossi , she was the daughter of Bonaiuto De’ Rossi and the wife of the prominent Jewish community leader David ben Elisha, whose last name was also De’ Rossi. Madama Europa had two sons, Bonaiuto (Azaria), who became a prominent Jewish leader and educator, and Angelo (Mordechai), who became a court lutanist in Turin and a banker. Madama Europa’s grandsons also served as skilled court musicians and bankers in Turin.
Madama Europa’s musical activities in Mantua are known through court salary records and letters from audience attendees. In one document of 1592–93 she is listed as “Europa di Rossi,” along with a group of other musicians, including Claudio Monteverdi. The Christian community richly rewarded talented women singers who displayed high levels of skill. Female singing groups were also in fashion, and Europa apparently sang in some of those ensembles. In Renaissance Italy, singers were frequently instrumentalists, and Europa may have played a lute or chitarrone. Madama Europa may have derived her stage name from singing “The Rape of Europa,” an intermedio written by Giovanni Gastoldi to the lyrics of Gabriello Chiabrera. One such performance took place in 1608 as part of the festivities for the nuptials of Francesco Gonzaga, the crown prince, to the infanta Margherita of Savoy. Federico Follino, who may have arranged these events, wrote that Madama Europa “reached the middle of the stage, then in her capacity as a woman most understanding of music, she sang to the listeners’ great delight and their greater wonder, in most delicate and sweet voice, the madrigal…. While she sang, with the sweetest harmony, these tearful notes, the listeners were awakened, through pity, to shed tears.”
[Judith Pinnolis (2nd ed.)]
Also know as Madama Europa. She was a female singer in the Gonzaga family court of Mantua, Italy in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Europa was the sister of composer and musician Salamone Rossi, and the wife of the Jewish community leader David Ben Elisha. She had two sons, Bonaiuto and Angelo. She is considered to be the only professional Jewish female singer of her time, and the first to gain fame outside the Jewish community.
Not much is known about Madama Europa, as the information comes from court salary records, and from letters of people who saw her concerts. Judith Pinnolis, in Encyclopedia Judaica, brings up several assumptions about her life, suggesting that she sang in women’s vocal ensembles and played an accompanying instrument such as the lute. A known assumption is that Madama Europa borrowed her stage name while singing “The Rape of Europa,” by Giovanni Gastoldi, at a famous performance in 1608, as part of the festivities for the marriage between the crown prince Francesco Gonzaga and the Margherita of Savoy. Don Harrán, however, disputes this assumption, stating that she was known as Madama Europa already in the late 1580’s, and that in fact Europa was a name occasionally given to girls in Italy at the time.
Pinnolis, Judith. “Rossi, Madama Europa de’.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Eds. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. Vol. 17. 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.
Harrán, Don. “Madama Europa, Jewish singer in late Renaissance Mantua.” in Festa Musicologica: Essays in Honor of George J. Buelow. ed. Mathiesen, Thomas J, Benito V. Rivera, and George J. Buelow. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press, 1995. pp. 197-233
Taitz, Emily, Henry, Sondra, and Tallan, Cheryl. The JPS Guide to Jewish Women 600 B.C.E-1900 C.E. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2003