The Manna family was one of the most active and numerous families of musicians in 18th-century Naples. In spite of their industriousness and diligence, we do not today have a clear and detailed picture of their biographies and family ties. This is due not only to the scarcity of archival sources or the difficulty in finding them, but also to the fact that only a few members of the family achieved a certain fame, deserving mention in the chronicles of the time and, in parallel, a production of archival papers relating to their work. Moreover, the surviving musical and librettistic sources essentially lead to the names of the composers Gennaro and Gaetano Manna, certainly the two most interesting exponents together with Antonio Manna who was a successful singer. The rest of the family remains today shrouded in a certain aura of anonymity, although it is known that, at the time, many Manna worked for noble families and important sacred institutions, in a certain sense monopolising their musical production. Their activities at Santissima Annunziata and the Duomo, where the family worked constantly for generations, were already well known. The same panorama of succession is confirmed by the papers in the archives of the Opera Pia del Purgatorio in Arco, located in the same building as the church of Santa Maria delle Anime del Purgatorio in Arco, a Baroque champion of devotion to the purgative souls and a fervent centre of sacred music production.
Amidst friezes of death, grim bas-reliefs and macabre paintings, the sacred place shone with its own light in the field of music, giving life to the work of composers of different calibre, some unknown, some illustrious. Thus, the names of obscure musicians, who were fully included in the sacred musical circuits of Baroque Naples, echo today among the dusty papers alongside those of the true lights of the glorious history of Neapolitan music. Besides the little investigated Francesco Marinelli, Donato Ricchezza and Giuseppe Cristiano, in fact, the musical history of the Purgatorio ad Arco boasts the collaborations, even if sporadic, of composers of the calibre of Giuseppe De Bottis, Giuseppe De Majo and even Cristoforo Caresana; or of instrumentalists such as Domenico De Matteis, Gioacchino Bruno, Nicola Sole, Mattia del Rio and Nicola Apice. There are also relationships of various kinds with outstanding professionals such as the organ builders Fabrizio and Francesco Cimmino, the composer Domenico Sarro and the singer Domenico Gizzi. It is also very likely that there are links with Nicolò Grimaldi (Nicolini), Gaetano Majorano (Caffarelli) and Angelo Ragazzi. In addition to supporting the mere religious function, music was the essential element of the main festivities of the Purgatory in Arco, often linked to the cult of the dead: the Carnevaletto dei Morti, the Commemoration of the Dead, the Quarantore and the Festa della Purità, also indicated in the archival documents as Purification, Visitation or Festa di Nostra Signora.
In the thicket of permanent or temporary workers, the members of the Manna family stand out for their fame and number of collaborations.
Francesco Feo (1691-1761) and his descendants Gennaro Manna (1715-1779) and Gaetano Manna (1751-1804) were closely linked to the deputation of the Purgatory in Arco both from a professional point of view, as chapel masters, and from a purely devotional one, as in the case of Gennaro Manna who was one of the benefactors. The three illustrious names are a shining example of the transmission of musical knowledge and tasks within a single family of Neapolitan artists by birth: Gennaro Manna was the son of Caterina Feo, sister of Francesco Feo; Gaetano Manna was the son of Giacinto, Gennaro’s elder brother.