Castrati Resources on the Internet
A castrato is a male soprano, mezzo-soprano, or alto voice produced either by castration of the singer before puberty or one who, because of an endocrinological condition, never reaches sexual maturity.
Castration before puberty (or in its early stages) prevents a boy's larynx from being transformed by the normal physiological events of puberty. As a result, the vocal range of prepubescence (shared by both sexes) is largely retained, and the voice develops into adulthood in a unique way. As the castrato's body grew, his lack of testosterone meant that his epiphyses (bone-joints) did not harden in the normal manner. Thus the limbs of the castrati often grew unusually long, as did the bones of their ribs. This, combined with intensive training, gave them unrivalled lung-power and breath capacity. Operating through small, child-sized vocal cords, their voices were also extraordinarily flexible, and quite different from the equivalent adult female voice, as well as higher vocal ranges of the uncastrated adult male (see soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, sopranist, countertenor and contralto). Listening to the only surviving recordings of a castrato (see below), one can hear that the lower part of the voice sounds like a "super-high" tenor, with a more falsetto-like upper register above that.
During the 17th and 18th centuries in Italy, some 4,000 - 5,000 boys were castrated annually for the purpose of singing alto in the church choirs. According to Melicow and Pulrang (Urology 3: 663-670, 1974), the prohibition against women singing in the church choir had its origin in the bible: "Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak" (I Corinthians 14:34). Thus, castrated men (castrati) came to sing in the choir, possessing "the chest and lungs of a man with the vocal cords of a women (Melicow and Pulrang)."
Castrati were considered to be the greatest singers of all time, dominating opera in Italy for two centuries. Castrati were rarely referred to as such: in the eighteenth century, the term musico (pl musici) was much more generally used, though it usually carried derogatory implications; another synonym was evirato (literally meaning "unmanned").
By the late eighteenth century, changes in operatic taste and social attitudes spelled the end for castrati. They lingered on past the end of the ancien régime (which their style of opera parallels), and two of their number, Pacchierotti and Crescentini, even entranced the iconoclastic Napoleon. The last great operatic castrato was Giovanni Battista Velluti (1781-1861), who performed the last operatic castrato role ever written: Armando in Il Crociato in Egitto by Meyerbeer (Venice, 1824). Soon after this they were replaced definitively as the first men of the operatic stage by the new breed of heroic tenor as incarnated by the Frenchman Gilbert-Louis Duprez, the earliest "king of the high Cs", whose successors are singers like Caruso, Franco Corelli, and Luciano Pavarotti. The last of the great Castrati singers was Allessandro Moreschi (1858-1922), whose voice was immortalized on a 1902 gramophone recording, which was later digitized and is currently in print.
There have long been rumours of another castrato sequestered in the Vatican for the personal delectation of the Pontiff until as recently as 1959, but these have been definitively shown to be false. The singer in question was a pupil of Moreschi's, Domenico Mancini, such a skillful imitator of his teacher's voice that even Lorenzo Perosi, Direttore Perpetuo of the Sistine Choir from 1898 to 1956 and a lifelong opponent of castrati, thought he was a castrato. Mancini was in fact a moderately skilful falsettist and professional double-bass player.
- Alessandro Moreschi - The Last Castrato
Alessandro Moreschi (1858 – 1922) is the only castrato known to have been recorded as the practice of castration of boy sopranos to create a powerfully distinctive soprano voice had greatly diminished by the mid-19th century. Moreschi was 44 when he first recorded these selections with a pianist in the Vatican in 1902. His non-operatic style of singing adapts features unusual to modern ears as his abilities were specialized to the performance practices shaped by the acoustics in the Sistine Chapel.
- All You Would Want To Know About the Castrati
Includes FAQ, pictures and biographies, bibliography, and links.
- Books about Castrati
Goodreads list of best fiction and non-fiction books about the baroque opera male Superstars.
- Boys Will Be Girls, Girls Will Be Boys: Cross Gender Roles in Opera
he opera stage is one place where gender roles have always been blurred, disguised, even switched – possibly multiple times within the course of an opera! Italian composers of seventeenth and eighteenth century opera seria ("serious opera" – as distinguished from comic opera) were especially free in this regard, largely connected with the high-voiced male castrati.
- Byzantine castrati
Neil Moran, PlainSong & Medieval Music, Volume 11, Issue 2, October 2002, pp. 99-112.
- Castrati: Child Abuse and the Search for Musical Perfection
The rise and fall of castrati in Europe remains one of the mysteries of human behaviour, especially as it links crime and music. Similar to sexual abuse, homosexuality, misogyny and paedophilia, the castration of young boys was clouded in secrecy and covered up by the Roman Catholic Church.
- Castrati: did the end justify the means?
Marilyn Pemberton tells Historia about the history behind her latest novel: the lives of castrati, the choristers and opera stars with the voices of boys and the lungs of men.
- Castrati : the history of an extraordinary vocal phenomenon and a case study of Handel’s opera roles for Castrati written for the First Royal Academy of Music (1720-1728)
- Castrati choir and opera singers
Urology, May 1974, Volume 3, Issue 5, Pages 663–670. M.D. Meyer M. Melicow, M.D. Stanford Pulrang Departments of Uropathology, and Educational Projects of Squier Urological Clinic, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York, USA.
- The castrati: a physician's perspective - Part 1
Article details the history, sociology and musical history relevant to the rise of the castrato in the 17th and 18th century. By James L. Franklin, MD, a gastroenterologist and Associate Professor Emeritus at Rush University Medical Center.
- The castrati: a physician's perspective - Part 2
Article explores the medical and scientific aspects and include an analysis of the voice of the castrato and concludes with a perspective on the medical ethics as it relates to this subject. By James L. Franklin, MD, a gastroenterologist and Associate Professor Emeritus at Rush University Medical Center.
- The Castrati as a Professional Group and a Social Phenomenon, 1550-1850
John Rosselli, Acta Musicologica Vol. 60, Fasc. 2 (May - Aug., 1988), pp. 143-179 (37 pages). Published By: International Musicological Society.
- Castrati singers and the lost "cords"
Article by Meyer M. Melicow, M.D., Given Professor Emeritus of Uropathology Research, Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons. Article is in PDF format.
- Castrato Voice (Baroque)
College of Arts and Sciences, Early Music Instrument Database, Case Western Reserve University.
- Eunuchs and Castrati
Conference Paper (PDF Available) July 2008. World Archaeological Congress 6, At Dublin, Ireland.
- The Instrumental Body: Castrati.
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 February 2021.
- How The Catholic Church Castrated Young Boys And Made Them Sing
When the Pope banned women from public singing in the mid-16th century, opera itself was seemingly threatened. Young boys filled in for a time, but boys' voices naturally dropped when they reached puberty. To remedy this alleged issue, the Romans resorted to body modification. These Italian singers left a dark legacy in their wake: adults trapped in prepubescent bodies. While castrati singers no longer exist, the disturbing tale of their origin – as well as the late date at which the practice was still enforced – remains.
- The lost voice: a history of the castrato
Jenkins JS, St George's Hospital Medical School, London, UK, J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2000;13 Suppl 6:1503-8.
- The Male Soprano Page
Information and discography on modern singers reviving the lost art of the castrati. Bibliography for castrati literature. Biographies for current and past adult male sopranos.
- Medical Insights into the Castrati in Opera
Enid Rhodes Peschel and Richard E. Peschel, American Scientist Vol. 75, No. 6 (November-December 1987), pp. 578-583.
- Moreschi - The Last Castrato
Information about the last castrato, Alessandro Moreschi, the only castrato to have ever been recorded.
- Mozart's castrati
Mozart wrote the role of Idamante in Idomeneo for a soprano castrato, but when preparing the work for a performance in Vienna in the 1780's Mozart converted the role to a tenor. But he was still not averse to the castrato voice. La Clemenza di Tito which premiered in 1791 included the role of Sesto, written for a castrato though the role of Annio was taken by a female mezzo-soprano..
- Occupational markers and pathology of the castrato singer Gaspare Pacchierotti (1740–1821)
Alberto Zanatta, Fabio Zampieri, Giuliano Scattolin & Maurizio Rippa Bonati, Nature, Scientific Reports volume 6, Article number: 28463 (2016).
- Theology of the Odd Body: The Castrati, the Church, and the Transgender Moment
Free Inquiry Volume 35, No. 5.
- Through the Lens of a Baroque Opera: Gender/Sexuality Then and Now
- Urological Sciences Research Foundation: Castrati Singers of Italy
Article about the use of castrated male singers for singing alto in church choirs during 17th and 18th century Italy.
- The Voice of the last Castrato - The only known recording of the famous singer Alessandro Moreschi
- Voicing the Third Gender – The Castrato Voice and the Stigma of Emasculation in Eighteenth-century Society
In French and English.
- Why Castrati Made Better Lovers
When women were banned from the stage, these guys were the true divas of opera.