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The Castrati: Sliced to Hit the High Notes

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Merda accidit.

« on: August 01, 2011, 18:58:15 PM »

I've started downloading an album by Cecilia Bartoli, Sacrificium, in which she sings music written for castrati. I thought I had better read up a bit, being ignorant as usual, and I must say I find it all rather disturbing. In fact, it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

The Castrato:

A castrato (Italian, plural: castrati) is a man with a singing voice equivalent to that of a soprano, mezzo-soprano, or contralto 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.

Then it all got worse:

From the 16th to the 19th centuries, tens of thousands of male children were castrated before puberty to preserve their high voices, then subjected to a brutal and relentless program of vocal training. The first instruction, wrote an observer, "was inseparable from the whip."
As for the public, mingled with their admiration for the famous castrati was disgust and scorn. Names for them included "geldings, eunuchs, capons … nature's rejects, nullities of known creation." To have gone under the knife, never by your own choice, meant only one career path. By law and by custom you were forbidden to take Church orders or serve in government or military. Needless to say, you never had a family. As a castrato you were a singer, or you were nothing.
The tradition rose from an unholy trinity of religion, money, and art. The church forbade women to sing in services. There was a standing ban, enforced primarily in the Papal States, on teaching women to sing professionally at all. Church choirs were staffed by boys, castrati, and adult tenors and basses. Meanwhile, in secular life, the greatest castrati, their virtuosity almost superhuman and their voices uniquely beautiful, were superstars of the opera stage and concert hall. As both singers and sexual toys, they were favorites of royalty and clergy, enjoying oceans of applause and cries of "Evviva il coltellino!" ("Long live the little knife!"). The presence of castrati in church music helped attract fans to services.
Barbers in Naples hung a sign: "Boys castrated cheap here." In Naples alone in the 18th century, some 4,000 a year were victims.
On pain of death, the church forbade boys to be castrated, even as thousands of the uncountable numbers subjected to the operation were employed by the church.

A really scary historical phenomenon, of which I was quite unaware. Gotta luv the RCC.
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In solidarity with rwenzori: Κοπρος φανεται

« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2011, 19:35:44 PM »

While one commiserates deeply with the fate of those subjected to this depraved inhumanity — chalk up one more tick mark for religious empathy and compassion — even the cynic in me marvels slack-jawed at the RCC’s fathomless hypocrisy:  No contraception other than the Rhythm Method, but sterilisation is okay for the sake of a voice coerced into ad maiorem Dei gloriam (but not inque hominum salutem) servitude.  (However, the caustic in me is slightly mollified by the conflicting thought that it does mean fewer religious fruitcakes, even if only slightly so.)

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« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2011, 07:31:24 AM »

For some fictional (albeit accurate) reading material, get yourself a copy of Anne Rice's "Cry to heaven". All about the Castrati and their lifestyles during that period. Its one of my favourite historical novels.

There is only one recording of a Castrati (Alessandro Moreschi) in existance. I'd love to hear it, I've a passion for Opera.
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Carpe diem

« Reply #3 on: August 02, 2011, 07:51:13 AM »

(However, the caustic in me is slightly mollified by the conflicting thought that it does mean fewer religious fruitcakes, even if only slightly so.)
he he he

perhaps they should consider a mass program for all their priests - they ain't using it anyways and it may inhibit the molestations?
NP complete
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« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2011, 17:43:14 PM »

Knew about it, absurd in the highest degree. Catholics are REALLY concerned with genitals, I mean obsessively, you can hardly turn a corner without hearing something the RCC is doing, saying, implying, denying wrt genitals.
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