The Castrato: Reflections on Natures and Kinds (Ernest Bloch Lectures)

The Castrato: Reflections on Natures and Kinds (Ernest Bloch Lectures)

Language: English

Pages: 496

ISBN: 0520292448

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The Castrato is a nuanced exploration of why innumerable boys were castrated for singing between the mid-sixteenth and late-nineteenth centuries. It shows that the entire foundation of Western classical singing, culminating in bel canto, was birthed from an unlikely and historically unique set of desires, public and private, aesthetic, economic, and political. In Italy, castration for singing was understood through the lens of Catholic blood sacrifice as expressed in idioms of offering and renunciation and, paradoxically, in satire, verbal abuse, and even the symbolism of the castrato’s comic cousin Pulcinella. Sacrifice in turn was inseparable from the system of patriarchy—involving teachers, patrons, colleagues, and relatives—whereby castrated males were produced not as nonmen, as often thought nowadays, but as idealized males. Yet what captivated audiences and composers—from Cavalli and Pergolesi to Handel, Mozart, and Rossini—were the extraordinary capacities of castrato voices, a phenomenon ultimately unsettled by Enlightenment morality. Although the castrati failed to survive, their musicality and vocality have persisted long past their literal demise.

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historisch-kritischen Würdigung seines Lebens, Wirkens und Schaffens. Munich: Verlag für Moderne Musik, 1913. Ravagli, Francesco. Il Cortona, Domenico Cecchi. Città di Castello: Scipione Lapi, 1896. Ravelli, Antonio, ed. Il ciarlator maldicente. In Scelta di commedie e novelle morali del marchese Albergati Capacelli, 2 vols. London: Giuseppe Cooper, [1794], vol. 2. Ravenni, Gabriella Biagi. “‘Molti in Lucca si applicavano alla professione della musica’: Storie di formazione e di emigrazione

ensuring that the vocal apparatus remained unconstrained.140 LAST NOTES So do Moreschi’s recordings give us any acoustical purchase on a now lost bel canto castrato sound, however mediated by history and technology? Does a residue survive? Heard through a glass darkly, I think so, though it has taken me many years to take the recordings seriously. Certainly if we consider a number of other artists from the era of early recording, their connection to eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century

eighteenth-century composer was to script interaction between performers and audiences for spaces where only the most gladiatorial singers could command the attention of the crowd—large, often distracting places of entertainment or worship.5 On this view, scores were not just intentional objects, nor were they just records of performances, presentation objects, or souvenirs, as the case may be, but rather they were templates for audience/performer interactions. In the case of agility arias and

view castrati were mutually entangled with royalty by virtue of impersonating the royal body or occupying the royal sphere, making it immediate, intimate, empathic, charming, and palpable. But to reemphasize an earlier point, they could only do so because kingship is inherently divisible. Ernst Kantorowicz brilliantly showed that in medieval Europe the traditionalist power of kings depended specifically on a division between the eternal office of kingship as a figment of the realm and the mortal

Apostolica Vaticana, Ottob. Lat. 3116, fol. 149. FIGURE 43. Pier Leone Ghezzi’s drawing of Farinelli at age nineteen, depicted in the female dress of the character Berenice, a role he played in Leonardo Vinci’s Farnace at the Teatro Alibert (or “delle Dame”) in Rome, 1724. Ghezzi gives him a porcine profile. The 1724 season was the last in which he played a female part. The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. 1985–87. Gift of Mr. Janos Scholz. FIGURE 44. Pier Leone Ghezzi’s pen and ink drawing

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