Do you know the dark and fascinating history of the singers known as the castrati?

The castrati or eunuchsnamely men who had their testicles removed, dominated vocal musical performance in Europe well into the 19th centuryalthough it was during the baroque they reached their maximum splendorGiven the until then women were forbidden to sing in churches and on stage.

These were children who were trained as solo singers from an early age and exercised their musical giftsat firstin the field of religious music, although later they covered the genres of Italian Oratorio and Operaas described by Claudio Morla, an Argentine musicologist specializing in medieval music.

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There are testimonies of the existence of eunuchs from previous centuries in other Eastern societies, the oldest were found in China and India, as well as in Egypt, Persia, Greece and Rome, and, in the Middle Ages, in Byzantium and the Islamic world. Although in these cultures, most of the boys who were castrated were totally or partially castrated, also removing the possibility of obtaining sexual satisfaction with the opposite sex.

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The social consideration of eunuchs in these cultures was very diverseand, in addition to being perceived his castration as undesirableit was the consideration of faithful people as a slave or even qualities such as the purity of an asceticsays Claudio Morla.

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AN INTERVENTION, SOMETIMES DEADLY

In Europe, the intervention that children suffered in their genitals to maintain a voice between infantile and feminine, was carried out before the changes that led to sexual maturity began. The procedure, which was carried out in barbershops, consisted of cutting the spermatic ducts of the testicles, without actually removing or mutilating them, although their growth was stunted.

$!Portrait of Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922), “the angel of Rome, around 1883, of which we have the only musical recording of a castrati, made in 1902.

Portrait of Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922), “the angel of Rome”, around 1883, of which we have the only musical recording of a castrati, made in 1902.

To perform this operation, the child was placed in a large basin filled with very hot water or milk and drugged with opium.so that I would have less suffering, however, many of them died as a result of these procedures.

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If they were operated on before they were ten years old, they used to have quite feminine characteristics, their penis did not grow and their sexual imbalance caused them not to feel any kind of desire for sex..

But, if the boys were castrated when their puberty had already started, their development was more normal, their penis continued to grow and they were able to achieve erections and obtain sexual satisfaction.

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COVETED LIKE LOVERS

Some of them got married, always with papal dispensationsince marriage with a castrati was prohibited, but there were many who took advantage of this illicit situation, as did the famous Consolinoa true womanizer who benefited from his delicate feminine features and went disguised as a woman to his dates to have passionate adventures before his own husband.

For women from European high society, achieving a relationship with a castrati had a double benefit, since they did not conceive and also obtained a greater dose of sexual pleasure, since castration lengthened the performance of that man who, due to lack of sensation, made him focus his attention more on the woman’s desire, unlike normal men who were only concerned with their own satisfaction.

$!Caricature of Senesino, Cuzzoni, and the castrati Farinelli, 1723 engraving by John Vanderbank.

Caricature of Senesino, Cuzzoni, and the castrati Farinelli, 1723 engraving by John Vanderbank.

A) Yes, many castrati fed his legend and spread his skills as tireless lovers, in such a way that his fame spread throughout half of Europeand they became myths that provided illicit and morbid fantasies, behind the strict morality that prevailed in European society in the Modern Age.

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But, Actually, in the field of art, the objective of this castration was to preserve the larynx and vocal cords in their infantile state.while the body developed normally, although they used to have a larger chest, as well as longer arms and legs than usual, the skin remained smooth and the face hairless.

AN “OUTER-EARTHLY” VOICE

As for musical training, famous castrati received a very solid education from a very early age, generally higher than most natural singers.sya his voice was described with a common epithet at the time: “otherworldly“, namely, “out of the ordinary”.

The dedication of the castrati to singing begins in the Church, where liturgical singing was performed exclusively by men.s and, with the use of polyphony, the songs with the highest notes were provided by children’s voices or by two types of adult males, the light tenors, with very high registers, and the so-called falsetists.

$!Children of the Thomanerchor choir at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany, in January 2012, for the eighth centenary of the choir, founded in 1212.

Boys from the Thomanerchor choir at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany, in January 2012, for the eighth centenary of the choir, founded in 1212.

Where the castrati caused a sensation was in the Vaticanduring the papacies of Sixtus V and, above all, Clement VIII (in the 16th and early 17th centuries), who reorganized the choirs of the Sistine Chapel and the Musical Chapel of Saint Peter’s Basilica, replacing the children and the falsetists with castrati.

But it was in the Opera and associated forms of solo singing where castrati were more highly valuedin public or private performances for the aristocratic class.

From 1600, the popularity of the castrati spread throughout Europe, where the tendency of musicians to write for their particular voice grew, in such a way that none was equaled by a singer with a natural voice, whether male or female.

The Italian castrati Farinelli (Carlo Broschi, Naples, 1705, Bologna, 1782) was one of the most prestigious singers of the timewhich toured the most important European theaters and organized musical shows in the Spanish courts of Felipe V and Fernando VI.

Goethe wrote about the opera house in Rome:

I reflect on the reasons why I like these singers so much, and I find the answer in the performance. The concept of imitation and artifice is invariably perceived more strongly and a kind of growing illusion is produced. This double pleasure is given by the fact that these people are not women, but only represent women”.

The last castrati was Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1921). Although in 1902, at the beginning of sound recording technology, he recorded some pieces, unfortunately the reproduction is not faithful to the qualities of his art, however, they are the only recordings that remain of these sublime voices that embellished music , despite its ignominious secrets.

HIGHLIGHTS:

+ These were children who were trained as solo singers from an early age and exercised their musical gifts.s, at first, in the field of religious music, although later they covered the genres of Italian Oratorio and Opera, as described by Claudio Morla, an Argentine musicologist specializing in medieval music.

+ For women from European high society, achieving a relationship with a castrati had a double benefit, since they did not conceive and also obtained a greater dose of sexual pleasuresince castration lengthened the performance of that man whose lack of sensation made him focus his attention more on the woman’s desire, unlike normal men who were only concerned with their own satisfaction.

+ The last castrati was Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1921). Although in 1902at the beginning of sound recording technology, he recorded some pieces, unfortunately the reproduction is not faithful to the qualities of his art, however, they are the only recordings that have remained of these sublime voices that embellished the music, despite of its ignominious secrets.

By Isabel Martínez Pita EFE/Reports.

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