World of the Castrati: The History of an Extraordinary Operatic Phenomenon

Overview

This entertaining and authoritative study of the castrati during the baroque period explores the lives and triumphs of more than 60 singers over three centuries—their social origins, training, and relationship to society and church. Blending history and anecdote, it traces the course of a phenomenon that held Europe in its thrall. People were fascinated by these hybrids—part man, part woman, and part child—who became virile heroes on the operatic stage. The reader will learn of the horrors of castration, the ...

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Overview

This entertaining and authoritative study of the castrati during the baroque period explores the lives and triumphs of more than 60 singers over three centuries—their social origins, training, and relationship to society and church. Blending history and anecdote, it traces the course of a phenomenon that held Europe in its thrall. People were fascinated by these hybrids—part man, part woman, and part child—who became virile heroes on the operatic stage. The reader will learn of the horrors of castration, the nature of the strange castrato voice, and the conflicts these singers experienced.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A remarkable topic that, unfortunately, doesn't get the nuanced handling it deserves.

In a society in which the outrageous garners maximum media attention, the Baroque-era castrati should be guaranteed to lure readers other than scholars and opera fanatics. What other history can discuss sex, forced genital mutilation, religious hypocrisy, and adultery, all in the name of historical research? Incredibly, Barbier manages to make this intriguing 16th19th century European phenomenon (which involved the castration of male children before puberty to preserve the purity of their singing voices) boring, even annoying. His style is, on the whole, plodding. Particularly bothersome is his overuse of exclamation marks and his habit of asking questions and then not answering them, this despite the fact that the inquiries often go to the essence of a particular section. The chapter on the almost hysterical appeal some women felt for castrati, for instance, asks: "Was this merely the attraction of a circus phenomenon? Was it the search by the ladies for a love-life without danger? Or the exceptional power of a voice that numbed reason and led to `the delights of paradise'? The idealisation of a `supernatural' being who belonged to both sexes without knowing the limits of either?" Intriguing ideas. Barbier's conclusion? "We shall never really understand the intimate motivations of each spectator, man or woman, in their relationships with the castrati." Which is not to say that the book is totally without redeeming features. Barbier (Opera in Paris, 18001850: A Lively History, 1995) knows his opera and is fairly thorough in touching all the important bases. As such, the book is a decent overview for people needing the basics.

A lesson in how to take a great story and dull it to death.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780285634602
  • Publisher: Souvenir Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2010
  • Pages: 282
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Patrick Barbier is a professor at the West Catholic University in Angers. He lives in Nantes, France.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface 1
1 Castration 5
2 Origins and Recruitment 19
3 Training the Singers 35
4 The Theatre in Italy 62
5 The Road to Fame 82
6 The Castrati and the Church 122
7 The Castrati in Society 136
8 European Journeys 174
9 In the Evening of Life 209
10 The Twilight of the Angels 223
Epilogue 242
Notes 243
Bibliography 249
Index 257
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Very good translation from French to English

    Very informative for whoever wishes to learn, or expand their knowledge about this operatic phenomenon, their lives, and their role in the history of opera.

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