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Voicing the Third Gender – The Castrato Voice and the Stigma of Emasculation in Eighteenth-century Society

La voix du troisième sexe : la voix de castrat et la honte de l’émasculation dans la société du XVIIIe siècle
Marianne Tråvén

Résumés

L’âge d’or des castrats court de 1650 à 1750 environ. Au milieu du XVIIIe siècle, l’opéra bouffe, l’opéra réformateur et les idées des Lumières concernant ce qui était « sain » et « naturel » rendirent obsolète la voix « peu saine » et « pas naturelle » des castrats. Cet article se penche sur le discours suscité par la voix de castrat au XVIIIe siècle, discours qui couvre tout le spectre du jugement, du plus favorable au plus défavorable. On présente la voix de castrat, les idéaux vocaux qui firent sa gloire et son déclin ; on examine l’opprobre qui s’attachait à la castration, privant les castrats d’une vie sociale normale. On voit que les castrats étaient considérés comme plus ou moins représentatifs du masculin et/ou du féminin, ce qui explique qu’on les ait considérés comme un troisième sexe.

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Entrées d’index

Mots-clés :

Castrat, voix, sexe, genre, opprobre, opéra

Keywords :

Castrati, voice, gender, stigma, opera
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Texte intégral

  • 1 Jean-Jacques Rousseau defined castrato as a “Musicien qu’on a privé, dans son enfance, des organes (...)

[…] a musician [singer] who, in infancy, has been deprived of his genital organs in order to preserve his high voice.1

  • 2 For a comprehensive history of the vocal castrati as a phenomenon see: John Rosselli, “The Castrati (...)
  • 3 In an engraving by William Hogarth called The Rake’s Levée, a poem on the floor depicts the female (...)

1Today, the concept of the castrato is usually connected to the ‘vocal phenomenon’ - a golden age of singers that spanned approximately one hundred years, between 1650 and 1750.2 For their contemporaries they were idols as well as monsters, music machines and seducers of both men and women. For us, it is difficult to comprehend the power of seduction that their voices seem to have held, or, for that matter, the mass hysteria that some of them inspired – a hysteria that, in some cases, bordered on blasphemy.3 The tales of their vocal powers have taken mythical shapes, partly because the very reason for their fame is elusive to us. After all, it is hardly likely that we, today, will ever hear a castrato voice that has been trained in the eighteenth-century Italian tradition. Today the beautiful singing of counter-tenors, sopranos and altos may well try to fill their stage parts, much to the delight of their audience, but the sound that ravished nations in the eighteenth century was different. Does the voice alone merit the label third “third gender”? No, I think not.

2To understand why their contemporaries categorized them as neither male nor female we also have to consider such things as their bodily features, their behavior, contemporary perceptions of gender, their choices (or lack of choices) of profession, religious and cultural believes, and the rules and laws of paternal society. Being a castrato was certainly no easy life. Their existence was governed by several stigmata because of their failure to adhere to the male norm. In England they were also foreigners, representing unwanted and dangerous foreign behavior. They practiced a forbidden religion, and they were singers, in some sense a profession little above prostitution. To mirror the internal and external effects of castration the article has been divided in the following three parts: the emasculated body – explaining what a castrato was and how the operation was done; the emasculated voice – dealing mainly with the effects of castration on vocal sound; the emasculated gender – examining reasons for classifying the castrati as a third gender, and discussing the stigma of emasculation.

The Emasculated Body

  • 4 Later castrations did occur, for instance, the famous singer Giuseppe Aprile (1731-1813) was operat (...)
  • 5 Charles Burney, The Present State of Music in France and Italy: or The Journal of a Tour through th (...)

3A castrato is, by definition a male who has been castrated, that is, he can no longer father children. If castration was performed before puberty – the typical age, during the eighteenth century, being eight or nine4 – the castrato would retain the high-pitched voice he had as a boy, and this was probably the goal of most castrations during the baroque period and late eighteenth century. It was essentially an Italian industry that catered for all of Europe’s courts, churches, opera houses and concert halls. In the 1770s the English publicist Charles Burney (1726-1814) stated that the number of boys castrated every year was around four thousand. Very few of these, however, became first-rate singers.5

  • 6 The term Norcino was used to designate someone who castrated pigs, but norcini were also specialist (...)
  • 7 In return for paying the bill, the Church had Senesino’s father guarantee that the boy would remain (...)

4The operation was illegal, banned under Canon Law and punishable with excommunication, and therefore few descriptions survive. Burney tried to ascertain the exact locations where castrations were taking place in Italy but was sent on a wild-goose chase by his informers from one town to another. The illegality of the operation did not prevent its occurrence, and even the Church had its promising boy singers castrated. Francesco Bernardi (1686-1758), called Senesino because he came from Siena, was the son of Giuseppe di Domenico Bernardi, a local barber, and Cecilia Vecchioni. In 1695 he was admitted as a choirboy into the cathedral of Siena. He was castrated on the 17th of November 1699, an operation paid for by the cathedral treasury. The operation cost fifty lire, paid to a norcino, a surgeon specializing in castrations.6 Senesino eventually became one of the most successful castrati singing first at the Dresden court and then in London as part of Handel’s company.7 The Church’s ban, therefore, does not seem to have been taken particularly seriously – even by the Church itself.

5Most of the castrati remained silent on the issue of their castration, but Filippo Balatri (1682-1756), a castrato born in Pisa, wrote a touching autobiography relating, in passing, his experience of the act of castration:

  • 8 Christine Wunnicke, Die Nachtigall des Zaren, München, Claassen, 2001, p. 22. Translation from the (...)

My voice was found to be of the finest texture, with a natural and well-performed trill, great agility in roulades and a natural taste in singing. … For this reason my father’s friends started recommending: “Cut, Cut” (and the Maestro added his voice to theirs). After all these cries of “Cut, cut”, my father finally agreed. I was sent to Accoramboni, a surgeon in Lucca, to spend two months in his home, where I would enjoy much delightful conversation. This period of conversation was so bewitching that, instead of earning the title of doctor (which I could have done at any time), I received a patent to present myself as one of the frigidis et malificiatis for the rest of my life. And now I will never hear that sweet word ‘father’, which I might one day have heard.8

  • 9 Since antiquity castrations had been used as a means of punishment, and as a way of treating ailmen (...)

6The operation could be carried out by a professional surgeon, a norcino or by less educated practitioners such as the local barber. In a time before anesthetics or antiseptics, the operation was very painful and very dangerous. The boy would be placed in a hot bath to soften the tissue and then drugged with opiates, or sedated by pressing the jugular veins, before the surgeon performed the actual operation. In medical books of the time such as John Aitkin’s Elements of The Theory and Practice of Physic and Surgery published in London in 1782, the method of severing the spermatic cords and removing the testes was common enough. We read under the heading of Castration:9

Definition. – Amputation […] removing a testicle (testis). […]
Mode. – A linear or longitudinal section of the integuments (supposing them not to be tainted) in the course of the spermatic chord, a transverse one of this chord itself, and of the cellular matter connecting the vaginal coat to the external parts, an easy task, constitutes castration […]. The spermatic chord and artery may, in the meantime, be compressed by the fingers of an assistant: Ligature: and finally, the spermatic Artery may be shut by Suture […] involving the spermatic chord altogether: Tying […] affecting the artery only.

  • 10 It is interesting to reflect on the fact that a male could, in a legal sense, be considered a castr (...)

7In a treatise published in 1718, Charles Ancillon (1659-1715) described four types of castrati: those who were born as such (something he considered very rare); the fully castrated, where the penis was removed as well as the testicles (an operation mostly performed in the orient); thlibiae – where the testicles were crushed or made to shrivel and thlasiae – where the spermatic cords were cut (counted as one category by Ancillon); and spadones, men without libido. Vocal castrati have mostly been considered to belong to the group of thlasiae. There was also a fifth category consisting of men, mostly in the orient, who were called eunuchs because they did administrative work usually associated with eunuchs.10

  • 11 Usually the boy, like Senesino, was bound for a certain amount of years after completing his studie (...)
  • 12 Martha Feldman, Strange Births and Surprising Kin: The Castrato’s Tale”, Paula Findlen et al. [ed. (...)

8After the operation the boy was sent to a conservatory or apprenticed to a music master for years of musical study. Many such contracts still survive and give some insight into the conditions that governed vocal teaching at this time.11 As Martha Feldman has pointed out, the castrati developed new forms of familial relations outside their biological families, a fact which also helped to loosen their biological bonds and give them access to a more genteel society. Most of the castrati came from humble circumstances and their new father figures; music masters, patrons and friends, had to teach manners as well as music.12

  • 13 Pier Francesco Tosi, Opinioni de’ cantori antichi, e moderni. O sieno osservazioni sopra il canto f (...)
  • 14 C. Burney, op. cit., p. 314.

9Castration did not automatically create great singers. As was pointed out by Pier Francesco Tosi (c. 1653-1732), for instance, a certain degree of vocal and musical talent was required, though this was something that many a poor parent, blinded by the money-making potential of the operation, seemed to forget.13 The result of this, according to Burney, was that the church choirs of Italy were filled with castrati who were rejects from the opera houses.14

The Emasculated Voice

  • 15 By contrast, women have vocal chords of approximately 17-31 mm before puberty, with an increase in (...)
  • 16 Ibid.

10What were the reasons for this vocally motivated castration on such a large scale? And why were these voices so cherished and “desirable”? To answer that question we will first have to take a look at the physiology of the castrato voice. The physiological changes most prominent in puberty for the male voice are an increase in hormonal levels of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone. Before puberty the male vocal chords are between 17 and 35 mm long, after puberty between 28 and 92 mm, increasing their length by approximately 63% in a male.15 Testosterone induces oedema and vascular injection in the vocal chords, followed by a thickening and increase of tissue. This newfound length and thickness creates a lower voice. The thyroid cartilage increases in circumference and becomes the Adam’s apple. The thyroid, cricoid and arytenoid cartilages also increase in mass, becoming heavier. Receptors for dihydrotestosterone are present in most of the male larynx tissue. Growth hormones also encourage the pharynx, mouth and sinus cavities, and thorax to increase in size. These factors are important to the adult vocal resonance and strength.16

  • 17 Castrati were often a head higher than their fellow beings, due to the fact that the growth-inhibit (...)
  • 18 Charles de Brosses (1709-1777) was Count of Tournay, Baron of Montfalcon, and Seigneur of Vezins an (...)

11If the testes are removed before puberty these developments will not materialize. Autopsy reports show that the castrato larynx was comparatively small, whereas the vocal chords were of roughly the size of those of a female soprano. At the same time the somatic growth continued and resulted in a grown man’s chest, pharynx and thorax capacity.17 So, even though the vocal chords were the length of a boy or a female the timbre was totally different. In eighteenth-century letters, books and narratives we are confronted with an abundance of descriptions of the castrato voice, but the vocabulary applied to sound is diverse, imprecise and colored by native, as well as personal, preferences. For instance, the French writer Charles de Brosses wrote18:

  • 19 Charles de Brosses, Lettres familières écrites d’Italie en 1739 et 1740, Paris, È. Perrin, 1885. p. (...)

One must be accustomed to these castrato voices to be able to enjoy them. The sound is as clear and penetrating as that of choir-boys, and much stronger; they seem to sing at an octave higher than the natural female voice. Their voices are mostly somewhat dry and sharp, quite different from the fresh, agreeable softness of female voices; but they are brilliant, light, [and] very strong with a wide range.19

  • 20 Richard Miller, National Schools of Singing: English, French, German, and Italian Techniques of Sin (...)

12As we can see, de Brosses preferred the ‘fresh’ female voice to the acquired Italian taste of the castrato sound. To him the castrato voice was undoubtedly unsound, a product of art, and as such opposed to true natural beauty. Castrati, although singing in France were never part of French opera. The difference between the aesthetics of the Italian and the French music and their respective vocal sounds and styles was strong throughout the whole of the eighteenth century and has, to a certain degree, persisted until today.20 These differences had ideological as well as musical reasons, and were in some contributions to the debate viewed as qualitative, perhaps best explained through a quotation from the German composer Johann Joachim Quantz’ Essay, published in 1752.

  • 21 Joachim Quantz, Essay, Berlin 1752, XVIII, p. 76. English translation from Robert Donington, The In (...)

The Italian manner of singing is refined and full of art, it moves us and at the same time excites our admiration, it has the spirit of music, it is pleasant, charming, [and] expressive, rich in taste and feeling, and it carries the hearer agreeably from one passion to another. The French manner of singing is more plain than full of art, more speaking than singing; the expressions and the voice is more strange than natural.21

  • 22 Salieri wrote a one act opera called “Prima la musica e poi le parole” (“First the music and then t (...)
  • 23 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote in a letter to his father 1781 during the work on Die Entführung aus (...)
  • 24 If we look at eighteenth century vocal manuals this difference is very clear already in the list of (...)

13One might use the Italian phrase “prima la musica, e poi le parole22 to explain the Italian way of thinking about opera. The music was always the star of the evening’s entertainment and, as Mozart said, the text should be an obedient daughter to it.23 French philosophy was however to put the text in the first place. The drama was the main feature and the music should therefore be a vehicle to further the recitation of the text.24 It is therefore not surprising that opinions differed as to the right way of performing opera. From the Italian view of opera as mainly a vehicle for beautiful singing also followed that the Italian singers were the most important thing in opera, paid much higher than the composers. In the biographical, lexicographical literature of the time we therefore find descriptions of most of the great castrati and, of course, of their voices and manner of singing:

  • 25 C. Burney op. cit.,, vol. II, p. 174-175.

Senesino, had a powerful, clear, equal, and sweet contralto voice, with a perfect intonation, and an excellent shake; his manner of singing was masterly, and his elocution unrivalled; though he never loaded adagios with too many ornaments, yet he delivered the original and essential notes, with the utmost refinement. He sang allegros with great fire, and marked rapid divisions, from the chest, in an articulate and pleasing manner; his countenance was well calculated for the stage, and his action was natural and noble; to these he joined a figure that was truly majestic, but more suited to the part of a hero than a lover.25

  • 26 C. Ancillon, op. cit., p. 8.

14Such descriptions, however, rarely give information about the quality of sound other than asserting that it was “sweet” or “penetrating”. Most contemporary sources, however, agreed that the castrato voice was sweet, strong and had a prominent quality; there also seems to have been some agreement that the quality of their voices was pleasing, fascinating and compelling, but in what way? Ancillon described Jeronimo’s voice as “so soft and ravishingly mellow, that nothing can better represent it than the Flute-stops of some organs”,26 which would point to a soft and airy quality. We have to remember, though, that the vocal technique of the time emphasized the different tonal quality of the vowels, giving each its optimal sound. This was done keeping the larynx relaxed and flexible, not low, and fixed as most singers do today. The ideal seems to have been sweet top notes and a heavier, more masculine chest voice. This division could perhaps explain the descriptions of the vocal quality as being sweet and penetrating, light and strong. Ultimately, we have to accept that, as with today’s singers, there is great diversity in both vocal quality and training, and that some of these factors might also apply to the castrati. Farinelli was an exceptionally gifted singer, whereas Senesino was a great singer and Tenducci a famous one, mostly owing to his private life.

  • 27 Wilhelm Heinse in Patrick Barbier, The World of the Castrati, London, Souvenir Press, 2001 [1996], (...)

15Comparisons to boys or female voices give us a hint of what the castrato voice was not. The difference was often stressed in contemporary sources: “Nothing in the whole of music is as fine as the fresh young voice of a castrato, no woman’s voice has the same firmness, the same strength and the same smoothness.”27

  • 28 Julius Tandler and Siegfried Grosz, op. cit., pp. 35ff.
  • 29 With the expression “lower top” is meant the octave above middle c on the piano. The Italian term p (...)
  • 30 Sally A. Sanford has shown how the Italian vocal technique of the time rested on flexible subglotti (...)

16If we look at the physical denominators of the castrato voice we get a little further. The small vocal chords of a boy were combined with the chest, pharynx and muscular power of a grown person. The music written for the castrati indicates that most of them were in fact what we today would consider mezzo-sopranos, and there also seems to have been a slight change in their voices over time due to some hardening of the cartilages of the larynx,28 which would account for the fact that some of them started off as sopranos and ended up as altos. Did they have the extended chest register of a boy? Again, the music composed for them indicates that they had strong notes in the lower top, c2-e2, the passaggio29 of the female soprano, which could indicate that this was the case. The lungpower of the castrati, who were reputed to be able to hold a note for more than a minute, can be explained partly by the small vocal chords in combination with powerful lungs. These physical attributes would, however, have to be teamed with a vocal technique that maintained the right pressure. If too much subglottic pressure was applied to the small vocal chords it could, given time, cause fatigue and, in the long term, serious vocal problems. Maybe some of the wobbling voices described in contemporary sources were due to such “power”-singers.30

  • 31 Johan Sundberg et al., ”Sopranos with a singer‘s formant? Historical, Physiological, and Acoustical (...)

17Today we are still fascinated by the sound of the castrato voice, a sound impossible to recreate, since we lack both castrated males and the appropriate vocal technique to train them. So, what do we know about the castrato voice? The only recordings of a vocally trained castrato voice were made of Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922), a member of the Sistine Chapel choir, between 1904 and 1906. These recordings suffer from the limitations of the recording technique of the time and provide very little information when analyzed with today’s technical equipment. Although the quality of the voice is obscured by those technical limitations we can still pick up on some of its qualities.31

18Our concept of the castrato voice has been greatly influenced by the Farinelli project. This project set out to create a vocal image of Farinelli’s voice for the film Farinelli. Giving the most famous castrato of all time a voice that could live up to the expectations created through hundreds of years of myths was, one can only imagine, no easy task. Still, I personally consider the outcome, although impressive musically and dramatically, a setback in the quest for the castrato voice. The project electronically merged the soprano voice of Ewa Mallas-Godlewska with the counter-tenor of Derek Lee Ragin, the voice types most often used today in castrato music. In doing this they gained a combination of extended range and agility, described in connection with Farinelli at the time.

  • 32 Nicholas Clapton, “Carlo Broschi Farinelli: Aspects of his Technique and Performance”, British Jour (...)

His voice was thought a marvel, because it was so perfect, so powerful, so sonorous, and so rich in its extent, both in the high and the low parts of the register […] The qualities in which he excelled were the evenness of his voice, the art of swelling its sound, the portamento, the union of the registers, a surprising agility, a graceful and pathetic style, and a shake as admirable as it was rare.32

19What the Farinelli project did not present was the vocal quality of the castrato voice, the sound of emasculation. It may have captured the vocal style, the agility and the fireworks of the castrato music but the sound of the voice was not present.

20The problem of sound can, however, be solved in a different manner. In 2006 I collaborated with Professor Johan Sundberg at The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm in a project aiming at a digital reconstruction of the castrato voice. The starting-point of this project was to collect all the physical data we could find and add the modern possibilities of digital analysis. Among these data were the vocal recordings of Moreschi, the post-mortem reports by Tandler and Grosz and the vocal recordings of a number of Russian castrati collected by Tandler and Grosz.

21The sound of the voice is determined by two factors. One is constituted by the mechanical qualities of the vocal chords, i. e., their length, mass, flexibility, etc. These qualities change radically over the course of puberty and, though the post-mortem reports give information about the size of the larynx, there is no note about the thickness of the vocal chords. The other factor is determined by the dimensions of the pharynx and the oral cavity, which are also subject to a radical change during puberty. In grown men the dimensions are larger than in children. In a castrato therefore, the vocal chords of a boy should be combined with a grown man’s pharynx and oral cavity.

22As the base for the digital voice, the vocal source of a prepubescent boy was used. On top of this we added the formants of a baritone, that is, the approximate size of the pharynx and the resonance quality of the oral cavity in a grown male. Taking the voice source from a child, however, means that you also take his breathing, vibrato and phrasing, in short his sound and music abilities. They are, understandably, in no respect comparable to the musical abilities of a thoroughly trained castrato voice. The result was, with all our shortcomings, of course, a long way from the Farinelli project, but still, perhaps closer to the sound of the castrato voice.

  • 33 The singer’s formant, a vocal-tract resonance, is situated at around 2800-3400 Hz. It can only be f (...)
  • 34 With the Italian term tessitura is meant “the general range of a melody or voice part; specifically(...)
  • 35 A register is most often described as “a phonation frequency range in which all tones are perceived (...)
  • 36 J. Sundberg et al., op. cit., 2006.

23A pharynx the size of a baritone’s seems to indicate that the castrato voice could have used the singer’s formant.33 With a vocal source the size of a boy’s the castrato may also have had an extended chest register. The voice registers of a boy soprano would give a register break or transition at about 511 Hz (between b1 and c2), that is, about 25% higher than in an adult voice. This could, however, also be due to the length of the trachea, and would in that case, of course, be different in a singer with an adult trachea. A boy’s voice and a girl’s voice both have the same tessitura34 and registers.35 The vocal range of a boy’s voice, from A beneath middle c to f2, seems to coincide very well with the tessitura of the general castrato voice if we look at the music written for them. These factors combined, a singer’s formant and a boy’s registration, would have created a powerful voice indeed.36

  • 37 F. Haböck, op. cit., p. 131.

Such a castrato voice passes with a light and sweet sound through the accompaniment, rises delightfully over all the instruments in a way that cannot be described, it must be heard. Those are pure voices and tones of nightingales.37

24The exhumation of Farinelli’s remains in 2006 with the intention of examining the bones for vocal research, seems to me less fruitful in the quest for the castrato voice. Most of the muscular structures involved in the vocal process have long rotted away and the bones will hardly yield any more information than the measurements presented in the research of Tandler & Grozs in 1909. The voice of Farinelli will continue to be as elusive and mythical as ever, inspiring for speculation and dreams.

  • 38 Very little research has been done on the role of falsettists in Italian church services, possibly (...)

25So, why was the castrato voice so popular? This is a complex question involving many possible explanations. First of all, a boy’s voice was fragile and could only be used for a limited time before puberty. For the Church it was costly to secure a steady supply of boys and educate them musically. Falsettists, although used, were considered to have weak voices, something that posed a problem in large churches.38 In 1588, women were barred from the stage in Rome, due to the decree by Pope Sixtus V, and even earlier than that they had been excluded from singing in church in accordance with St. Paul’s statement that “women should be silent in church.” This left the music during church service as well as on the opera stage to the castrati. The castrato voice was, if we are to believe most contemporary sources, strong, and therefore practical in both large churches and the opera house.

  • 39 Melismatic singing where the singer could, and indeed should, ornament the melodic line. A popular (...)

26If we look at the vocal aesthetics of the early eighteenth century, soprano voices were considered the perfect display of youth and heroism, making the castrato the obvious portrayer of gods, heroes and princes on stage. There was a hierarchy of voices wherein the soprano voice was considered especially valuable and therefore placed it at the top of the ladder. Throughout the eighteenth century, castrati in opera seria had a higher status and were better paid than their female counterparts, the prime donne. This changed with Enlightenment ideas of the natural and the popularization of opera buffa. Suddenly the artistic product of the castrato voice was considered alien to nature, and stood in opposition to both the male and the female voice. Reforms within the realm of opera not only changed dress, scenery and music; it changed vocal aesthetics as well. New composers preferred a simpler vocal style with less ornamentation. The musical trademark of the castrati, the canto figurato,39 suddenly fell out of fashion outside Italy. Nationalistic views as to vocal technique also helped to push the castrati from the stage into history. The call for naturalness on stage evidently excluded the unnatural castrato.

The Emasculated Gender

27Both body and voice changed due to castration, but that was not the only reason for society to see the castrati as a category of their own. Since they could no longer procreate they failed to adhere to the male norm built around procreation, and subsequently they were not seen as fully functional male subjects. Although their bodies and voices had female traits, they could not wholly be defined as females either, their sexual origin being male. To understand the problems their society had with their gender we therefore have to take a look at the development of the ‘two-sex’ theory, and the ensuing characteristics of male and female norms in society at that time, before examining the question of a third gender.

  • 40 Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Massachusetts, Harvard Univer (...)
  • 41 Ibid. p. 5.
  • 42 Ibid. p. 152.
  • 43 After her abdication Queen Christina left Sweden dressed in male attire under the assumed name of C (...)
  • 44 Th. Laqueur, op. cit., p. 161.

28Until the eighteenth century, medicine, religion and philosophy were based on the ‘same-sex’ theory. Females were considered a lesser version of men, their genital organs inversions of male organs.40 During the eighteenth century a new theory evolved presenting male and female as opposites. The ‘two-sex’ theory is apparent, for instance, in the work of Jacques-Louis Moreau who wrote that: “not only are the sexes different, but they are different in every conceivable aspect of body and soul, in every physical and moral aspect. To the physician or the naturalist, the relation of woman to man is a series of opposites and contrasts.”41 Such definitions clearly had implications for the way one looked upon gender as well, and a new model of gender emerged wherein male and female were considered as opposites. Gender and sex began to be linked, and gender was explained partly as having biological reasons. By consequence there also developed a norm for what was ‘correct’ female and male behavior, based on what was supposed to be natural for both sexes.42 In effect, men were often seen as aggressive and sexually motivated, whereas women were considered passive and passionless. Men were considered rational and ruled by reason, whereas women were irrational and emotional. In the seventeenth century, in a certain sense, a man could indulge in his female side; while a female, at least in the upper social circles, could occasionally dress in male garb and go hunting without endangering her social reputation. The conduct of both sexes was, however, still governed by social decorum. Queen Christina of Sweden was, for instance, much discussed for her manly pursuits and her use of male attire.43 The French Revolution placed a cap on female ambitions, and more and more the bourgeois world that emerged defined females as unfit for the public sphere, banishing them to domestic service, inferior to men. In the process of defining the male and female sexes, language played a major part. When the male and female genital organs were given different names it was easier to argue for fundamental differences in sex.44

  • 45 Roger Freitas, “An Erotic Image of the Castrato Singer”, Italy’s Eighteenth Century, eds. Findlen e (...)

29Discussing gender in relation to the castrati is no easy matter. In my title I have implied that they were considered to be a gender of their own, partly because they were not classified as male or female in society. They drifted, so to speak, in a gender limbo, often carrying a combination of male and female traits. Sexually, they still belonged to the male side, of course, something they themselves tried to amplify; and sexually, society often looked upon them as young adolescents, lacking the male sexual heat and body.45

  • 46 Philip H. Highfill, et al. [ed.], A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancer (...)
  • 47 Casanova must have confused his dates. If he visited London in 1763, Tenducci would not have been m (...)

30The male social role, clearly marked by active procreation, was not applied to the castrati. In the eighteenth century, a castrato was not allowed to marry in Italy, since marriage was the vehicle of procreation. Some, like Ferdinando Tenducci (c1735-1790), made use of the possibility to marry abroad, but it was always done without the blessing of society. In Tenducci’s case he had to suffer persecution from his wife’s family, a jail sentence and later, as she wanted to marry another man, a trial for impotency.46 His wife had two children that he recognized as his own, a fact that he explained to Casanova by stating that “Nature had made him a monster that he might remain a man; he was born triorchis, and as only two of the seminal glands had been destroyed the remaining one was sufficient to endow him with virility.”47 Did he really think them his own? Probably not! Such explanations were clearly designed to normalize their situation and reduce the sexual and social stigma caused by emasculation.

31Another reason why society had difficulties in placing the castrati on the male side was their behavior and choice of profession. They clearly did not fit the moral code of the English or French male, in fact they were often described as effeminate, because of their physique and social behavior; they lacked an Adam’s apple, had little or no body hair, small genitalia, did not grow bald with age, lacked muscles and tended to have a distribution of body fat more like a woman. Some of them developed breasts and broad hips, and were blessed with a skin as soft as a woman’s. On the stage and privately they displayed feelings openly, something that was considered a female privilege.

  • 48 C. Ancillon, op. cit., pp. 9-10. Ancillon got the description from St. Basil’s 117th letter in the (...)

Eunuchs [are] an abominable Tribe, who are past the sense of Honour, who are neither Men nor Women […]. They are jealous, despicable, fierce, effeminate, Gluttons, covetous, cruel, inconstant suspicious, furious insatiable. They cry (like Children) if they are left out of an Entertainment […]. The Knife has made them chaste, but this chastity is of no service to them, their Lust makes them furious, which yet is impotent, sterile and unfruitful.48

  • 49 John Rosselli, Singers of Italian Opera, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1995, p. 33. These n (...)
  • 50 Roberto Bizzocchi, ”Cicisbei: Italian Morality and European Values in the Eighteenth Century”, Ital (...)

32In the contemporary press the character of the castrato was considered far from the male norm, and every possible vice and weakness was imputed to them. They were considered to have a weak pulse, impaired vision, no mental strength or courage, and problems in pronouncing the letter r;49 the fact that they were foreigners did not help either. Though many of the male gentry had been on the Grand Tour in their youth, foreign cultures were often looked upon with suspicion. English travelers watched, for instance, with astonishment how Italian women could both be professors and go outside the house with a lover or male friend, a cicisbeo – something that was considered indecent.50 Society saw danger in male subjects aping the castrati and their foreign ways. The fear that they would corrupt ordinary males and lead them to commit sodomy was felt to be very real. The reference to sodomy, the homoerotic implication, was possibly placed at the castrati’s doorstep because of their ambiguous gender. Casanova described a situation that alludes to the fact that mistaken identity was not uncommon with young castrati.

  • 51 Giacomo Casanova, The History of my Life, Willard R. Trask [ed. transl.], Vol. 2, Baltimore, John H (...)

In comes a pretty-faced abate. His hips and thighs make me think him a girl in disguise; I says so to the Abate Gama, who tells me that it is Beppino della Mammana, a famous castrato. The Abate calls him over and laughingly says that I had taken him for a girl. He gives me a bold look and says that if I will spend the night with him he will serve me as a boy or a girl, whichever I choose.51

  • 52 Todd S. Gilman, “The Italian (Castrato) in London”. Richard Dellamora and Daniel Fischlin, [eds.], (...)

33Italian music in itself was also considered effeminate and a danger to the English male population if consumed too readily: “The more the Men are enervated and emasculated by the Softness of the Italian Musick, the less will they care for [women] […] I make no doubt but we shall come to see one Beau take another for Better for Worse […]” 52

  • 53 In the case of Tenducci who lived in London from 1758 to 1788 (with a few years in Ireland and Ital (...)

34Some castrati, like Tenducci, adapted themselves to the public taste and started to sing and compose songs in the English style, compositions which could be performed in the pleasure gardens and sold as sheet music to the bourgeoisie for a shilling. Although this was probably a good strategy to earn a living outside the opera house, it did not reduce the stigma of emasculation.53

35The fact that the castrati transgressed the limits of acceptance for the male norm at the time concerning looks, sexuality and choice of profession was bad enough, but it was the power over people’s minds, and especially those of women, that formed the greatest threat to male society. The sound mind was menaced by listening to the unsound voice of the castrato. The enchanting powers of Italian music and opera and castrati in particular were threatening to society.

  • 54 Henry Carey, “A Sorrowful Lamentation for the Loss of a Man and No Man”, T. S. Gilman, op. cit., p. (...)

Tis neither for man nor for woman, said she,
That thus with lamenting I water the lee;
But ‘tis for a singer so charming and sweet,
Whose musick, Alas! I shall never forget.54

  • 55 Judith Milhouse and Robert D. Hume, “Construing and Misconstruing Farinelli in London”, British Jou (...)

36There were many components in the sexual stigma the castrati suffered when outside Italy. Firstly came the fact that they were foreigners, “others”, belonging to a different culture. Secondly, they were somewhere between the social status of servant and artisan and some of them earned so much money that they could actually rival the gentry. This inevitably inspired envy: “And there the English Actor goes, / With many a hungry Belly, / While heaps of Gold are forc’d, / God wot, On Signior Farinelli”.55 At the same time their connection with the theatre placed them in a position very close to that of prostitution, hence the moral stigma.

  • 56 Aron Hill and William Popple, The Prompter: a theatrical paper (1734-1736), eds. William W. Appleto (...)

[…] the introduction of eunuchs upon public theatres is only fit for nations of corrupt and dissolute morals, and […] if operas cannot be performed without presenting such striking Figures to the eyes of my fair Country-women, we had much better lose the pleasure we receive from that species of harmony, than have the eyes, ears and thoughts of our ladies conversant with Figures they cannot well see, hear, nor think of, without a blush.56

  • 57 R. Freitas, art. cit., pp. 203-215.
  • 58 Interview with andrologist Stefan Arver at Karolinska Institutet, 2004.

37The castrati’s famous alleged abilities as lovers of women did, on the other hand, frame them in a male context, though not necessarily an adult male one, as Roger Freitas has shown. The castrato, in many respects, remained a youth in the eyes of society, someone who, owing to an operation, had been denied the requisite manly ‘heat’ thought to appear during puberty, a hallmark of the grown male.57 A popular myth was, and still is, that castrati were virile lovers who could easily satisfy a woman. Unfortunately for those who like a titillating story there is no physical evidence to corroborate such ideas.58 A boy castrated before puberty will never develop the sexual reactions needed to consummate marriage or, for that matter, to offer sexual satisfaction with his genital organs. That 18th-century women nevertheless liked to consort with castrati probably has other explanations. Entering an amorous liaison with a castrato, the woman did not risk pregnancy. There might also have been the extra benefit of professional tutoring in music and singing, and a possibility to socialize with a male without sexual implications. The exact reasons are anyone’s guess. Some evidence of this is given in a poem published in the London press in 1727:

  • 59 F[austina’]s Answer to S[enesi]nos Epistle, London 1727. Todd S. Gilman, “The Italian (Castrato) in (...)

To keep my Character, my Shape, my Voice
I fix’d on Thee, cold Slave, my prudent Choice.
Well knowing safe with Thee I might remain,
Enjoy Loves Pleasures, yet avoid the Pain;
By Thee caress’d, continue yet a Maid,
Nor of a Tell-tale B[ab]y be afraid…59

38On stage, however, the insecurity surrounding gender prevailed. Although most of the castrati operated in major roles that were prominently male, such as heroic generals, gods and mythical beings, many of them made their debut at an early age (often as early as fifteen) in female roles. The fact that the castrati sometimes performed in female clothes does not seem to have influenced the social gender in a more general female direction. It was only a rite of passage, an area they paced when young. Only a few of the castrati, like the one in Casanova’s tale, specialized in female roles throughout their careers:

  • 60 Alan Sykes, “'Snip Snip Here, Snip, Snip There, and a Couple of Tra La Las'”: The Castrato and the (...)

The castrato had a fine voice, but his chief attraction was his beauty. I had seen him in man’s clothes in the street, but though a fine looking fellow, he had not made any impression on me, for one could see at once that he was only half a man, but on stage in woman’s dress the illusion was complete; he was ravishing. […] he was enclosed in a carefully-made corset and looked like a nymph; and incredible though it may seem, his breast was as beautiful as any woman’s; it was the monster’s chiefest charm. However well one knew the fellow’s neutral sex, as soon as one saw his breast one felt all aglow and quite madly amorous of him” […] As he glanced toward the boxes, his black eyes, at once tender and modest, ravished the heart. He evidently wished to fan the flames of those who loved him as a man, and who probably would not have cared for him if he had been a woman.60

  • 61 When Senesino could not perform in the title role of Radamisto in 1720, Handel simply had Margherit (...)
  • 62 Judith Summers, Casanova’s Women, London, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006, pp. 111-134.

39Sexual ambiguity was not reserved for the castrati but could also be found in female roles of the time. Some female singers, like Margherita Durastanti, or Regina Mingotti, even specialized in breeches roles. In a few cases and with a special kind of voice it seems that a female singer could be exchanged for a castrato. Handel certainly had no problems in placing a female singer in a castrato role if necessary, something that might indicate that sound ideals were not as cemented as we usually think.61 It also seem possible that females could impersonate castrati, at least if we are to believe Casanova who fell in love with what he thought was, a young castrato, who later turned out to be a young woman masquerading as the castrato Bellino. The woman has been identified as Teresa Lanti or Angiola Calori. 62 A certain type of female voice seems to have had a quality that could be mistaken for that of a castrato voice.

  • 63 Amingoni’s portrait of Farinelli is today part of the collection of the National Museum of Art in B (...)

40Portraits or pictures of castrati wearing female garb are rare, a sign that they were not appreciated by the castrati themselves. We find them, however, among the popular caricatures of the time. If we, on the other hand, look at the paintings commissioned by the castrati themselves, they were obviously more interested in adhering to the male ideal. The image portrayed is often the heroic figures they acted on stage, heroes, gods, princes and men of wealth and power. A typical example is the portrait commissioned by Farinelli and painted by his friend Jacopo Amigoni (1682-1752). It shows Farinelli sitting in a silk dress among tumbling putti, crowned by Fama, with an angel blowing his trumpet. It was painted in London where Farinelli had experienced exceptional success in the 1730s. On the floor lie two music books, marking his profession; in the background the classical setting places Farinelli among the heroes of the stage. The bust to the left alludes to classical learning. Farinelli is portrayed in his everyday attire, and though he is sitting the long limbs are evident. Without such attributes, this portrait could be of any person of the upper orders.63

41Although the contemporary criticism of the castrati emphasized their effeminate figure – men looked, acted and sounded like women – there were also those who described them as neither male nor female, and those who described them as part male, part female. They were male in the sense that they were considered virile and sexually dangerous; female in the sense that they often behaved in a way considered feminine. Sexual differences were, in the eighteenth century, strongly linked to appearance and conduct, and castrati hovered between the two genders, coming close to the female side in social matters, entering the more male sphere when playing heroes on stage, and visually drifting off in the direction of the female again, although they themselves tried to portray and manifest themselves on the male side of the scale through portraiture. The many critical entries on castrati in the English press might suggest that the castrati were generally loathed by their contemporaries. That was not the case. They were ridiculed, envied and to some extent pitied, but also hailed, admired and highly praised. There was however a social, religious, musical, sexual and moral stigma adhering to the castrato. This stigma is visible in publications and graphic material of the time.

42This stigma was complex. Legally, castrati were singled out from their male contemporaries through the prohibition of marriage. This denied them a family of their own, leading to new strategies in forming relational ties. They were usually Catholic, something that was not popular in Protestant countries, and in England placed them within the boundaries of the penal laws that regulated the lives of Catholics on English and Irish soil. Most of them came from humble families and, as such, were not familiar with the social codes of genteel society. Their connection to the theatre, although fascinating to the audience when they stood on stage, also placed them in the same group as circus artists, market jugglers and prostitutes when they stepped off the stage. To handle a career avoiding the reprobation of society was no easy task. In the eighteenth century it was still important to be well connected and to have friends in high places. This placed most of the castrati in a dependent position. The sexual stigma and the ambiguous gender also contributed to their insecurity in society and stamped them as morally deficient.

43So how did the castrati themselves view their gender? Most of them seem to have tried to live up to the male norm in society despite losing their legal right to marry, but when the castrato Filippo Balatri, visiting Russia, was asked by the Khan what kind of species he was, he answered:

  • 64 Ich bin um eine Antwort recht verlegen. / Sag ich ‚ein Mann‘? Die Lüge ist banal. / Sag ich ‚ein W (...)

I was too embarrassed to answer.
Should I say ‘a man’? The lie is commonplace.
Should I say ‘a woman’? I could not say that!
And I blush, should I say ‘neutral’.64

44It seems confusion was part of what made the castrato so appealing, he was everything and nothing, boy, male, female, whatever society could make use of at that moment. So why did society discharge this chameleon of its own making?

  • 65 Harold Rosenthal and John Warrack, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 2nd Edition, Oxford, Oxf (...)

45Changing vocal ideals were certainly part of the castrati’s downfall, combined with changing family strategies in Italy. When castration ceased to be an option for poor Italian families, other strategies for survival were chosen. The Enlightenment ideals of nature over culture also played a part in banning the castrati from the stage. We must also ask ourselves if a more rigid gender structure, the result of the French revolution, was not instrumental in their exit. When Napoleon reached Naples he closed the conservatories that educated castrati and banned them from the stage, only to reinstate the castrato Crescentini after hearing him in concert. A more rigid gender structure gave little room for the castrati’s third gender. Lastly, a reason can be found in music itself. The sound of eighteenth-century opera was, on stage, soprano- and alto-heavy, based on many high voices and few low voices. This was no problem as long as there was a structure based on the aria, with very few ensembles, and the chiaroscuro (here a bright sound combined with a dark timbre) of arias changing in a pattern of contrast. As soon as the ensemble gained popularity on stage a demand for a more balanced sound, with evenly distributed voices which spanned a greater range of the sound spectrum became apparent. The hierarchy where the soprano sound was highest on the ladder was soon confined to history and the castrati became an atrocity of the past. In London in 1824, the last castrato on stage, Giovanni Battista Velluti, was laughed at when he appeared in Meyerbeer’s opera Il crociato in Egitto.65

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Notes

1 Jean-Jacques Rousseau defined castrato as a “Musicien qu’on a privé, dans son enfance, des organes de la génération, pour lui conserver la voix aiguë qui chante la Partie appellée Dessus ou Soprano.” His laconic description seems to exemplify how the phenomenon was described at the time. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Dictionnaire de Musique, Amsterdam, 1768, p.75.

2 For a comprehensive history of the vocal castrati as a phenomenon see: John Rosselli, “The Castrati as a Professional Group and a Social Phenomenon, 1550-1850”, Acta Musicologica, 60, Fasc. 2, 1988, pp. 143-179.

3 In an engraving by William Hogarth called The Rake’s Levée, a poem on the floor depicts the female fondness for Farinelli’s vocal acrobatics. The poem is dedicated to T. Rakewell Esq., and looks like a title page, portraying Farinelli sitting like a heathen god on a pedestal, a burning sacrifice on an altar below. Around him a crowd of women approach, offering their hearts to him. One of them utters: “One God, one Farinelli”. The women might even be compared to female Beatles fans of the 1960s, ‘worshipping’ their ‘idol’. The original story was presented in The Prompter 37, 14 March, 1735. Thomas McGeary, Farinelli and the English: ‘One God’ or the Devil?”, LISA e-journal, 2. 3, 2004: http://lisa.revues.org/886 (last accessed 4 May 2016).

4 Later castrations did occur, for instance, the famous singer Giuseppe Aprile (1731-1813) was operated on at the age of twelve. Waiting too long could be hazardous, however, risking the onset of puberty and thus the failure of the desired vocal effect. Theodor Baker and Nicholas Slonimsky, Nicolas [ed.], “Aprile, Giuseppe”, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, 5th ed., New York, Schirmer, 1958, p. 41.

5 Charles Burney, The Present State of Music in France and Italy: or The Journal of a Tour through those Countries, undertaken to collect Materials for A General History of Music, London: T. Becket and Co., 1773, p. 312.

6 The term Norcino was used to designate someone who castrated pigs, but norcini were also specialist surgeons who operated on inguinal hernias and stones. Nicholas Clapton, “Machines Made for Singing”, Handel & the Castrati: The Story Behind the 18th-Century Superstar Singer, London, Handel House Museum, 2006, pp. 1-4, here page 3.

7 In return for paying the bill, the Church had Senesino’s father guarantee that the boy would remain as a singer at the cathedral for a period of six years. Senesino also had an elder brother who was castrated, but did not have a career as a singer. Senesino was already thirteen years old when castrated, which was very late. Thanks to Elisabetta Avanzati and the family archive, which has preserved the letters and documents of this singer, we know that the operation changed his life forever. He became obsessed with perpetuating his lineage and the fruits of his career—by choosing a nephew as heir. While in England he documented the visits to wealthy patrons and music lovers in a diary, lists that give a considerable insight into the musical network of the time. E. Avanzati, art. cit., pp. 5-9.

8 Christine Wunnicke, Die Nachtigall des Zaren, München, Claassen, 2001, p. 22. Translation from the German by the author.

9 Since antiquity castrations had been used as a means of punishment, and as a way of treating ailments such as hernia, leprosy, and gout. Since the operation was illegal in the eighteenth century, most operations were declared to be the remedy for injuries by accidents such as a bite by a wild pig, or a fall from a horse. Franz Haböck, Die Kastraten und ihre Gesangskunst: Eine gesangsphysiologische, kultur- und musikhistorische Studie. Stuttgart, Berlin, Leipzig, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1927, p. 239.

10 It is interesting to reflect on the fact that a male could, in a legal sense, be considered a castrato although not medically be one. To accuse someone of being a castrato could for instance lead to divorce. Charles Ancillon, Eunuchism display’d, London, E. Curil, 1718, pp. 14-20.

11 Usually the boy, like Senesino, was bound for a certain amount of years after completing his studies. The income he would have then received was divided according to the contract between the music teacher and the singer or the singer’s family. Many contracts openly state that the boy was to be castrated, sometimes at the teacher’s expense. These documents were often deposited in public archives, thereby showing that the act of castration was in some sense tolerated by society. John Rosselli, Singers of Italian Opera: The History of a Profession, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 37-38.

12 Martha Feldman, Strange Births and Surprising Kin: The Castrato’s Tale”, Paula Findlen et al. [ed.], Italy’s Eighteenth Century: Gender and Culture in the Age of the Grand Tour, Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 2009, pp. 175-202.

13 Pier Francesco Tosi, Opinioni de’ cantori antichi, e moderni. O sieno osservazioni sopra il canto figurato. Bologna, Lelio dalla Volpe, 1723, p. 50. Franz Haböck claimed that out of a hundred castrated boys only one became a good singer. F. Haböck, op. cit., p. 240.

14 C. Burney, op. cit., p. 314.

15 By contrast, women have vocal chords of approximately 17-31 mm before puberty, with an increase in the length to 21 to 47 mm after puberty, approximately 34%. J. S. Jenkins, “The Voice of the Castrato, The Lancet, 351, 1998, pp. 1877-1880, here page 1877.

16 Ibid.

17 Castrati were often a head higher than their fellow beings, due to the fact that the growth-inhibiting hormone somatostatin was lacking. This made their limbs continue to grow through their life, leaving them with long arms and legs. In old age they clearly looked grotesque, a fact that can be seen in the popular caricatures of the time, and in the photographs of Julius Tandler and Siegfried Grosz, “Über den Einfluss der Kastration auf den Organismus“, Archiv für Entwicklungsmechanik des Organismus, 29. 2, 1910, pp. 236-253, here page 245.

18 Charles de Brosses (1709-1777) was Count of Tournay, Baron of Montfalcon, and Seigneur of Vezins and Prevessin. He was president of the parliament in Dijon where he lived and an enemy to Voltaire who prevented him from entering the Académie française in 1770. He was twice exiled because of his anti-royalist pamphlets. A couple of his many articles were used by Diderot and d’Alembert in the Encyclopédie (1751-65). William J. Roberts, France: A Reference Guide from the Renaissance to the Present, New York, Facts on File Inc., 2004, p. 181.

19 Charles de Brosses, Lettres familières écrites d’Italie en 1739 et 1740, Paris, È. Perrin, 1885. p. 363. Translation by this author.

20 Richard Miller, National Schools of Singing: English, French, German, and Italian Techniques of Singing Revisited, Lanham, Scarecrow Press, 1997, p. 165.

21 Joachim Quantz, Essay, Berlin 1752, XVIII, p. 76. English translation from Robert Donington, The Interpretation of Early Music, London, Faber and Faber, 1963, 2nd ed., p. 526.

22 Salieri wrote a one act opera called “Prima la musica e poi le parole” (“First the music and then the words”) to a libretto by Giovanni Battista Casti in 1786. It is a very funny play with the opera industry. Volkmar Braunbehrens, Salieri: Ein Musiker im Schatten Mozarts, München, R. Piper GmbH ansd Co, 1989, pp. 152-153.

23 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote in a letter to his father 1781 during the work on Die Entführung aus dem Serial that: “Bei einer Opera muß schlechterdings die Poesie der Musik gehorsame Tochter sein. Warum? Weil da die Musik herrscht und man darüber alles vergißt." (In an opera the poetry must always be an obedient daughter to music. Why? Because music rules and makes us forget everything else.). Translation by the author. Wilhelm A. Bauer and Otto E. Deutch (eds.), Mozart: Briefe und Aufzeichnungen, Bd III, 1780-1786, Kassel, Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, 1963, p. 167.

24 If we look at eighteenth century vocal manuals this difference is very clear already in the list of contents. The French manuals emphasise declamation to a higher degree than the Italian manuals. See for instance Jean Antoine Bérard, L'Art du chant, Paris, l’Auteur, 1755, or Joseph Lacassange, Traité général des élémens du chant, Paris, l’Auteur, 1766.

25 C. Burney op. cit.,, vol. II, p. 174-175.

26 C. Ancillon, op. cit., p. 8.

27 Wilhelm Heinse in Patrick Barbier, The World of the Castrati, London, Souvenir Press, 2001 [1996], p. 178.

28 Julius Tandler and Siegfried Grosz, op. cit., pp. 35ff.

29 With the expression “lower top” is meant the octave above middle c on the piano. The Italian term passaggio was used to describe the transition between vocal registers, for instance going from the chest voice into the lighter head register. David L. Jones, What Is Passaggio And Why Is It Important?, http://www.voiceteacher.com/passaggio.html (last accessed 19 June 2016)

30 Sally A. Sanford has shown how the Italian vocal technique of the time rested on flexible subglottic pressure, as opposed to the French technique which strove for an even pressure during phonation. The Italian method consequently used a lower pressure, something that must have helped the castrato singer. Sally A. Sanford, “A Comparison of French and Italian Vocal Technique in the 17th Century”, Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music, Society for Seventeenth-Century Music, 1993, http://sscm-jscm.org/jscm/v1/no1/sanford.html (last accessed 16 June 2016).

31 Johan Sundberg et al., ”Sopranos with a singer‘s formant? Historical, Physiological, and Acoustical Aspects of Castrato Singing”. Paper presented at the Pan-European Voice Conference 2006.

32 Nicholas Clapton, “Carlo Broschi Farinelli: Aspects of his Technique and Performance”, British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 28. 3, 2005, pp. 323-338, here page 323.

33 The singer’s formant, a vocal-tract resonance, is situated at around 2800-3400 Hz. It can only be found in the voices of trained male singers and enables the voice to carry over the orchestra that has a peak at around 500 Hz. A normal soprano voice has a wider harmonic spacing, something that makes it hard to define a formant in any single note. Johan Sundberg explains the singer’s formant through a clustering of the third, fourth, and/or fifth resonances of the vocal tract. The singer reaches the formant by lowering the larynx and narrowing the vocal tract above the glottis. Johan Sundberg, “Articulatory interpretation of the singer’s formant”, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 55, 1974, pp. 838-844.

34 With the Italian term tessitura is meant “the general range of a melody or voice part; specifically:  the part of the register in which most of the tones of a melody or voice part lie”. “tessitura”, The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tessitura (last accessed 20 June 2016)

35 A register is most often described as “a phonation frequency range in which all tones are perceived as being produced in a similar way and which possess a similar voice timbre.” The way registers are placed within the voice and how the singer handles going from one to the other is often called registration. Johan Sundberg, The Science of the Singing Voice, Dekalb, Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press, 1987, p. 49.

36 J. Sundberg et al., op. cit., 2006.

37 F. Haböck, op. cit., p. 131.

38 Very little research has been done on the role of falsettists in Italian church services, possibly because the terminology is elusive and it is very hard to separate falsettists from other singers.

39 Melismatic singing where the singer could, and indeed should, ornament the melodic line. A popular treatise that explained the foundations for this type of vocal display was Giambattista Mancini’s manual Pensieri e riflessioni pratiche sopra il canto figurato, published in 1777. Castrati were not alone in using ornamented singing, most Italian singers of both sexes were schooled in this type of singing, but the castrati’s long vocal training and often excellent breath management made it a fantastic vehicle for their voices.

40 Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1990, p. 4.

41 Ibid. p. 5.

42 Ibid. p. 152.

43 After her abdication Queen Christina left Sweden dressed in male attire under the assumed name of Count Dohna. Vern L. Bullogh and Bonnie Bullogh, Cross-dressing, Sex, and Gender, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993, p. 97.

44 Th. Laqueur, op. cit., p. 161.

45 Roger Freitas, “An Erotic Image of the Castrato Singer”, Italy’s Eighteenth Century, eds. Findlen et al., pp. 203-215.

46 Philip H. Highfill, et al. [ed.], A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London 1660-1800, Vol. 14, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1993, p. 396.

47 Casanova must have confused his dates. If he visited London in 1763, Tenducci would not have been married, so it seems that he must have been there at a later date. Paul Nettle, The other Casanova, New York, Da capo Press, 1970, p. 132.

48 C. Ancillon, op. cit., pp. 9-10. Ancillon got the description from St. Basil’s 117th letter in the translation of the Abbé de Bellegarde.

49 John Rosselli, Singers of Italian Opera, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press 1995, p. 33. These notions come initially from Hippocrates but were used by, for instance, Rousseau in the eighteenth century to describe castrato characteristics.

50 Roberto Bizzocchi, ”Cicisbei: Italian Morality and European Values in the Eighteenth Century”, Italy’s Eighteenth Century, ed. Findlen, et al., pp. 35-58, here page 38-40.

51 Giacomo Casanova, The History of my Life, Willard R. Trask [ed. transl.], Vol. 2, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 1997, p. 266. Casanova had previously exposed the supposed castrato Bellino as the girl Teresa Lanti. She had fallen in love with the castrato Salimbeni who lodged in the family house when she was twelve. He had given her singing lessons. After her father died, Salimbeni took the girl with him to Rimini where he picked up a young castrato (Bellino) who was boarding with a music teacher there. On arrival it turned out that the young castrato was dead. Salimbeni now proposed that Teresa take the role of Bellino. She would continue her music studies and in four years’ time Salimbeni would present her as a young castrato in Dresden. A false penis was prepared for her to complete the deception, and she commented that she had become like her lover, that is, a castrato. Masquerading as a castrato had its drawbacks for Teresa and she had on two occasions to submit to physical examination since the theatre managers thought she looked too much like a girl. Teresa was pestered by admirers from two categories; those who, like Casanova, suspected that she was a girl, and those who saw an exceptionally beautiful young youth in her.

52 Todd S. Gilman, “The Italian (Castrato) in London”. Richard Dellamora and Daniel Fischlin, [eds.], The Work of Opera: Genre, Nationhood, and Sexual Difference, New York, Columbia University Press, 1997, pp. 49-70, here p. 51.

53 In the case of Tenducci who lived in London from 1758 to 1788 (with a few years in Ireland and Italy in between) there are quite a few poems presented in the contemporary press to show that he, although accepted by the public to a certain degree, was always seen as an outsider. That he was sensitive to criticism shows his reply when he was ridiculed for publishing a portrait wearing the order of St. John. The Gazetteer, January 13, 1778.

54 Henry Carey, “A Sorrowful Lamentation for the Loss of a Man and No Man”, T. S. Gilman, op. cit., p. 49.

55 Judith Milhouse and Robert D. Hume, “Construing and Misconstruing Farinelli in London”, British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 28. 3, 2005, pp. 361-85, here page 369.

56 Aron Hill and William Popple, The Prompter: a theatrical paper (1734-1736), eds. William W. Appleton and Kalman A. Burnim, New York, B. Blom, 1966, p. 39.

57 R. Freitas, art. cit., pp. 203-215.

58 Interview with andrologist Stefan Arver at Karolinska Institutet, 2004.

59 F[austina’]s Answer to S[enesi]nos Epistle, London 1727. Todd S. Gilman, “The Italian (Castrato) in London”, Richard Dellamora and Daniel Fischlin, The Work of Opera: Genre, Nationhood, and Sexual Difference, New York, Columbia University Press, 1997, p. 54.

60 Alan Sykes, “'Snip Snip Here, Snip, Snip There, and a Couple of Tra La Las'”: The Castrato and the Nature of Sexual Difference.” Catherine Ingrassia, and Jeffrey S, Ravel [eds.], Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, 34, The American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 2004, pp. 213-14.

61 When Senesino could not perform in the title role of Radamisto in 1720, Handel simply had Margherita Durastanti sing instead. When Senesino arrived in London he was given the role and Durastanti resumed the role of prima donna instead. C. Steven Larue, Handel and his Singers. The Creation of the Royal Academy Operas 1720-1728, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2001 [1995], p. 80.

62 Judith Summers, Casanova’s Women, London, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006, pp. 111-134.

63 Amingoni’s portrait of Farinelli is today part of the collection of the National Museum of Art in Bucharest, Romania. A pen drawing of Farinelli in a female role by Pier Leone Ghezzi (1724) can be found in the Pierpoint Morgan Library in New York. Like most castrati playing female parts this was in the beginning of his career.

64 Ich bin um eine Antwort recht verlegen. / Sag ich ‚ein Mann‘? Die Lüge ist banal. / Sag ich ‚ein Weib‘? Das sag ich nicht, von wegen! / Und ich erröte, sage ichNeutral‘.” C. Wunnicke, op. cit., p. 86.

65 Harold Rosenthal and John Warrack, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 2nd Edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979, p. 521.

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Marianne Tråvén, « Voicing the Third Gender – The Castrato Voice and the Stigma of Emasculation in Eighteenth-century Society  », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 29 | 2016, mis en ligne le 13 juillet 2016, consulté le 20 septembre 2017. URL : http://episteme.revues.org/1220 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.1220

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