Castrato voice

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Danny
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Castrato voice

Post by Danny » Sun Jul 14, 2019 8:27 pm

I know that, in the old days, castrati were able to retain their high voice after reaching puberty.

However, when they SPOKE, did they also speak with a boy's voice (like a woman's)?

Just curious.

John F
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by John F » Sun Jul 14, 2019 10:37 pm

The Wikipedia article "castrato," describing the physiology, suggests that the answer is yes, but doesn't say so directly.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castrato# ... lar_voices
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Belle
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by Belle » Mon Jul 15, 2019 3:30 am

I always found this practice barbaric and paradoxical: the Catholic church wanting sex used for procreation then turning a blind eye to the castration of fertile males for music performance. The practice started in Catholic Italy.

John F
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by John F » Mon Jul 15, 2019 6:21 am

It's not just the Catholic church that "turned a blind eye" to the practice of making castratos. Society as a whole condoned it until well into the 19th century, and male sopranos like Senesino and Farinelli were the opera stars of their time, not just in Italy but in Austria, France, and Protestant England, and became very wealthy. And it wasn't the church but parents who had it done to their children, in at least some cases as a way to escape poverty.

The all-male Sistine Choir and their first soprano Alessandro Moreschi can be heard on some records from early in the last century, made by the English record company Gramophone durng the same tours of Italy that produced Caruso's first records, and published in the US by Victor. At about that time, by decree of Pope Pius X, the castratos in the choir were retired and replaced by (unaltered) boy sopranos and altos. It would have had to be done eventually as new castratos had ceased being made decades earlier.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-N8NovtlFXs

I don't know and can't find out whether the high voices in the choir are castratos, boys, or maybe both. In this recording to my ears they sound like boys. The soprano soloist (there's also a tenor and a bass) is Moreschi.
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Danny
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by Danny » Mon Jul 15, 2019 8:09 am

Thanks for all the comments. Very enlightening.

By the way, in the film "Farinelli", the castrato was depicted as having a man's voice when he spoke.

John F
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by John F » Mon Jul 15, 2019 8:35 am

That may or may not be correct about Farinelli, but I'm doubtful. Seems to me more likely that the film-makers finessed the facts so that Stefano Dionisi, the actor who spoke Farinelli's lines (the singing was done by two other singers), wouldn't have to speak in falsetto throughout, which could also have alienated filmgoers. It wouldn't be the first time moviemakers have fictionalized a nonfiction subject.

A present-day singer named Stefan Zucker has a voice that's in the range of a soprano castrato. He bills himself as the world's highest tenor, and sang an A above high C from the top of the former World Trade Center to prove it. :D Zucker wasn't castrated, as far as I know - I didn't have the nerve to ask him - but as the Wikipedia article says, there are also organic causes for a boy's voice not breaking at puberty. Zucker's speaking voice is high for a man though not so high as to be freakish. His singing is awful but it's not falsetto, he's singing with full voice, such as it is.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z7snhJZzas

Zucker is also a serious scholar of the history of opera and performance, and conducted worthwhile interviews with Franco Corelli and others who took him seriously. I do too, as a scholar though not as a singer.
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jserraglio
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by jserraglio » Mon Jul 15, 2019 8:41 am

Belle wrote:
Mon Jul 15, 2019 3:30 am
I always found this practice barbaric and paradoxical: the Catholic church wanting sex used for procreation then turning a blind eye to the castration of fertile males for music performance. The practice started in Catholic Italy.
O che sciagura d'essere senza coglioni!--spoken over Abigail's body by a distressed eunuch in Voltaire's Candide.
Last edited by jserraglio on Mon Jul 15, 2019 11:27 am, edited 1 time in total.

John F
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by John F » Mon Jul 15, 2019 8:54 am

Also:
Belle wrote:The practice started in Catholic Italy.
Not so. According to Wikipedia, "Eunuch singers are known to have existed from the early Byzantine Empire. In Constantinople around 400 AD, the empress Aelia Eudoxia had a eunuch choir-master, Brison, who may have established the use of castrati in Byzantine choirs... By the 9th century, eunuch singers were well-known (not least in the choir of Hagia Sophia) and remained so until the sack of Constantinople by the Western forces of the Fourth Crusade in 1204." The castrato revival beginning in the mid-18th century did indeed originate in Italy, but again according to Wikipedia, at first in secular rather than religious contexts.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castrato#History
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by maestrob » Mon Jul 15, 2019 10:14 am

Interesting thread. If I may add my 2 cents as the resident voice teacher........

There are two ways to train any voice, male or female, which have nothing to do with whether the male has been castrated or not. Either the vice is legit (think female opera singers and what we now call "counter-tenors," or Broadway (think Esther Merman or any traditional operatic tenor or baritone (Tucker, Merrill). Incidentally, any male singer, whether bass, baritone or tenor, should be able to exercise up to a high C in the studio. I knew how to do it myself, and I retained those notes when I became a bass-baritone. I once heard Ted Lambrinos of the MET in recital sing out a high B natural as easily as a tenor would ring out with a high C.

As for a speaking voice, I imagine that a castrato's speaking voice would sound like a woman's, since the glandular change interrupted by the castration would not have taken place.

Belle
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by Belle » Mon Jul 15, 2019 7:00 pm

John F wrote:
Mon Jul 15, 2019 8:54 am
Also:
Belle wrote:The practice started in Catholic Italy.
Not so. According to Wikipedia, "Eunuch singers are known to have existed from the early Byzantine Empire. In Constantinople around 400 AD, the empress Aelia Eudoxia had a eunuch choir-master, Brison, who may have established the use of castrati in Byzantine choirs... By the 9th century, eunuch singers were well-known (not least in the choir of Hagia Sophia) and remained so until the sack of Constantinople by the Western forces of the Fourth Crusade in 1204." The castrato revival beginning in the mid-18th century did indeed originate in Italy, but again according to Wikipedia, at first in secular rather than religious contexts.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castrato#History
My original point was that the last place you would expect castration to be tolerated was within Catholicism, for the reason I outlined. It seemed hugely incongruous with their orthodoxies.

jserraglio
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jul 16, 2019 2:06 am

From a transgender POV wrote: https://secularhumanism.org/2015/07/con ... sgender-m/ By the time of the French Revolution, castrati were considered a symbol of ancien regime excess and degeneracy that had no place in a modern republic based on reason and secular values. The Napoleonic Code, which outlawed castration for musical purposes, spread the French distaste for the castrati throughout Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. Thus, by the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church in general and the Papal States in particular constituted the only source of demand for the services of the castrati . . . .

Given the Vatican’s long, sordid history as a castrati provider, it begs the question of why is it permissible to alter one’s genitals to sing in the Sistine Chapel Choir, as the castrati did for hundreds of years, but not okay to alter one’s genitals because one is transgender. Were the castrati mocking God when they took advantage of their artificially high voices to sing Allegri’s Miserere Mei during Easter? What about the thousands of people who profited from the castrati, ranging from the back-alley surgeons who performed the operations right up to the popes who employed them, most of whom probably considered themselves to be good, even orthodox Catholics? As with many of the Catholic Church’s more dubious actions, the existence of the castrati depended on hundreds of years of institutional support at the highest level, so the Church’s use of them cannot be blamed on the actions of a few misguided people.

The castrati issue needs to be raised more as a reminder that in the not-so-distant past, the Catholic Church didn’t have a problem with certain people modifying their bodies in ways that it would now consider to be “against nature.” In fact, the current Church teaching that a person’s birth sex should never be altered or blurred has more in common with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment view that the Church once found so threatening than its own previous opinion that considered the existence of a perpetual eunuch class to be essential to the operation of the Church.

Belle
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by Belle » Tue Jul 16, 2019 4:00 am

Bingo!

John F
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by John F » Tue Jul 16, 2019 5:09 am

Belle wrote:
Mon Jul 15, 2019 7:00 pm
My original point was that the last place you would expect castration to be tolerated was within Catholicism, for the reason I outlined. It seemed hugely incongruous with their orthodoxies.
In a way, yes - castration is the most permanent kind of birth control, which both the Catholic and Protestant churches (until 1930) condemned as sinful, I suppose because it was sex not for the purpose of procreation.

I don't know that it's accurate to say that castration was "tolerated" by the Catholic church, any more than the birth control pill, which is taught to be intrinsically evil. You can't put it much stronger than that. Since it wasn't the castrato himself but his parents who had the operation done, committing the sin if that's what it was, the church didn't blame him for it, and as we know, employed castratos as well as other males and boys to sing in its choirs. What the church's attitude and dogma concerning the parents was, I've no idea.

What offends me more than that is the Catholic church's arbitrary ban on women singing in church choirs, which opened that opportunity for castrated men. This is supposedly based on Paul's ukase in 1 Corinthians, "Let the woman be silent in church." (In America the choirs of Catholic churches now include women; the current music director at St. Patrick's Cathedral is a woman. Not so in Europe.) It's not just the Catholic church that excludes women sopranos and altos; the Church of England's choirs have been all male, though I believe this is finally changing.
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Belle
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by Belle » Tue Jul 16, 2019 5:33 am

John F wrote:
Tue Jul 16, 2019 5:09 am
Belle wrote:
Mon Jul 15, 2019 7:00 pm
My original point was that the last place you would expect castration to be tolerated was within Catholicism, for the reason I outlined. It seemed hugely incongruous with their orthodoxies.
In a way, yes - castration is the most permanent kind of birth control, which both the Catholic and Protestant churches (until 1930) condemned as sinful, I suppose because it was sex not for the purpose of procreation.

I don't know that it's accurate to say that castration was "tolerated" by the Catholic church, any more than the birth control pill, which is taught to be intrinsically evil. You can't put it much stronger than that. Since it wasn't the castrato himself but his parents who had the operation done, committing the sin if that's what it was, the church didn't blame him for it, and as we know, employed castratos as well as other males and boys to sing in its choirs. What the church's attitude and dogma concerning the parents was, I've no idea.

What offends me more than that is the Catholic church's arbitrary ban on women singing in church choirs, which opened that opportunity for castrated men. This is supposedly based on Paul's ukase in 1 Corinthians, "Let the woman be silent in church." (In America the choirs of Catholic churches now include women; the current music director at St. Patrick's Cathedral is a woman. Not so in Europe.) It's not just the Catholic church that excludes women sopranos and altos; the Church of England's choirs have been all male, though I believe this is finally changing.
Well, this is also all perfectly true.

jserraglio
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jul 16, 2019 6:57 am

Well . . . restrictive to be sure, not entirely. cf the Abbess Hildegard of Bingen (12th century) who wrote liturgival songs and anthems for her choir of nuns in her two abbeys to sing during Mass. No Masses per se for women's voices though. Afaik. that was not permitted. And of course, in mixed-sex public masses women were free to sing hymns and responsories along with the men in the congregation.
Would the music typically have been sung by women in medieval times?

''In sacred music, men and women did not sing together, and in a public church, the choir would be all men,'' she { Susan Hellauer, Anonymous 4's mezzo-soprano and resident musicologist] said. ''But in convents, of course, the music was sung by the nuns. QTD in https://www.nytimes.com/1990/05/04/arts ... ition.html
Last edited by jserraglio on Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:04 am, edited 1 time in total.

John F
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by John F » Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:02 am

On the other hand, we have the Catholic Church to thank for some of the greatest religious music ever composed, by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, and others. The Protestant denominations can boast of Bach, but who else? One of the pleasures of visiting Vienna is attending a Sunday service at St. Stephen's or the Hofburgkapelle when one of these classics is performed by members of the State Opera, formerly the Court Opera. The sopranos and altos, both in the choir and as soloists, are the Vienna Boys Choir.
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jserraglio
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:08 am

John F wrote:
Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:02 am
On the other hand, we have the Catholic Church to thank for some of the greatest religious music ever composed
Not to mention monophonic plainchant and the glorious polyphony that paved the way for Mozart, Haydn and the rest of the usual suspects.

Protestant church music? Schutz, Telemann, Sweelinck, Buxtehude, Pachelbel, Mendelssohn. I'm sure I'm forgetting a dozen more. Handel? Maybe not.

John F
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by John F » Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:48 am

Well, yes, of course there were many composers of music for the Protestant liturgy, but none are household names except Telemann (for the wrong reason - "Not as good as Bach"), Pachelbel because of the canon, and Mendelssohn, whose church music is all but unknown and his oratorios are concert works, not church music.
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jserraglio
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by jserraglio » Tue Jul 16, 2019 8:19 am

John F wrote:
Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:48 am
none are household names
So what's in a name? Schutz and Telemann, to name just two in the Protestant tradition, are both wonderful composers, jejune comparisons to Papa Johann notwithstanding.

barney
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by barney » Tue Jul 16, 2019 5:33 pm

Also John, a slight correction to your statement about sex necessarily being open to procreation. This is certainly a Catholic doctrine, but I don't know of any Protestant denomination that holds to it. As far as I know, Protestant churches recognise that conjugal relations are a proper good for the purposes of love and companionship, not just begetting children. Of course my knowledge of all Protestant churches is scarcely exhaustive.

John F
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by John F » Tue Jul 16, 2019 11:32 pm

barney wrote:
Tue Jul 16, 2019 5:33 pm
Also John, a slight correction to your statement about sex necessarily being open to procreation. This is certainly a Catholic doctrine, but I don't know of any Protestant denomination that holds to it. As far as I know, Protestant churches recognise that conjugal relations are a proper good for the purposes of love and companionship, not just begetting children.
No doubt that is true today, but I said (getting the info from Wikipedia) that Protestant churches were against contraception until 1830, "I suppose because it was sex not for the purpose of procreation." Why else would a religion be against birth control? Not that it's worth arguing about and anyway it's off-topic.
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jserraglio
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by jserraglio » Wed Jul 17, 2019 12:56 am

John F wrote:
Tue Jul 16, 2019 11:32 pm
Protestant churches were against contraception until 1830, "I suppose because it was sex not for the purpose of procreation." Why else would a religion be against birth control?
One can be dead set against contraception yet still maintain that conjugal love serves other purposes besides procreation, I.e., love and companionship. In fact, that is precisely the position of the Catholic Church as expressed in its official Catechism.

The Catholic position has been openly disputed or largely ignored, but certain consequences of that liberal view of sexuality must be dealt with, and soon: https://www.google.com/amp/s/markets.bu ... 1027968236
Last edited by jserraglio on Wed Jul 17, 2019 1:23 am, edited 1 time in total.

John F
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by John F » Wed Jul 17, 2019 1:13 am

It's not love but the sex act that's the issue. The Catholic church has no objection to love, of course, but I believe the only kind of birth control it permits is abstinence from sex, within marriage as well as out of it.
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jserraglio
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by jserraglio » Wed Jul 17, 2019 1:29 am

The Catholic Church is firmly opposed to birth control, but its view of human sexuality is far more nuanced than you would have it.

And in hindsight, in a world turned upside down where old farts now far outnumber toddlers, maybe, and maybe instinctively, the Church has been making an important point about the primacy of procreation all along.
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John F
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by John F » Wed Jul 17, 2019 7:20 am

We don't need the Catholic church or any church or any institution to remind us of the importance of procreation, aka the survival of our species. We're seeing in Japan the consequences of a birth rate too low to replace the population as it ages and dies, a birth rate unaffected by religion but rather by economics and people making individual decisions about their lives. As for the supposed nuances of the Catholic church's view of human sexuality, whatever they may be nowadays, I object to its having any such view at all, whatever the details, and imposing it through its authority, such as it is.
Last edited by John F on Wed Jul 17, 2019 7:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
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jserraglio
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by jserraglio » Wed Jul 17, 2019 7:22 am

John F wrote:
Wed Jul 17, 2019 7:20 am
We don't need the Catholic church
You may not need it but there it is, like it or not.

And it's just as entitled to express its view of the matter as you yours. Far from being imposed on anybody, its teaching has been largely honored in the breach for the past 50 years.

barney
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by barney » Wed Jul 17, 2019 5:50 pm

John F wrote:
Tue Jul 16, 2019 11:32 pm
barney wrote:
Tue Jul 16, 2019 5:33 pm
Also John, a slight correction to your statement about sex necessarily being open to procreation. This is certainly a Catholic doctrine, but I don't know of any Protestant denomination that holds to it. As far as I know, Protestant churches recognise that conjugal relations are a proper good for the purposes of love and companionship, not just begetting children.
No doubt that is true today, but I said (getting the info from Wikipedia) that Protestant churches were against contraception until 1830, "I suppose because it was sex not for the purpose of procreation." Why else would a religion be against birth control? Not that it's worth arguing about and anyway it's off-topic.
I wasn't aware we were arguing. I thought we were discussing. I'd be vastly more abusive in the former case. :D

Belle
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by Belle » Wed Jul 17, 2019 9:09 pm

Looks like we dodged a bullet! :lol:

John F
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Re: Castrato voice

Post by John F » Thu Jul 18, 2019 7:09 am

Arguing in the sense of argumentation, defined as "the action or process of reasoning systematically in support of an idea, action, or theory." Seems to me that's exactly what we've been doing - at least I have. :mrgreen:
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