Cover image for The world of the castrati : the history of an extraordinary operatic phenomenon
The world of the castrati : the history of an extraordinary operatic phenomenon
Barbier, Patrick.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Histoire des castrats. English
Publication Information:
London : Souvenir, 1996.
Physical Description:
262 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 23 cm
Subject Term:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
MT820 .B2713 1996 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



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

Author Notes

Patrick Barbier is a Professor at the West Catholic University in Angers and is an expert on operatic history. He has also published a biography of Farinelli, the most famous of the castrati.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The papal declaration that no woman could sing in church gave rise to the castrati--boys castrated before puberty and cultivated to sing the treble parts. Major Italian cities even had conservatories for training poor boys as castrati to give them a better life. Soon the musical theater embraced the castrato voice, and many castrati enjoyed long, international careers as singers and teachers; the famous Farinelli, subject of a recent movie, became a privy minister of the Spanish court. Considered safe companions, castrati often forged alliances with noble women; they even married. Handel, Gluck, and Rossini all wrote for the castrato voice, but the passion for castrati in the theater died out by 1790. (It continued in the papal choirs until 1913, when Moreschi, the last castrato, died.) Barbier weaves quite a tapestry out of the lives of the great castrati and the theater and church music of seventeenth-and eighteenth-century Europe, especially that of Italy. Although rather dry, well worth reading. --Alan Hirsch

Library Journal Review

The practice of castrating boy sopranos continues to both repel and fascinate the modern audience. Reflecting these responses, this book vacillates between an up-to-date obsession with clinical details and a Victorian sense of shock. As Barbier (music history, West Catholic Univ., Angers) documents here, some of the castrasti were extraordinary singers and led interesting lives, both public and private. But the book adds few new details to what has previously been known, and it is neither scholarly enough to be a definitive study nor breezy enough to entertain. A more interesting treatment is still Angus Heriot's The Castrati in Opera (1956. o.p.).¬ĎTimothy J. McGee, Univ. of Toronto (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xi
Prefacep. 1
1 Castrationp. 5
From time immemorial ...
'Castration done here, clean and cheap'
Physiological disruption
The development of the voice
2 Origins and Recruitmentp. 19
Geographical and social origins
The inevitability of castration
The road to the conservatoires
3 Training the Singersp. 35
The Neapolitan conservatoires
Internal organisation daily life
Classes and teachers
How the castrati studied
The otherItalian schools
4 The Theatre in Italyp. 62
The great theatres
The performances
Italian audiences
5 The Road to Famep. 82
The choice of a name
Debuts in public
Vocal prowess
The castrati on stage
Escapades and temperaments
Fortune and honours
6 The Castrati and the Churchp. 122
The Popes and castration
Music in church
The theatres in the Papal States
7 The Castrati in Societyp. 136
The castrati and women
Masculine rivalries and friendships
The castrati and their relatives
The patrons
Satires and pamphlets
8 European Journeysp. 174
Perpetual travellers
Vienna and London
The French and the castrati
Farinelli in Spain
9 In the Evening of Lifep. 209
Farewell to the public and the return to roots
Old age and the voice
Last occupations
10 The Twilight of the Angelsp. 223
First signs of decline
The last two great castrati
The Vatican and the last castrati
Epiloguep. 242
Notesp. 243
Bibliographyp. 249
Indexp. 257