History Balls Upon the Brain
posted by October 15 at 10:32 AMon
Even though the “castrato” at last week’s screening of Brand Upon the Brain wasn’t a real castrato (Dov Houle, the fictional “Manitoba Meadowlark,” was lip synching to a woman’s voice—a terrible disappointment), that doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about castrati all weekend. Here’s one, named Alessandro Moreschi:
It’s sad stuff—during the 18th century, poor families dragged their boys to village barbers by the hundreds to be castrated, hoping they’d grow up to be famous, rich stars. Most of them thought the operation produced a great singing voice, not preserved it. (Bumpkins—doing stupid shit since forever.)
Also: The pope was rumored to have kept a castrato for his “private delectation” until 1959.
Also: “As the castrato’s body grew, his lack of testosterone meant that his epiphyses (bone-joints) did not harden in the normal manner. Thus the limbs of the castrati often grew unusually long, as did the bones of their ribs. This, combined with intensive training, gave them unrivalled lung-power and breath capacity. Operating through small, child-sized vocal cords, their voices were also extraordinarily flexible, and quite different from the equivalent adult female voice… “
Also: “At the height of his career at the age of 32, Farinelli was invited to Madrid by the Queen of Spain to sing to her husband Philip V who was suffering from what now appear to be schizophrenic episodes. His singing seemed to ameliorate the King’s condition—an early example of music therapy—and he became indispensable to the Spanish Royal Family for the following 20 years.”
You can hear Alessandro Moreschi, the “last castrato” singing here.