Risky Regencies

Heavenly voices

At this time of year, it’s natural for one’s thoughts to turn to…castrati. (Isn’t it?)
The castrati craze peaked in Italy in the eighteenth century, when a distressingly large number of musical lads from ambitious families had unfortunate encounters with pigs. (Castration, even of your nearest and dearest, was illegal.) Castrati were never very popular in England, where their existence was naturally equated with foreign, Papist nastiness. Only the superstar of the castrati, Farinelli (real name Carol Broschi), was wholeheartedly accepted and applauded.

So what did a castrato sound like? We don’t really know. There’s a recording of Alessandro Moreschi, The Last Castrato, made very early in the twentieth century when he was old and past his (debatable) prime. What we do know is that the singers were tall, with huge lung capacity and physical stamina, and with a vocal range of three and a half octaves and superb technique

Check out this excerpt from the movie Farinelli (and isn’t he a handsome young…thing). He’s singing a Handel aria. Is it a real voice? Yes and no. The voices of countertenor Derek Lee Ragin and coloratura Ewa Godlewska were digitally blended to create this astonishing sound. More info here for you techies here. Great movie, by the way, even if it tinkers massively with the truth–sex, drugs and arias. More about it here.

Consequently, very few singers today can handle the castrato repertoire, with one notable exception–mezzo-sopranoVivica Genaux. Here she is performing an aria by Farinelli’s brother, Qual guerriero in campo armato.
(Isn’t youtube great!)

So, in response, tell me if you’ve seen Farinelli, or about your other favorite musical movie, or what sort of Christmas cookies you’re making.

Janet

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Diane Perkins
15 years ago

Oh, Janet, I am in awe of this. The Farinelli clip was heartbreakingly beautiful. I love to see a performance that shows so much depth-the beauty as well as the pain. It is hard for us to imagine the Castrati. How mind-boggling is it to think that there is music no modern voice can reproduce.
Vivica Genaux was masterful! I know very little about opera, but anyone watching that clip could see the skill and effort involved in her performance. Wow.

This has the Style Network beat by lightyears!

Anonymous
Anonymous
15 years ago

We were just discussing castrati last night at choir rehearsal, as it happens. We were working on “And the Glory of the Lord” from Handel’s Messiah, and one of the tenors groused that their part MUST have been written for castrati. 🙂 I’m sure it wasn’t, but it is a tougher tenor line than amateur choirs like ours usually attempt. (The alto line is glorious. I could sing Handel all day because his alto lines move and use most of our range–I get sick of being a human bagpipe drone like we are in so many simpler choral pieces.)

Anonymous
Anonymous
15 years ago

Susan, which choir do you sing with? In the Seattle area, I’ve only sung with the Microtones and the Northwest Mahler Festival.

I’m listening to The Messiah even as I type. 🙂

Pam Rosenthal
15 years ago

Bringing down the tone a little…

My romantic sensibility was shaped by mid-century Technicolor musicals. Unfortunately, little of what I most love can be found on YouTube, but here’s a goodie from How to Marry A Millionaire.

The corrupting influence of which made me a sucker many years later for Moulin Rouge

Cara King
15 years ago

Oh, I loved Moulin Rouge!

Haven’t seen Farinelli…but I’m lowbrow enough to have loved Amadeus and Impromptu. 🙂

Cara

Anonymous
Anonymous
15 years ago

Keira, it’s just my church’s choir. I go to Bethany Presbyterian in Seattle. For the past few years we’ve been doing “And the Glory of the Lord” during Advent, and it’s a longstanding tradition to do the Hallelujah Chorus at the end of each Easter Service, inviting people from the congregation to join the choir.

I keep meaning to find a Messiah singalong, but I always get too busy this time of year.

Kalen Hughes
15 years ago

I love Farinelli. Saw that film years ago. It’s fantastic. I had no idea that was how they did the voice . . . how very Industrial Lights and Magic of them. LOL!

Elena Greene
15 years ago

I heard the Moreschi recording when I was in college during a music history course, but I have never caught Farinelli movie. Now I want to even more. (My to-be-seen list is starting to rival my TBR list–will I ever catch up????) Vivica Geneaux is amazing. My daughters just watched the clip with me and were enthralled. Amazing what can happen when children’s introduction to opera isn’t tainted by Bugs Bunny! But they enjoyed watching a Glimmerglass production of Figaro with me so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.

I am starting to babble so I think it’s time to take more drugs… Hoping to be well enough to bake cookies *next* week. 🙂

Amanda McCabe
15 years ago

I love this movie! Haven’t seen it in ages–it might be just what I need to get away from the holidays. 🙂

I have a CD of countertenor Andreas Scholl where he sings some arias originally performed by Farinelli and another famous castrato Senesino. It’s great. And wasn’t there a castrato character in Kate Ross’ book “The Devil in Music”?

Cara, I love Impromptu (Hugh Grant as Chopin, with a fake nose! ha!) and Amadeus. Maybe I need to have a musical movie afternoon…

Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Susan, I really envy anyone who can sing. And I love Messiah–I’ve found it very good for writing love scenes (don’t ask me why). Amadeus was the last movie I saw before I had my daughter and I was afraid I might go into labor and miss anything. Rather like Farinelli it wasn’t history but it was very, very well done.
Janet

Diane Perkins
15 years ago

I’m not sure I could handle the Farinelli movie. That clip was so heartbreakingly painful!

Rob
Rob
15 years ago

I find that my thoughts rarely turn to castrati, unless I’m watching someone, oh, I don’t know, go bull riding or skateboard down a handrail. Otherwise, it’s just, well, as Diane put it, “heartbreakingly painful”.

Talk about giving it your all for your craft!

Elena Greene
15 years ago

Oh, I’d forgotten Immortal Beloved. I enjoyed that one too though I’m not sure I buy their theory as to who she really was.

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