For two centuries, the castrati were the darlings of the operatic stage. They enjoyed the adulation of European society, were patronised by royalty and were the pop stars of their era. How did the phenomenon come about? Why were boys deprived of their manhood to satisfy the eccentric taste of a baroque society that demanded that its heroes should sing with female voices? Entertaining, authoritative, as dazzling as its subject, this comprehensive study looks at every aspect of their lives - from their social origins, rigorous training, brilliant careers and their often lonely and poverty-stricken old age. Farinelli, Carestini, Bernardi...the names still hold the glamour that surrounded them and they live again in the page sof this book, as vibrant, fascinating and enigmatic as ever. Illustrated with rare archive paintings and engravings this is a fitting celebration of the artistry of one of the strangest episodes in operatic history.
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(216mm x 140mm x 16mm)
Souvenir Press Ltd
Publisher: Souvenir Press Ltd
Country of Publication:
US Kirkus Review »
A remarkable topic that, unfortunately, doesn't get the nuanced handling it deserves. In a society in which the outrageous garners maximum media attention, the Baroque-era castrati should be guaranteed to lure readers other than scholars and opera fanatics. What other history can discuss sex, forced genital mutilation, religious hypocrisy, and adultery, all in the name of historical research? Incredibly, Barbier manages to make this intriguing 16th-19th century European phenomenon (which involved the castration of male children before puberty to preserve the purity of their singing voices) boring, even annoying. His style is, on the whole, plodding. Particularly bothersome is his overuse of exclamation marks and his habit of asking questions and then not answering them, this despite the fact that the inquiries often go to the essence of a particular section. The chapter on the almost hysterical appeal some women felt for castrati, for instance, asks: "Was this merely the attraction of a circus phenomenon? Was it the search by the ladies for a love-life without danger? Or the exceptional power of a voice that numbed reason and led to 'the delights of paradise'? The idealisation of a 'supernatural' being who belonged to both sexes without knowing the limits of either?" Intriguing ideas. Barbier's conclusion? "We shall never really understand the intimate motivations of each spectator, man or woman, in their relationships with the castrati." Which is not to say that the book is totally without redeeming features. Barbier (Opera in Paris, 1800-1850: A Lively History, 1995) knows his opera and is fairly thorough in touching all the important bases. As such, the book is a decent overview for people needing the basics. A lesson in how to take a great story and dull it to death. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Patrick Barbier
Patrick Barbier is a professor at the West Catholic University in Angers. He lives in Nantes, France.