Castrati are a unique phenomenon in the history of music. These male singers were castrated before puberty to preserve their high, powerful voices. Although this practice is controversial and banned today, the castrati left a lasting musical legacy.
The castration of vocally talented children began in the 16th century in Italy, where a great interest in high voices in choral music developed. Children were castrated before their vocal cords fully developed, allowing them to maintain their youthful voices and reach high notes with ease.
Children candidates for castrati were chosen from a very early age, approximately between 7-9 years old. The idea was to carry out this procedure before puberty. It is estimated that between the 17th and 18th centuries, around 4,000 children per year were subjected to this practice. Of which only a few would become famous.
Among the most famous were: Farinelli, Baldassarre Ferri, Giacomo Casanova, Alessandro Moreschi and L’angelo di Roma.
Why did parents allow their children to be castrated?
Parents allowed their children to be castrated for various reasons, some of which were economical. Being a castrato at that time was considered a prestigious and lucrative musical career, and many parents saw this practice as an opportunity for their children to achieve success and financial stability to somehow escape poverty or improve their social status.
These castrated singers became stars of opera and sacred music throughout Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. They were adored for their ability to sing in both high and low registers, allowing them to perform a wide range of musical roles.
Castrati were known for their impeccable vocal technique, their ability to project their voice without amplification, and their ability to thrill audiences. They were considered true virtuosos and enjoyed great fame and admiration.
Ethical and moral debate
However, the practice of castration was the subject of ethical and moral debate. Many considered it a violation of human rights and a form of mutilation. As the 19th century progressed, castrati voices became less popular, and finally, in 1902, Pope Leo XIII banned the castration of children for musical purposes.
Despite their disappearance, the legacy of the castrati lives on in music. Their landmark recordings and compositions written especially for them are testament to their impact on musical culture. Furthermore, his influence can be seen in contemporary vocal technique and in the interpretation of operatic arias.
In short, the castrati were exceptional figures in the history of music. Although its practice is considered inhumane today, its legacy endures as a reminder of the beauty and expressive capacity of the human voice.