And the Voice of the Castrato

Nicholas Clapton


Nicholas Clapton

Distributed for Haus Publishing

354 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2008
Cloth $30.00 ISBN: 9781905791422 Published December 2008 Not for sale in the United Kingdom or Europe

In his own lifetime Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922) was known as the ’Angel of Rome’. He was the last surviving castrato singer of the Sistine Chapel choir, and the only one of the castrati whose voice survives in any solo recording. The ethereal, haunting quality of his voice hints at why this extraordinary sound was so highly prized for centuries in the opera houses of Europe. The castrato tradition became established in Italy in the late 16th century, when Pope Clement VIII gave it his sanction. By the 17th century the castrati had moved onto the secular operatic stage, where they were feted as the ’pop stars’ of their day. Few ’normal’ singers, male or female, came close to matching their fame and success. But by the 19th century their continued existence had become an embarrassment, and when Moreschi joined the Sistine Chapel in 1883, there were only six castrati left in the choir, and by 1903 they were officially no more. The strange and lonely life of Alessandro Moreschi was lived in the shadows of great events and great institutions, his personality glimpsed only by inference and allusion. Written by an acclaimed musicologist, who as a counter-tenor has performed much of the repertoire written for castrati, this is a perceptive and informed study of the last survivor of a perennially intriguing part of Western cultural history.




Part 1: Life and Times

1. Origins and Connections

2. I nuovi musici

3. Beginnings

4. Early Days in Rome

5. The Cappella dei Cantori Pontifici

6. Moreschi’s Early Years at the Sistine Chapel 1883-1891

7. The Years of the New Constitution 1891-1898

8. Winds of Change 1898-1903

9. A Long Twilight

Part 2: Heritage and Legacy

1. The Voice and the Legacy

2. A Concert, a Plaque and a Party (or, rather, two of each)

3. David M Howard: Acoustics of the Castrato Voice

4. Ben Byram-Wigfield: On Allegri’s Miserere

5. Paul J Moses: The Psychology of the Castrato Voice


Further Reading


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