Monday 27 March 2006

Castrati Ho

The press is currently full of articles about castrati, as the Handel House has a fascinating new exhibition on the subject. The only known recording of a castrato is that of Alessandro Moreschi, who worked in the Papal choir during the early 20th century. The problem with this recording is the Moreschi is relatively elderly and his technique involves the rather bizarre attacking of notes via grace notes as far as a 10th away from the destination note. This gives his vocal line a peculiar gulping, swooping quality.

This was discussed at length in a fascinating BBC Radio 3 programme, some years ago. During that programme, someone made the point that judging from the recording you could almost imagine that Moreschi wasn't a castrato at all, but using falsetto. It was postulated that he might have masqueraded as a castrato to further his career. This is an interesting point, and one that probably is never going to be resolved. But it leaves us with an even bigger question over the Moreschi recordings.

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