Copyright ©2003 Elsa Scammell

Last Updated 11 March 2003




  People and Pictures


Castrati - Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Sources
  2. Castrati in Fiction
  3. Castrati music on CD
  4. Film and Other Media

I am often asked these questions: here are some answers


Haboeck, Franz: Die Kastraten und ihre Gesangskunst; Leipzig :1927; definitive account of the castrati, although unfinished; obtainable only through the larger university libraries; out of print.

Haboeck, Franz: Die Gesangskunst der Kastraten; Dresden: 1923; Haboeck had no originality in his titles, but his scholarship was sound, based on contemporary writings; this book includes a life of Farinelli and the scores of his most famous arias; out of print.

Heriot, Angus: The Castrati in Opera; Secker, later Calders: 1956 and still in print; based on Haboeck. It is an excellent account of the rise and fall of the operatic castrati; good bibliography and index; thumbnail sketches of the lives of the most famous in their field. One problem: Heriot presupposed that his readers knew Italian; not everything is translated !!

Barbier, Patrick: The World of the Castrati (translated from the French); it does really read better in the original language, although the translation is accurate; he draws on the above sources; I lent my copy; published around 1996 and still in print; French version: "Histoire des castrats" (Grasset 1989).

Barbier, Patrick: Farinelli: Le castrat des lumieres; (Grasset); 1994; no English version yet so far as I know.

Barbier, Patrick: La Maison des Italiens (Les castrats de Versailles).

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They are becoming popular as a subject for novels; try the following:

Amis, Sir Kingsley: (Cape, 1976) "The Alteration"; a very clever portrayal of the future, assuming there had been no Reformation; so castrati were still acceptable in the Catholic country of England!! Multi-layered and faceted, it uses a little of Heriot's book as a basis, so he told me; and that the book was meant for me, too.

Fernandez, Dominique: "Porporino": (Grasset, 1974), in French and Italian; there IS an English version available; long out of print, but copies can (sometimes) be obtained via amazon; this book won the Prix Medicis and is a fictional account of the lives of two castrati; they met everybody who was anybody in the musical world of the latter part of the eighteenth century; the novel has a Gothic subplot. This author taught Patrick Barbier.

Rice. Anne: "Cry to Heaven" (Knopff, NY, 1982), reprinted in England; basically accurate; lavish and lush and heavily (homo)sexual; the basic premise is doubtful, that a castrato could be "made" at around 14 years of age; however, a good "blockbuster read" by the Queen of Vampire novelists !

There have been a number of novels written about the castrati, but most of them are fictional creations; even in "Porporino" (q.v.), the original holder of that name is not featured, but the following tale does reveal a genuine castrato: Alessandro Moreschi: 1858-1922, and others, notably Domenico Mustafa.

At the end of August 2001, Gallimard of Paris have published a novel by Luc Leruth, entitled "La Quatrieme Note"; (La 4e Note) a first-person account by Alessandro Moreschi, the last castrato of the Capella Sistina, and the only one of them to have recorded. Leruth enters into the heart and soul of the lonely castrato, who is looking back, in 1914, over his life and experiences; his frustrations and the Vatican intrigues at the time of the recordings in 1902/4; the whole story being spiced with thefts and betrayals of confidence.

However, the novel is written in French; a translation may appear later, hopefully; but I have made one myself, which only "attempts" to do justice to the original. This translation, which has been requested frequently, is a "rough-cut" done on tape by me; I am not a professional translator, and I am not aiming to publish one, to my knowledge!

However, there has been much interest shown in this novel and requests for an English version; I have contacted Gallimard.

Contact me if you wish to read this in English, but remember, I have this translation on tape only, and it would take a long time to copy and print; but I can supply a summary of the novel if desired; and, as for anything else: I am:

Luc Leruth's book is now in its third edition, but, alas, the only translation he has been able to negotiate, so far, is in … Portuguese!

Remember: you saw this particular item here first!

I have not included ALL the published novels featuring the castrati; contact me if you would like to read other material.

However, I have decided, as the result of many requests, to include a list of selected fiction: some may be available through the various amazon sites; and, as for used items: at abebooks.

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 Amis, Kingsley (Sir) The Alteration
(castrati: with a nod towards Mustafa and Moreschi, as Sir Kingsley told me)
 Bailey, Paul Kitty and Virgil (skoptzy)
 Balzac, Honore de Sarrasine (La Comedie Humaine)
 Barry, Gerald The Intelligence Park (an opera which has its subject: the "married" castrato:: Tenducci)
 Bernard, Robert Death and the Apprentice
 Casanova, Giacomo Memoirs (some must be fictional!)
 Christine Wunnicke Die Nachtigall des Zaren
Not fiction, actually; this biography includes the ipsissima verba of Filippo Balatri.
 Davenport, Marcia
Delblanc, Sven:
My Brother's Keeper
Swedish: translated into various languages, and rather badly, in English; "The castrati: a romantic tale", published by Karoma; and expensive: $250! Involves Luigi Marchesi; a very "noisy" book!
 Fernandez, Dominique Porporino; English and Italian translations
 Freedman, Nancy Prima Donna
 Goldman, Lawrence The Castrato
About Farinelli
 Graham, Winston The Poldark novels (ambiguity about the countertenor voice)
 Hill, John Spencer The Last Castrato (not Moreschi)
 Hodge, Jane Aitken The "Lissenburg" novels
 Jacob, Naomi The Irish Boy
About Michael Kelly the tenor; he was taught by Aprile, Rauzzini, etc.
 Jose, Nicholas The Rose Crossing
 King, Ross Domino
 Le Moor, Margriet The Virtuoso
 Leruth, Luc La 4e Note (q.v.)
 Lofts, Norah The Lute Player
 Mason, A.E.W. Musk and Amber
Possibly the first novel in this genre; never actually mentions the castration, except by frequent inference.
 Meade, Marion
Messmer, Franzpeter
Stealing Heaven (novel and film)): about Peter Abelard.
Der Venusmann: an entertaining account of Farinelli, especially in his contacts with Philip V of Spain.
 Nelson, Greg Castrato (play)
 O'Brian, Patrick The Aubrey/Maturin novels
Castrati often mentioned, though not by name.
 O'Brien, Kate Of Music and Splendour
 Rathbone, Julian Intimacy
 Renault, Mary The Alexander trilogy: The Persian Boy/Funeral Games/Bagaos Alexander the Great's singing (?) eunuch.
 Rice, Anne Cry to Heaven; in French: Les Voix des Anges (!)
 Ross, Kate Death in Music
 Soprano Karola Ringhausen
 Thibaux, Jean-Michel La Cantatrice: Mustafa; Emma Calve.
 Unknown Le Chevalier de Sarti
 Waddell, Helen Peter Abelard
(castrated as a punishment by his lover Heloise's angry relatives)
 Wheatley, Dennis The Eunuch of Stambul
A 20th century view of the worst aspects of eunuchism; he cannot sing, either!
 Young, Henry Lyon Dulcinelli
Zia Jaffrey The Invisible Ones (Hijras)
NEW  Les Castrats de Bombay (hijras)
 Forbes, Leslie  Bombay Ice (hijras)
 Baher, Robert   Castrato (Vantage) 1987
 Expected: Ermanno Illuminati   G.B. Velluti: soprano lirico
 Expected: Clapton, Nicholas etc.  Biography of Moreschi
 Others can be found on and other sites

Films and Tapes
  Farinelli, il Castrato
  La leyenda del Balthasar, el castrado
  The Last Castrato (Radio 4 play)
  Voci bianche: 1968 film; I now have a copy

These I have read myself, and own.

Others will be added as they appear.

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Castrati music on CD

The male soprano, Aris Cristofellis, has issued at several CD's for EMI France: some of these productions preceded the issue of the film; in these he sings some of Farinelli's arias:

 Farinelli et son temps EMI CDC 5 55250 2
 Hommage a Farinelli EMI CDC 7 49087 2
 L'Age d'Or des Castrats EMI CDC 5 55259 2
 Les Castrats au temps du Mozart (see below)
 NEWThe Last Castrato OPAL CD 9823
NEWChime Again Beautiful Bells
OPAL CD (Early countertenors)
OPAL CD 0848
 NEWTruesound A different issue of Moreschi's recordings: said to be better…..

Aris Cristofellis "Les Castrats au temps de Mozart" features items composed by the great of the castrati; viz., Aprile, Guadagni, Rauzzini, and the non-castrato (definitely) Mozart himself, writing as he did for Rauzzini and Vincenzo dal Prato.

Oleg Ryabets; (try him on Olympia's version of Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater", singing the soprano part).

Joerg Waschinski in Porpora's "Gedeone" and others; there's a remarkable voice.

Radu Marian of Romania, offering a pretty varied programme on "Alia Vox".

Various countertenors, singing on the Capriccio label: "Die Welt der Kastraten".

Randall Wong: Hasse's "Cleofide"; (Capriccio) and Vivaldi's "Soprano Cantatas" issued by Helicon.

Angelo Manzotti offers "Arie di Farinelli" on Bongiovanni. He has just released "Handel's Evil arias" (Crude Furie degli arride abissi) .. lovely title .. on Callisto

Arno Raunig sings some of Farinelli's arias on the CAFFA label; he is credited with a remarkable range of over three octaves.

Michael Maniaci is one to watch and listen, as he sang a brilliant soprano Nero in Monteverdi's "Incoronazione di Poppaea", performing the role in Canada; this was originally written for the castrato voice.

One must mention the famous "morphed" version of the singing in "Farinelli, il castrato", where the countertenor Derek Lee Ragin is merged, technically, with the soprano Ewa Mallas-Godlewska on Auvidis-Travelling. The arias included are those written for Farinelli, by his brother, Riccardo Broschi, and by Hasse.

But…never forget the authentic record (but not very good sound) of Alessandro Moreschi, "The Last Castrato" where 17 recordings are offered on Opal (Pearl), which may finally lay to rest the belief that so many people have, that he only ever recorded ONE item! Read the booklet, too.

Some interesting background items: the 3 CD's presented by Naxos, entitled "Lamenti Barocchi"; the second of these includes 2 actual laments for the castrati; one anonymous, the other by Marcello, and who can blame them? The latter may well have expressed his feelings as a matter very personal to him!

"Castrati en el Romanticismo" has compositions by the next-to-last of the great operatic castrati, Girolamo Crescentini, who was very much favoured by Napoleon l.

The male sopranos listed above, who have undertaken the castrato roles, are not necessarily "hormonal"; they have either suffered no breaks in their singing voices after puberty, or they have learned to vibrate the upper sections of their vocal chords more than the present countertenors can.

Also, "Die Kunst der Kastraten"; a series of airs written by some of the earlier castrati, but sung by a female soprano: Vivica Genaux.

"Rossini: Cavatino per musico"; the male soprano Angelo Manzotti is the singer; the CD is issued by Bongiovanni.

NEWFabrice di Falco (sopraniste): some Handel: one of Farinelli's brother's arias included on: "Des oeuvres pour les castrats a la musique religieuese": featuring: "Ombra fidele"; I am so often asked for a copy of this score!

NEW"Die Kunst der Kastraten"; a series of airs written BY some of the earlier castrati, but sung by a female soprano.

And there are others coming … with the publication of more and more operas written in the eighteenth century, the right kind of singer is required to meet these challenges.

I will keep on looking, listening and reporting …

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Film and Other media

"Farinelli, il castrato": Film, giving a highly inaccurate and overblown account Farinelli's life and times; much use made of his brother, Riccardo Broschi's compositions; spectacular and colourful; the music was "morphed", using a countertenor: Derek Lee Ragin, and a soprano: Ewa Mallas Godlewska, quite effectively, to produce the "castrato" sound; the track is to be found on the CD
"Farinelli, il castrato; soundtrack: Travelling: K1005".

An unusual film: "La leyenda de Baltasar" is a Spanish production; it is not subtitled, but is fairly easy to follow; not easy to obtain, but worth watching. A film, published in the 1960's, a Tom-Jones style romp, called "The Countertenors" may possibly be tracked down; it is not on any of the modern styles of recording; its other title is "White Voices"; it has been broadcast on Italian TV just recently.

"Dangerous Liasions": film: version of the novel; another version "Valmont" appeared around the same time. In the first, the late Paul Abel da Nascimento sang an aria written for the castrato; listen to this!

Spring 2003

And now, at the Edinburgh Festival fringe: Ernesto Tomasino has put on a marvellous skit concerning the castrati, hosted by none other than his interpretation of Moreschi and all the others! It is called "True or Falsetto", written by Lucy Prior, and received a remarkable write-up in the "The Guardian" on 5.8.2002; he has sent me some very enthusiastic reviews, full of praise! I hope to obtain a video, with any luck!

Ernesto's show has been in the Netherlands, and will be appearing in London on April 3rd; then he hopes to be touring Ireland and Italy.

Included by the reviewer was the old canard that there had been a castrato at the Sistine in 1959; not true, sadly. Someone had found a video recording of this singer and putative castrato, Domenico Mancini, taught by Moreschi; I had the sound-track on a double LP; both included an interview with this singer, whom I mentioned, though not by name, in the Opal booklet: for the CD "The Last Castrato". On both of these recordings, video and audio, is an example of Mancini singing the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria", followed by Moreschi, showing how it should be done (?)

Actually, these 2 recordings were (apparently) not made contemporaneously. The video sound of the "Ave Maria", sung by Mancini, does not appear to be available, but I hope to be able to place my LP version in Castrati_History before long.

The sleeve of this LP is full of Italian articles on the featured singers, and it is stated categorically there that Mancini was a falsettist, copying Moreschi, but not a castrato!

NEWAdded to that, the pictures we have of Moreschi's pupil show a man in his late middle-age with a moustache, which looks genuine! His speaking-voice, in my recording, is a rich bass-baritone, in the Roman dialect.

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  People and Pictures

Copyright ©2003 Elsa Scammell

Last Updated 11 March 2003