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Sunday, 2 February 2014


Women were forbidden to sing in church on the advice of St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians: “Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak.” In Ital, on order to keep the churches supplied, talented Italian boys were sent to the country’s famous conservatories for musical training from an early age.

The desire for adult female voices led to the practice of castration in Italian music, as a way of preserving high male singing voices with the added physical power of male lungs and larynx. The practice was commonplace by 1574.

Some of the boy singers became so wrapped up in their art that they begged to be castrated, knowing the rewards that might be in store. But all too often the boys were completely ignorant of their fate.

The famous castrati, Farinelli (January 24, 1705 – September 16, 1782) made his debut in London in 1734. Christened Carlo Broschi, he took the surname of his benefactors, the brothers Farina, as his stage name.

Portrait of Farinelli by Corrado Giaquinto (c. 1755)

With a voice spanning three octaves and such powerful lungs Farinelli could hold a note for a minute without a break.

Farielli used to sing for King Philip V of Spain to sleep at night with the same four songs.

It has been calculated that some 4,000 boys were operated on in Italy in the 18th century — partly because women were banned from singing in churches.

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