Boys without Balls

Because I heard a complaint that I am currently writing too much about politics, I would like to share here some newly gained knowledge about – castrati! I am inspired by yesterday’s concert by Max Cencic, a famous countertenor in Theater an der Wien.

Most of you will know (most probably through the 1994 movie “Farinelli”) that castrati were worshiped by whole nations, adored by both queens and kings. Still, it is interesting to learn that castrati were not, like many will believe, men who could sing as high as women. They were more: They (and their voices) alchemically embodied a combination of manly, womanly and childish aspects. Reports say that Farinelli’s vocal range was 3 octaves and he was able to sing any pitch effortlessly in both pianissimo and fortissimo. He could sing for five minutes without catching a breath and his coloraturas were so lively that often, the orchestra was not able to keep up his tempo and would sometimes just give up playing and listen to him sing in bewilderment.

But when you learn more about the medical aspects of castration and its consequences, you cannot but be disgusted of the human obsession with freaks. In 18th century, castration was already forbidden, but the public, or aristocratic, adoration of castrati never ceased. This is why many poor families had had their boys castrated in hope to secure them a life of fame and fortune – in spite of high death rates of this procedure. From Wikipedia: “Castration before puberty (or in its early stages) prevents a boy's larynx from being transformed by the normal physiological events of puberty. As a result, the vocal range of prepubescence shared by both sexes is largely retained, and the voice develops into adulthood in a unique way. As the castrato's body grew, his lack of testosterone meant that his bone-joints did not harden in the normal manner. Thus the limbs of the castrati often grew unusually long, as did the bones of their ribs. This, combined with intensive training, gave them unrivalled lung-power and breath capacity. Operating through small, child-sized vocal cords, their voices were also extraordinarily flexible, and quite different from the equivalent adult female voice, as well as higher vocal ranges of the uncastrated adult male.”

So what really surprised me is that the oh-so-adored Castrati were actually freaks. They were growing slower but longer, sometimes still in their forties. Very frail at their early age, they later grew higher than average, with too long arms and legs and then often became strongly obese, with female curves. Hmmm, I am very happy that Max has his balls - he is both nice to listen to and look at. 

For those who want to hear a castrato sing, here you will find a recording of the last castrato Alessandro Moreschii :