The most famous castrato of all was Carlo Broschi (1705-82), known as Farinelli, who had a legendary voice spanning over three octaves, from C3 (131 Hz) to D6 (1175 Hz), and thoracic development such that he could hold a note for a whole minute without taking breath. Contemporary critics speak ecstatically about Farinellli. Burney wrote in his General History of Music (c1776-89) "No vocal performer of the present century has been more unanimously allowed by professional critics as well as general celebrity to have been gifted with a voice of such uncommon power, sweetness, extent, and agility as Carlo Broschi, called Farinelli"
The last castrato in the Vatican was Alessandro Moreschi who died in 1922 at the age of 64, so he was probably castrated about1865. A 20th century authority on the castrati, Franz Haböck, knew Moreschi and describes his voice as being powerful, but pure and clear as crystal, with effortless breath control.20 Moreschi, uniquely, made several gramophone recordings of his voice in 1902 and 1904, and although the recording technique was very deficient by modern standards they provide our only direct evidence of the sound of a castrato's singing voice.
In another method the boy was first put into a warm bath to make the testes more tractable. The author continues: "Some small time after they pressed the Jugular Veins which made the Party so stupid and insensible that he fell into a kind of Apoplexy and then the action would be performed with scarce any Pain at all to the Patient".
What's a countertenor's favourite computer operating system? UNIX.
Moreschi was probably a pretty good singer, but he was no Farinelli. And this recording was made late in his career using a process that was difficult at best. I present this recording as a curiosity not only because it is a sample of a voice type no longer heard, but also because it illustrates a style of singing no longer practiced. The wild scoops into pitch were common practice in this period. Remnants of this scooping can be found today in the “sob” of some tenors and what I call the “chest attack” employed for dramatic effect by some female singers.
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