Castrato De Luxe: Blood, Gifts, and Goods in the Making of Early Modern Singing Stars

Rockefeller Memorial Chapel

Feldman investigates the complex role of castrati in early modern Europe. While these men achieved wealth and status, in many ways they remained alienated from a patriarchal society. The patriarchal system of passing wealth through a direct male line meant that these boys, who were castrated before puberty to preserve their high, unbroken singing voices, were “literally and figuratively cut out” of society because they could not generate a family line. Feldman examines the variety of social exchanges, kinship alliances, and the ways castrati were entangled in the circulation of money. While no audio or video of castrati is available, Feldman’s lecture will include video footage of singers using the articulation techniques developed specifically for castrati. “The incredibly difficult ways of marking and articulating notes were very luxurious aspects of singing that were won with intense training and literally blood, sweat, and tears,” says Feldman.