Addition by subtraction — the plight of the lowly, high-voiced castrato

Push it to the limit
Walk along the razor’s edge
but don’t look down, just keep your head
and you’ll be finished

Open up the limit
past the point of no return
You’ve reached the top but still you gotta learn
how to keep it
How far are you willing to go to be the best?

I don’t know about you but there’s a solid list of things I’m not willing to do for my job, under any circumstances. If I’m a singer, high on that list would be becoming a castrato. Not willing to go that far to be the best.

The castrati were a class of singers — read: young boys — who had their man-parts excised so as to ensure their voices stayed high post-puberty. Unsettled yet? Okay.

Carlo Scalzi, a famous 18th century castrato.
Carlo Scalzi, a famous 18th century castrato.

The way castrati singers were treated seems to fall somewhere between an OSHA violation and a scene from Saw. Nonetheless, composers were happy writing pieces that featured these anomalous-voiced singers, and audiences were completely effed up for enjoying this appreciative, too.

Definitely crass and a bit inappropriate: acknowledged.
Definitely crass and a bit inappropriate: acknowledged.

Fast-forward to today when lightning strikes and countertenor Philippe Jaroussky realizes, Hey fools, why don’t we just sing falsetto instead?

(Cut to thousands of dumbfounded opera fans, shaking their heads slowly, grimly.)

“Wow, okay, that’s all it took? Woops! Ha ha ha. Our mistake. No hard feelings, right? Right??”

NPR’s Deceptive Cadence interviewed Jaroussky about performing music originally intended for castrati. And yes, he’s a normal, run-of-the-mill, fully-intact singer.

Genius
Genius.

Good times.

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