[Voices from the past: castrate singers]

Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2009;153:A618.
[Article in Dutch]


Castration is a severely mutilating procedure. In Italy in the period around 1600-1850 even up to 4,000 yearly prepubescent boys per year underwent a bilateral orchidectomy to preserve their boyish high voice in order to become a 'castrato' singer. The operation was not without health risks and must have caused severe psychological problems, but some of the victims would become very famous, such as Carlo Broschi (1705-1782), better known as Farinelli. However, the majority of the castrati would remain unknown. Tradition has it that that the castrati were welcomed with euphoria by the general public. The last castrato at the Vatican, Alessandro Moreschi, died in 1922. The surviving recordings of the voice of this last official castrato give an impression of how the castrati's singing may have sounded. Several attempts have been made since to imitate the sound of the castrati, for example by digitally mixing soprano and countertenor voices.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Famous Persons
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Male
  • Music / history*
  • Orchiectomy / history*
  • Pitch Perception
  • Voice / physiology*