Friday, May 15, 2009

Hear the castrato sing

One of my Twitter buddies is a pianist named Chris Foley who is on the faculty of the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. He has this blog called the Collaborative Piano Blog that I am going to link to as soon as I figure out how to do links. But yesterday he veered from the business of piano and he posted a recording of the world's last castrato.

The world's last castrato was Alessandro Moreschi whom you can read about here, thank you Wikipedia. He was born in 1858 and he lived long enough to be captured on recordings.

Here is a picture of Moreschi at 22.

The clip Foley posted was of Moreschi singing Schubert's "Ave Maria." As Foley buzzed me just now, it is fascinating how mannered it sounds by today's standards. I like corresponding with a pedagogue at Toronto's Royal Conservatory! I am getting to like my virtual self.

I am not crazy about Moreschi's sound, though from what I read on the Internet, he was past his prime by the time those recordings were made. But then I am also not crazy about modern countertenors either. I admire them as artists and some of them are hip and good-looking but I just cannot warm up to their sound. To me there is just something weird about it, a man singing in a high voice.

But I find it fascinating to hear Moreschi. It is a glimpse of a vanished era!

Other clips of Moreschi are also on YouTube. Here he is at the Sistine Chapel and here he is singing Rossini's "Crucifixus."

Whatever you do, do not look at the comments! They are scary! A lot of fear and loathing and stupidity and anti-Catholic ranting.

Admittedly the concept of castratos does seem barbaric to us now, like Chinese foot-binding or slavery or public hangings in the square. But once upon a time at least in certain parts of the world those things were a fact of life, and smart and respectable people accepted them. As a Catholic in the 1700s, Mozart was used to castratos, or castrati, to use the correct plural. He is not on record as saying they were weird. I remember reading how he knew a castrato named Del Prato. Mozart would crack this joke and refer to him as "mio molto amato castrato Del Prato."

Which means "my dearly beloved castrato Del Prato." Dear Mozart. You had to love him!

Mozart also witnessed several hangings and floggings in the square, as long as we are talking about this kind of stuff. Judging from his letters the flogging bothered him more than the hangings. Maybe it was just the mood he was in. I will tell you one thing, if I saw just two seconds of one of those things, I would pass out.

How styles change, as Mr. Foley points out.

And how times change, too.

1 comment:

  1. About your summing up:

    A book titled "Mozart In Vienna" by Volkmar Braunbehrens tells how the enlightened emperor, Joseph II (even though he had abolished capital punishment) decided to make an example of a petty nobleman who robbed and killed a commoner. To prove that noble birth didn't empower this kind of behavior anymore, he had the miscreant broken on the wheel...a hideously painful and prolonged execution. Mozart was in Vienna at this time. I don't think he commented about it, but there was citizen outrage at this lapse into barbarism.

    Ordinary criminals convicted of capital offenses in Josephine Austria were sentenced to hard labor until they died. It usually took a year to work them to death. The more one digs into the past the more one finds that the idea of the value of human life is fairly new and was established in our Eurocentric culture with difficulty. In a large part of the world, life is still very cheap.