Jul 13, 2006

Unearthing the secrets of their sweet voices

Researchers exhume the body of Farinelli, the great castrato of the 18th Century.
Researchers including David Howard, of the University of York, and Nicholas Clapton, of the Royal Academy of Music, want to know what anatomical effects castration had on the legion of young boys who underwent the process in order to become opera stars.

"This is the only skeleton of them we have," said Mr Clapton. "We want to know if they were like the cartoons at the time depicted them, tall and gangly, or with women's breasts and large buttocks, or like the grand gentleman in Farinelli's official portraits." Engravings of Farinelli, together with a fellow castrato, Senesino, show the pair with tiny heads and stretched bodies towering over their fellow singers.

Castrati were wildly popular as the soprano leads in baroque opera from the 17th century to the end of the 18th century. Farinelli, born Carlo Broschi in 1705, was the most famous of them all.

His voice was considered so magical that he was hired in 1737 to cure the depression of King Philip V of Spain.

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