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In her keynote address, “Castrato De Luxe: Blood, Gifts, and Goods in the Making of Early Modern Singing Stars,” Professor Martha Feldman examines the complicated role of the castrati in a patriarchal society.

“Specifically I’m interested in a variety of social exchanges, their kinship alliances, and the ways they were entangled in the circulation of money,” says Feldman, pointing out that the patterns of male domination and patriarchy in Italy made the role of castrati particularly ambiguous. The patriarchal system of passing wealth through a direct male line meant castrati—boys who were castrated before puberty to preserve their high, unbroken singing voices—were “literally and figuratively cut out” of aspects of society because they could not perpetuate their family line. Castrati shed blood in order to obtain their wealth, yet lacked the ability to create a bloodline to sustain that wealth for future generations.

While no audio or video of castrati is available, Feldman’s lecture will include video footage of singers using techniques developed specifically for castrati. “The incredibly difficult ways of marking and articulating notes were highly luxurious aspects of singing that were won with intense training and literally blood, sweat, and tears,” says Feldman.

Feldman’s research on castrati and their role in European society has brought her numerous fellowships and will culminate in her forthcoming book, Castrato in Nature. This past year Feldman won the University of Chicago Press’s Gordon J. Laing Prize for her 2007 book, Opera and Sovereignty: Transforming Myths in Eighteenth-Century Italy.

Feldman was recently appointed Chair of the Department of Music as well as the Mabel Greene Myers Professor in the Humanities. Her many honors include the Dent Medal from the Royal Musical Association in 2001, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2006, and the Ruth A. Solie Prize of the American Musicological Society in 2007. She received the University’s Graduate Teaching Award in 2009.


The assertion that no audio exists of castrato singing is incorrect. Yale university holds some records from 1902 and 1904 which were released by Pearl Records [UK]. The singer was Alessandro Moreschi of the Sistine choir.

Dr JJ Carmody, Sydney, Australia

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