chapter  5
32 Pages

The spectacular crossings of castrati

ByKatherine Crawford

On the theatrical stage, castrates as characters allowed spaces of denial even as the ideas and prejudices attached to them were instantiated in representations of them. The visibility of castrati, and the astonishing success of some as singers, brought their physical and social disability into prolonged tension with normative values about bodies and gender. Whether collective or devoted to individual singers, histories have provided a variety of perspectives about the recruitment, training, and careers of castrati. Recent interventions have taken up one aspect of it, which is the complicated gender and sexual logics of castrati. Freitas brilliantly develops his argument that castrati such as Melani figured in contemporary sexual culture as perpetual youths, available for pederastic desire or as heterosexual objects. Like cross-dressed female singers, castrati disrupt gender norms, and to some degree, they are understood on a spectrum with other operatic gender transgressions.