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The social and sexual history of the castrato: Representations of masculinity and casting implications

Worsley, Natasha (2016) The social and sexual history of the castrato: Representations of masculinity and casting implications. MA by research thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

This thesis seeks to explore the socio-historical factors that enabled the castrato phenomenon to thrive and the implications of this on representations of masculinity in Baroque opera. More specifically, it seeks to answer whether the castrato’s masculinity can be accurately portrayed in modern productions, owing to the inherent shift in the perception of sexuality and gender between the Baroque era and the present day. The figure of the castrato, long associated with liminality and difference, is the product of unique set of social, economic and sexual factors that permitted castration for musical purposes alone. Since their decline during the nineteenth century the concept of the castrato’s masculinity has been distorted through the prism of gender binary. By examining their social origins, vocal production and attitudes towards sexuality and gender, this thesis seeks to prove that castrati were the ultimate social construct in the representation of masculinity. The thesis begins with an introduction and literature review before being formed of four main parts. The first is an overview of the social, historical and economic climate from which the castrato was able to dominate the Italian operatic stage. The second part is concerned with the castrato’s voice and physiology, the implications of the castration procedure on the body and how their vocal production can be interpreted on the subject of vocal casting. The third part outlines how gender fluidity, borne out of the principles of Galenic sexual theory, permitted gradations of gender and thus, the castrato, to exist and thrive in Italian culture. By drawing these three areas of scholarship together, this thesis offers a judgement on the extent to which castrati were considered masculine and how this may be portrayed in a modern production. The final part contrasts two productions of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto, comparing how masculinity is presented when the title role is cast as either a counter-tenor or mezzo-soprano.

Item Type: Thesis (MA by research)
Academic Units: The University of York > Music (York)
Depositing User: Miss Natasha Worsley
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2017 15:13
Last Modified: 31 Jan 2017 15:13
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/15549

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