Castrati singers in the Italian opera of the XVII – XVIII centuries
In modern historiography of opera, the role and significance of castrati singers is not sufficiently illuminated and causes even some bewilderment. Meanwhile, the development of Italian opera in the era of Baroque and Classicism was determined by the leading position and singing skills of sopranists and contralists, mainly in the genre of opera-seria of the 18th century.
Literature on the singing art of castrati singers is scarce: books by K. M. Mazurin, A. Geriot, reference books. In Italy, the first castrati musicians were of Spanish origin. Isidor of Seville (560-640) mentions their voice capabilities in his treatise Etymology (?): “Subtle voices are those in which you cannot hear breathing, i.e. the voices of children, women and castrates. ” Although castrati singers were already known in Sh. A.D., they began to be used more widely in co-pranic parts of the XVI century choral music – they appeared in the papal capella. Orlando Lasso replaced the Bavarian Chapel (Munich, 1556-1594) with six contraltini boys, castrated singers invited from Portugal. At the same time, the Venetian madrigalists Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli worked in the ducal chapel of Munich under the leadership of Orlando Lasso.
Performing traditions of castrato singers create the necessary prerequisites for penetrating Italian opera, first in Rome (first half of the 17th century), and then in Venice, when Claudio Monteverdi and his follower Francesco Cavalli settled there. It is also known that one of the students of the Florentine singer and composer, the founder of opera, Giulio Caccini, was a castrate. The chanting voices of castrati were well served by vocational-technical processing, the development of coloratura and, most importantly, the expansion of the singing range in its upper section. Because of the effeminate sound, the voices of castrato singers were called falsettists (from the Ital Falso – false, fake), and in the era of the classical 18th century bel canto – musici.
The evolution of vocal art in the early stages of the development of the opera genre can be fully correlated with the activity of castrato singers, who revealed the practical possibilities of expanding the sungranic range in the upper parts of the soprano parts, which became the basis for the formation of the vocal and pedagogical theory and methodology of the 18th century classical bel canto , i.e. era of classicism. The basis of the singing practice of castrati singers was the register nature of the voice.
Unlike J. Caccini, who established the priority of the thoracic region over falsetto as the most natural, natural sound of the voice even among women, castrati singers proposed a new principle for using register nature in opera for the sake of forming a two-octave singing range. This is the principle of simultaneous, but not separate use of voice registers in solo singing, setting for this a specific transition from lower pectoral to upper falsetto at level c2.
The two-register style of opera performance by the sopranists sharply contrasted with the one-register style of singing with natural voices, revealing the significant aesthetic advantages of bel canto art and laying the foundation for the art of solo singing in its modern sense. Opera and solo singing were the area where the voice capabilities and performing skills of castrato singers were fully manifested. There was no competition due to the very high register transition required for all types of votes. The voice capabilities of castrato singers clearly exceeded those of ordinary male and female singers. Brilliant mastery of cantilena, virtuosity, a light timbre and the lightest sound of a voice, the ability to freely manage voice registers become an indisputable standard in the art of solo singing.
The problem of double-register education of singers, whose technical and vocational training would meet the aesthetic requirements of the opera house, is highlighted. In Italy, vocal schools are being formed, led by castrati singers. The most significant is the great Bologna school, led by Fr. A. Pistocchi (1659-1726), P. Fr. Tosi (1654-1732) and their followers A.M. Bernakka (1685-1756) and J. B. Mancini (1714-1800). The founder of vocal pedagogy can rightly be considered a castrato-co -ranist, an outstanding chamber singer Pierre Francesco Tosi. His treatise “Opinions of ancient and modern singers or remarks on featured singing” (1723) is the first evidence of a two-register style of opera performance in theoretical terms.