USRF Research

The Castrati Singers
of Italy

During the 17th and 18th centuries in Italy, some 4,000 - 5,000 boys were castrated annually for the purpose of singing alto in the church choirs. According to Melicow and Pulrang (Urology 3: 663-670, 1974), the prohibition against women singing in the church choir had its origin in the bible: "Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speaků" (I Corinthians 14:34). Thus, castrated men (castrati) came to sing in the choir, possessing "the chest and lungs of a man with the vocal cords of a women (Melicow and Pulrang)."

Castrati were considered to be the greatest singers of all time, dominating opera in Italy for two centuries. The last of the great Castrati singers was Allessandro Moreschi (1858-1922), whose voice was immortalized on a 1902 gramophone recording, which was later digitized and is currently available for purchase at


According to J.S. Jenkins (Lancet 351: 1877-80, 1998), "the most famous castrato of all was Carlo Broschi (1705-82), known as Farinelli, who had a legendary voice spanning over three octaves, from C3 (131 Hz) to D6 (1175 Hz), and thoracic development such that he could hold a note for a whole minute without taking breath."

In a recent motion picture, "The Great Farinelli" is depicted as being sexually active.

The trailer and several clips from Farinelli (Sony Pictures Classics) are available here.

Some scenes from Farinelli (Sony Pictures Classics).

Farinelli's life story is told here.

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