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Alessandro Moreschi: The Only Recorded Castrato in History

Alessandro Moreschi was a castrato singer of the late 19th century and the only castrato to make solo recordings of his voice. A castrato is a type of classical male voice type equivalent to that of a female soprano or mezzo-soprano. The voice is produced by the castration of a young male singer before puberty preventing his larynx from being developed and thus leaving him with a high singing voice.



The use of castrati was very popular in early opera, like the operas of Claudio Monteverdi, through operas written in the late 18th century. In the 1720s and 1730s, at the height of the polarity of this voice type, it has been estimated that upwards of 4,000 boys were castrated annually to become castrati.


In 1861, castration for musical purposes was officially made illegal in Italy, but castrati continued to sing in the Sistine Chapel choir and in other papal basilicas in Rome. This included castrati like Alessandro Moreschi who was known as The Angel of Rome. Moreschi, having held the position of First Soprano of the Sistine Chapel choir for thirty years, was the last Sistine Chapel castrato to survive and was the only castrato to have made solo recordings of his voice.


The few recordings we have of Moreschi singing come from two different recording sessions from 1902 and 1904. These recordings were made on wax cylinders that played on a phonograph — the earliest medium for recording and playing back sound.


The most well-known piece Moreschi recorded was the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria. The recording has often been praised for the ease at which Moreschi sings the climactic high B-natrual in the piece. He also recorded two songs by Paolo Tosti, Mozart's Ave verum and two versions of the Crucifixus from Rossini's Petite Messe Solenelle, and a variety of religious music by Italian composers.

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