We do not, quite obviously, recommend castrating some group of male babies, foundlings as it often was, in the hope that some of them would be able to sing when they grew up. That is what was done in order to produce castrati though and the question is, well, why?

The answer to that shows us why this is just fine as it is but also why it’s not a perfect solution:

In the world of opera, the question “who wears the trousers?” has suddenly become harder to answer. Looser gender divisions in casting, and a new understanding of the effect of changing hormones on the voice, mean that – for divas in particular – the future looks much brighter. Who is to say only a man should ever sing Puccini’s Nessun Dorma?

If a female singer’s vocal range dips with motherhood or age, she can simply switch to a lower voice, such as tenor. And, says Ash Khandekar, editor of the magazine Opera Now, switching categories across gender divides is becoming more acceptable.

Women with lower – mezzo-soprano or contralto – voices have always been cast in the cross-gender “breeches” roles of the popular opera repertoire, parts such as Cherubino in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro or Octavian in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. But now female singers in professional companies, as well as in amateur operatic societies and choirs, are taking advantage of the end of traditional boundaries to call for women to have the opportunity of lengthening their performing careers.

We’re liberals around here, proper classical liberals. Thus what consenting adults get up to is what consenting adults get up to and that’s the end of that. Yea, this extends even to people voluntarily subjecting themselves to Webern and, shudder, musique concrete. So the idea that post-menopausal warblers might hum along in a different register doesn’t bother us in the slightest.

But, but, why the castrati? Because male and female voices differ in more than just register. As the current crop of (non-castrati) counter-tenors show. We’ll let proper experts debate the exact differences but our own interpretation is that voices differ by gender by both register and timbre. The timbre being something that doesn’t change along with the register and age.

Yep, we’d be delighted to hear Figaro sung by one of those deepening female voices but then we’ve delighted in it as sung by Bugs and Elmer as well. But as with the second greatest cartoon ever made* those female voices just won’t be the same as male ones even as they hit the same notes.

*We know the greatest, but do you?

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Hallowed Be
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Hallowed Be

Beep Beep!

Nautical Nick
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Nautical Nick

Tim, rather that categorise this under “Culture”, shouldn’t it be under “Snippets”….?

Bloke on M4
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Bloke on M4

“And, says Ash Khandekar, editor of the magazine Opera Now, switching categories across gender divides is becoming more acceptable.” To whom? That liberal market thing, absolutely. The problem is that opera isn’t. We have subsidised opera companies that commission bad music about transsexual refugees from Syria that 10 people watch, or tuneless Harrison Birtwistle. I don’t know about Tamsin Grieg playing Malvolio, but that’s the NT, paid for by lottery players across the country. And the whole lottery funding thing is about ticking political boxes. Projects get commissioned just for the sake of those people so they can claim they’re… Read more »

NiV
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NiV

“Why did no-one switch genders before, if it made sense?”

Because some people have very strong feelings about the morality of proper conformity with gender roles, and have always insisted that other people conform to their beliefs about it, or face the penalties. An exception is made for acting – they can always say they’re just acting a role. But you can only push it so far. It’s OK to pretend if it’s clear to everyone you’re pretending as a joke, but God forbids that you do it for real!

Surreptitious Evil
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Surreptitious Evil

Because some people have very strong feelings about the morality of proper conformity with gender roles, ”

But your usual point is that it isn’t about letting them play man, woman, boy or girl, is it? It’s that it’s absolutely fine to require us, under threat of the criminal law, to agree that they actually are the role they are playing.

As you said, an exception is made for acting …

NiV
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NiV

“But your usual point is that it isn’t about letting them play man, woman, boy or girl, is it? It’s that it’s absolutely fine to require us, under threat of the criminal law, to agree that they actually are the role they are playing.” No. You can believe what you like. (Just as other people are free to disagree/argue with you.) What you can’t do is to subject them to any mistreatment, to prevent them acting in that role, if what they’re doing does no harm to others. It’s pure JS Mill. “That the only purpose for which power can… Read more »

Surreptitious Evil
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Surreptitious Evil

HTML ooops

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

Earlier I watched a news programme in which a female presenter interviewed a female protester about how women still have a way to go bla bla bla in a country which has a female head of state and a female head of government. And still they moan.

And if you want to see the castrati, the mirror beckons.

PJF
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PJF

“We do not, quite obviously, recommend castrating some group of male babies…”

Not babies (yet), and not for singing; but the influential parts of society do now recommend castrating young biological males (in order to make pretend females). So, will this (and the adventures in the opposite direction) result in a new talent pool for opera?

Ian Reid
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Ian Reid

It used to be said the vast deferred makes a vast difference.

Ian Reid
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Ian Reid

Oh god spell checkers. Vas deferens, but I think you knew what I meant.

Spike
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Spike

Like the paraplegic Olympics, like the NCAA preventing payments to outstanding athletes and coaches destroying their careers to try to evade it, the audience has to decide whether they want to cater to their preconceived notions, or to see the best performances. It is a struggle between “That’s nice!” and that’s good.

jgh
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jgh

I prefer Wagner. Thunder, lightning, 30-ton horses, cross-dressing rabbits. What’s not to like?

Offcolour
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Offcolour

Animaniacs