Listening for a queer utopia
unexpected pleasures in Baroque castrato roles
Keywords:Baroque, Castrato, Performance, Gender, Opera
This article seeks out queer resonances in the peculiar lives and sensational music of the castrati: castrated male singers who, on operatic stages of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, proved their virility not through the strength or reproductive capacity of their unusual bodies, but through the breathtaking virtuosity of their voices. Problematizing not only binaries of gender and sexuality, but also those of mind vs. body and verbal vs. non-verbal, this paper uses music as a medium through which to explore the liminal space between linguistic signification and embodied experience. Relying on Sylvia Wynter’s ‘deciphering turn’, this study investigates what the stories and music of the castrati can do rather than concentrating on what they mean: the use of auto-ethnography extends this investigation into the present, exploring how modern performances of the castrati’s music can potentially offer solace and inspiration to queer subjects of today.
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