Lecture: Castration as Microhistory — Bruce A. Brown (USC)
The Musicology Division of the UNLV School of Music presents a lecture by Bruce Alan Brown (USC), titled "Castration as Microhistory: Music, Medicine, Nobility, and Justice in Eighteenth-Century Tuscany."
Although the early modern practice of castrating young males in order to preserve their high singing voices into adulthood has been the object of scholarly attention for over a century, notably in Martha Feldman’s landmark study _The Castrato: Reflections on Natures and Kinds_ (2015), on-the-ground case studies can still teach us much about just how thoroughly castration was embedded in Italian life, making it difficult to eradicate the practice, even after moral revulsion had turned public opinion against it. In this paper, Brown describes how an “outbreak” of castration in 1766 in the town of Pescia, northwest of Florence, led to one of the first attempts anywhere to prohibit the practice by law. His microhistorical examination focuses on the wealthy landowner, nobleman, hospital overseer, and singing teacher Bartolomeo Nucci, who used his intersectional identies to further his singing studio – tempting impoverished parents of prospective castrati with hopes of future riches (during a time of famine), but whose membership in a chivalric order ultimately proved incompatible with his recruiting efforts. The archival evidence upon which he draws in this investigation includes substantial remnants from Nucci’s teaching materials – manuscript score anthologies of bel canto arias and cantatas spanning nearly half a century.
Professor Brown will also visit a Musicology Division seminar on March 24. Parties interested in attending this extra seminar should contact the event host.
Free and open to the public