Left High and Dry
In 18th-Century Italy, the craze for castrati singers reached its zenith and the boundaries of vocal music were changed for ever. Thousands of pre-pubescent boys underwent the risky operation of castration to preserve their pure, high voice in the hope of finding fame and fortune as a celebrated virtuoso.
For 1% of those boys, like Senesino, the gamble paid off and their families secured a comfortable future. But what of the remaining 99%?
Left High and Dry charts the rise and fall of the castrati to paint a portrait of Italian society at a time of extraordinary change. Looking beyond the well known tales of on-stage diva antics and off-stage sexual prowess as relayed by the likes of Casanova, Mary King explores the contradictory role that the church played in denying, encouraging and protecting the castrati; the economic climate that encouraged families to effectively sell their sons into a life of music and the changes brought about by the Risorgimento which sounded the death knell for the castrati.
Presented by vocal coach and voice expert Mary King, artist in residence at the Southbank Centre and director of Voicelab.