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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Castrato \Cas*tra"to\, n. [L., properly p. p. of castrare. See Castrate.] A male person castrated for the purpose of improving his voice for singing; an artificial, or male, soprano.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

1763, from Italian castrato, from Latin castratus (see castration).


a. 1 (context literally English) Castrated; especially castrated prepubescently. 2 Having, using or containing the voice of a castrato ''(noun)''. 3 Originally composed for a castrato. n. 1 A male who has been castrated, especially a male whose testicles have been removed before puberty in order to retain his boyish voice. 2 A male soprano or alto voice produced by castration of the treble singer before puberty, intended to conserve his voice; the singer.

  1. n. a male singer who was castrated before puberty and retains a soprano or alto voice

  2. [also: castrati (pl)]


A castrato (Italian, plural: castrati) is a type of classical male singing voice equivalent to that of a soprano, mezzo-soprano, or contralto. The voice is produced by castration of the singer before puberty, or it occurs in one who, due to an endocrinological condition, never reaches sexual maturity.

Castration before puberty (or in its early stages) prevents a boy's larynx from being transformed by the normal physiological events of puberty. As a result, the vocal range of prepubescence (shared by both sexes) is largely retained, and the voice develops into adulthood in a unique way. Prepubescent castration for this purpose diminished greatly in the late 18th century and was made illegal in Italy in 1870.

As the castrato's body grew, his lack of testosterone meant that his epiphyses (bone-joints) did not harden in the normal manner. Thus the limbs of the castrati often grew unusually long, as did the bones of their ribs. This, combined with intensive training, gave them unrivalled lung-power and breath capacity. Operating through small, child-sized vocal cords, their voices were also extraordinarily flexible, and quite different from the equivalent adult female voice. Their vocal range was higher than that of the uncastrated adult male. Listening to the only surviving recordings of a castrato (see below), one can hear that the lower part of the voice sounds like a "super-high" tenor, with a more falsetto-like upper register above that.

Castrati were rarely referred to as such: in the 18th century, the euphemism musico (pl musici) was much more generally used, although it usually carried derogatory implications; another synonym was evirato, literally meaning " emasculated". Eunuch is a more general term, since historically many eunuchs were castrated after puberty and thus the castration had no impact on their voices.

Usage examples of "castrato".

I listened patiently to all the complaints of the mother who maintained that, in giving up the character of castrato, Therese had bidden adieu to fortune, because she might have earned a thousand sequins a year in Rome.

My father, a poor clerk in the Institute of Bologna, had let an apartment in his house to the celebrated Salimberi, a castrato, and a delightful musician.

Spina had for her master a castrato who succeeded in making of her only a very ordinary singer, and in the absence of talent she was compelled, in order to get a living, to make the most of the beauty she had received from nature.

This castrato had a fine voice, but his chief attraction was his beauty.

In the evening I took them to Covent Garden, where the castrato Tenducci surprised me by introducing me to his wife, of whom he had two children.

One could not have a pretty actress to supper without causing a scandal, but such an invitation to a castrato makes nobody talk.

Putini, the castrato, was high in her favour, as indeed he deserved to be, both for his talents and the beauties of his person.

She had heard the famous castrati of the pleasure world of Vainwal, and could almost wish they were legal on other worlds.

Why should this castrato be allowed to shew his breast, of which the fairest Roman lady might be proud, and yet wish everyone to consider him as a man and not a woman?

The castrato Luini was a lieutenant-colonel, and the painter Toretti only a captain, because he had only eight hundred roubles a year, while the coachman had three thousand.

Bellino, such was the name of the castrato, yielding to the entreaties of Don Sancio, rose from the table, went to the harpiscord, and sang with the voice of an angel and with delightful grace.

A castrato and a girl of almost equal height proposed to strip in an adjoining room, and to lie on their backs, in the same bed with their faces covered.

I said so to Gama, who told me that he was the celebrated castrato, Bepino delta Mamana.

My mother advised me to continue to give myself out as a castrato, in the hope of being able to take me to Rome.

My new visitor proved to be the first castrato of the theatre, who brought an invitation to dinner from Narici.