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Definition:

For convenience, I'm straddling two distinct areas (opera and choir singing) to suit my one song / one tag policy, as both styles can often overlap in one single piece / performance. Operatic vocal performances include the recitative (a speech-inflected style) and arias (a more melodic style). Male singers can be classified by vocal range as bass, bass-baritone, baritone, tenor and countertenor, and female singers as contralto, mezzo-soprano and soprano. I tag pieces as Choral when the musical ensemble of singers is foremost in the performance, whether a capella, classical or pop.


The Jukebox Pick (of 376):

 Ave Maria

 (Johann Sebastian Bach, Charles-François Gounod)

 Alessandro Moreschi

 10 out of 10 “Excellent” Operatic / Choral

 This recording of “Ave Maria” by Alessandro Moreschi (the only castrato to have made solo recordings) was captured in Rome on 11th April, 1904. It was released shortly thereafter on a 10" shellac 78 (Gramophone Concert Record ‎G.C. 54774). I was strangely drawn to it about 10 years ago (as I write in 2019) when I was researching and collecting digital MP3s of old cylinder recordings of the late 19th and early 20th century. I'd usually run a mile from anything operatic, but this guy seemed to be crying out to be helped or rescued - I took pity on him! When I then read his back story, my gut feeling seemed uncanny. The following text is largely adapted and re-ordered from Wikipedia... In Europe, when women were not permitted to sing in church or cathedral choirs in the Roman Catholic Church (St. Augustine had forbidden it), boys were castrated (i.e. had their testicles removed) to develop a special high voice and to prevent their voices breaking at puberty. The first documents mentioning castrati are Italian church records from the 1550s. Such singers proved to be very popular in the new world of opera not too long after this; in the 17th century, an Italian opera not featuring at least one renowned castrato in a lead part would be doomed to fail. In the 1720s and 1730s, at the height of the craze for these voices, it has been estimated that upwards of 4,000 boys were castrated annually in the service of art. By the late 18th century, changes in operatic taste and social attitudes spelled the end for the brutal practice, although there was still a place for such singers in the church. After the unification of Italy in 1861 (when the papal states were subsumed), castration for musical purposes was officially made illegal. The last true castrato was Alessandro Moreschi (1858–1922) who served in the Sistine Chapel Choir; he was the only castrato to have made solo recordings, doing so in 1902 and 1904. Inbetween these sessions, the order finally came to forbid castrati from singing in church - on St. Cecilia's Day, 22 November 1903. Although he had been renowned as “The Angel of Rome” at the beginning of his career, some would say he was past his prime when he made his recordings in his mid-40s. Also against him was the fact that the recording technology of the day was not of high quality. Despite these facts, Moreschi's singing approaches the type of star quality that the great castrato performances of the Baroque era must have possessed; there is great fervour in the singing - “a tear in every note” - and Moreschi takes the climactic high B natural without apparent effort. Moreschi retired officially in March 1913, and died in 1922.


Some favourite artists:

Julianna Barwick; Björk; Maria Callas

The Jukebox pick:

 

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