A Cannon-Shaped Man with an Amphibian Voice: Castrato and Disability in Eighteenth-Century France

Author: Law, Hedy

Publication details: The Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies, edited by Blake Howe, Stephanie Jensen-Moulton, Neil William Lerner, Joseph Nathan Straus, 329-344. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Weblink: https://global.oup.com

Abstract: This essay suggests how cultural histories of the castrato (exemplified by the writings of Giuseppe Gerbino, Roger Freitas, Bonnie Gordon, J. Q. Davies, and Martha Feldman) and the field of Disability Studies can enter into dialogue, arguing that the discourses of stigma and freak help to explain aspects of castrato singers in eighteenth-century France. Inadequate scientific explanation of the castrato body in Enlightenment medicine led to the cultural mystification of these castrato singers. Despite receiving royal protection, castrato singers were sometimes subjected to stigmatization, and their performances were sometimes described as if they were freak shows. Employing a variety of textual evidence (including reviews, scripts, and dictionary entries), I argue that what might be called the “enfreaked” castrato singers disclosed a prejudice against the marvelous in the French Enlightenment.