History’s Taboos # 1: Castration of Boys For the Opera

Posted: February 28, 2013 in History's Taboos
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Different cultures and time periods give rise to different taboos. These are fluid taboos, those that change like the seasons. Monthly, I will search through history in order to find these subjective taboos, or non-universal taboos.

“In the 1700s as many as 4,000 boys were castrated each year in Italy and 70 percent of all opera singers were castrati.”1

Today, in many parts of the world this action would be considered appalling and taboo.  But for those in the 18th century the castration of boys became commonplace: used to retain a boy’s high voice before the unset of puberty so that they could sing soprano or alto in the opera.

Some taboos become taboo and then stay taboo.  Yet I don’t foresee this practice regaining popularity, but perhaps all things are recycled.

1 Shih-Shan Henry Tsai, The Eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty (New York: SUNY press, 1996), 11.

  1. Most disturbing habit, they had… It’s pretty well exploited in the “Farinelli” movie…

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