Giambattista Velluti in London (1825-1829): literary constructions of the last operatic castrato
Crowe, Robert William
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This work is concerned primarily with the five seasons the castrato soprano, Giovanni Battista Velluti spent in London between 1825 and 1829. This time-place is unique in operatic history insofar as it sees the meeting of the new, exhaustively detailed, descriptive musical-critical journalism that emerged in the nineteenth century as it encountered the last operatic castrato in the last decade of his public performing career. Beginning with a historiographical overview of writings about the castrati, spanning from the early eighteenth century to the present day, the introduction establishes the methodological and thematic placement of this dissertation. Chapter 1 details the events of the last fifteen years of Velluti's career. These almost exactly overlap the period of his presence in English periodicals and the focus of the next chapter, the late, English, literary Romantic. The Romantics were deeply interested in music and were the principal intellectual creators of the music critical style that arose in the 1820s. Their cognition will be explored to the extent it can found utilized in writing about the voice, the otherness of disability and horror and fear of the other intruding upon the personal space of the self. Chapters 3 and 4 will proceed from literarily expressed cognitive understanding to the operatic voice of the 1820s: not only the castrato, but female singers, tenors and countertenors. While chapter 4 establishes the manner in which these voices functioned in their various, clearly audible registers, chapter 5 will then explore the meanings that each of these registers conveyed, especially regarding perceived gender and disability. These meanings are reinforced by excerpts of poetry and prose, fact and fiction, from England and the Continent. Chapter 5 examines the two ornamentational styles of Velluti, as they survive in published and manuscript sources from the 1810s and 1820s, comparing them to other singers of his time and reading them as literary texts. Velluti's highly literary rather than purely melodic ornamentation lends itself particularly to this cross-disciplinary approach. The work concludes with a short chapter concerning the end of Velluti's life and the last two castrati, one undoubted, one dubious, to appear on the English concert stage.