"Just because the album says, "the last castrato," one should not expect the likes of Senesino, Cusanino, or Farinelli. This recording was made in 1903, far past the dusk of the castrati singers, and it was made by a man past his musical prime, if he in fact ever had one in the first place. By the time Alessandro Moreschi was castrated in the later 1850s, the Age of Enlightenment, Napoleon, and Revolutions had come and gone, taking Baroque aesthetic notions along with the dusts of time. Of course, it is unfair to rate one's musical abilities based on a recording made in the later stages of life, however it is obvious that Moreschi was not a particularly great musician or singer, and it is important to note that by the time he began studying there was no one capable of training castrati anymore. This does not necessarily imply that this CD is bad. In fact, it is a very enjoyable as well as historically important and interesting recording. However, one should note a number of things. First of all, the recording quality is poor by today's standards, considering that all the tracks were originally recorded on a foil or paper cylinder (the Edison system), and the singers and/or instrumentalists had to crowd around an amplifying horn. Recording equipment was not necessarily by professionals. Also, it was not until the middle part of this century, beginning with the efforts of the great Gerald Moore, that piano accompaniment had become an art unto itself. The anonymous pianist on this recording does not do particular justice to the singers or the pieces. Thirdly, some of the stylistic aspects of these recordings may be somewhat shocking to the modern-day listener. Traditional bel canto singing contains a large number of "portamenti" (accacciaturas under each note) and swells in voice in tone that are a bit jarring by today's aesthetic notions. Given his age and lack of extensive training, Moreschi executes these nuances rather interestingly, to say the least. Another example is the intonation of the bass voice in the recording of "La Cruda Mia Nemica" by Giovanni da Palestrina. Lastly, just because the choir is the Pope's own from the Sistine Chapel does not imply that it is a great choir. Mired in exhausted and trite training techniques and notions of antiquity, the Sistine Choir, made up solely of men and boys, was not a particularly polished group for its time, and it is evident on this recording. In fact, the Sistine Choir is not even that wonderful today. The fascinating thing about this recording is that it provides one with a glimpse into the closed and anti-modern world of the early 20th century Vatican, at that time an institution out of touch with progressive trends in the world. This was the home to the last of these self-tortured, melancholy creatures, who were not man nor woman, the castrati. Astounding."
One word: unique
Casey Ellis | Mohegan Lake, New York United States | 01/27/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"There will never be anything quite like this cd again. And thank God for that! Castration was a hideous dark spot on the history of classical music. Still, anyone interested in the human voice should own this cd. Many listeners have pointed out the technical flaws in the performance and Prof. Moreschi's voice. I would like to suggest that they are missing the point. No, he was not a great singer but he was the last of his kind. This one disc is all that is left of a tradition, a vocal type, a way of life and a group of people. As such, its value is beyond belief. Whenever I hold it in my hands I think with awe "This is all we have." The sound of the voice is unlike anything you've ever heard. If you are an aficionado of baroque opera like me you've probably heard countertenors, women playing castratos and the simulated castrato voice in the film "Farinelli". All are worth hearing but none truly capture the un-earthly sound of even a so-so castrato.
And actually, Moreschi isn't really all that bad. The strange thing is that, for a kind of singer whose prime was the baroque era, Moreschi is an arch romantic! He truly comes alive in the Tosti songs (in "Ideale" we even get to hear something like a knockout castrato performance of old), Rossini's "Crucifixus" and the Bach-Gounod "Ave Maria". At least we can tell he was an involved singer. When he sings he means it. And the sound in the lower ranges is rather nice and as fully Italian as Caruso!
On repeated listenings, I have developed a liking for Moreschi as a person. It could not have been easy for him but he sounds like someone who was determined to do his best despite his limited talents and that is as admirable as it gets.
A word about the music on this disc. Much of it is sacharine pseudo-church mucic. I cannot say it is great but it does have sentimental charm and is performed with touching conviction by the Vatican musicians and the indomitable Prof. Moreschi (who conducts some of it). And this music is worth preserving in some way. Aside from its greater purpose, this disc fills a small gap in the history of church music. Aside from the songs, we also get some Mozart, Rossini, Palestrina, Vittoria and Gregorian chant. The choral pieces are especially valuable since they give us a glimplse of what a castrato was supposed to sound like contrasted with other voices.
In historical terms, I refer readers to the critic who pointed out the insight this disc gives us into the somewhat sad but fascinating world of the Vatican at that time. The sound is shockingly good; my hat goes off to the Opal remastering team. Wonderful liner notes as well although I would have liked to have seen the photograph of Moreschi accompanied by Fred Gaisberg. If all this was not enough, we even get to hear the voice of the castrato-friendly Pope Leo XIII reading the "Ave Maria"!
If you love classical music or the human voice or both, you should own this disc. In pure musical terms it gets three stars. In musical-historical, emotional and spiritual terms, the disc is simply priceless."
Eerie. To own this CD is to own a piece of musical history
Harpsichord Fan | 02/02/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Even upon listening to the first piece of this Cd, I felt as though I was beholding something truly remarkable. This is a piece of musical heritage from a time we cannot possibly understand. You almost feel haunted by the ghosts of music long-forgotten"
Neil G. Croll | Edmonton, Alberta Canada | 09/03/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"If you are a fan of Opera or history or music or any of these things then you simply must hear this disc. These are recordings of extreme rarity which are made available and, perhaps more importantly, audible, through the dedication of the producers and the miracle of modern technology at the Yale noise reduction lab. Professor Moreschi's voice is something that will never be heard again, and is the only example of what a Castrato sounded like, and that sound is amazing. It is at the same time beautiful, ethereal, and a little bit disturbing. In the event of a fire I will grab my wallet, my autographed Renee Fleming picture and this disc; everything else can burn."