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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Castrato and His Wife
Giusto Ferdinando Tanducci came from a poor family in Sienna. He lived in a time when there was hardly any social mobility and rising from obscure poverty was almost impossible. Yet, Tanducci achieved this through his talent for music and a particular and brutal sacrifice. In Catholic Italy, male honour was achieved through fatherhood and marriage, yet Catholic priests...
Published on 23 Sep 2011 by S Riaz

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rock star? Castrato!
This book, based largely upon historical research, is interesting but not very easy to read as often the detail in the text overshadows the story that the author is trying to tell. Initially the story is laboured but impoves in the third quarter and the romantic but tragic tale of Signor Ferdinando Tenducci and his contemporaries leaves a taste in the mouth that is not...
Published on 8 Nov 2011 by Mr. D. McKenna


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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Castrato and His Wife, 23 Sep 2011
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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Giusto Ferdinando Tanducci came from a poor family in Sienna. He lived in a time when there was hardly any social mobility and rising from obscure poverty was almost impossible. Yet, Tanducci achieved this through his talent for music and a particular and brutal sacrifice. In Catholic Italy, male honour was achieved through fatherhood and marriage, yet Catholic priests were supposed to be celibate and also had a high status. It was through the Church that poor boys could be given a chance of a good education and social advancement. Before he was eleven years old, Tanducci entered Holy Orders and sung in the choir. Before he reached puberty he was castrated to preserve the purity of his unbroken voice.

Castrati were the superstars of their day. During the Renaissance the castration of boys in church choirs was widespread, as women could not sing in the Vatican church choirs and this imposed limitations for the composers. However, simply being castrated was not enough to achieve success and the boys were sent to musical conservatory to begin musical training. Not all the boys went on to find success, but Tanducci managed to reach the standard required through the exhaustive training. When he was twenty three he went to London for a season of opera at the King's Theatre, where his beautiful singing voice helped him achieve success and fame.

Despite problems with minor scandals and debts, Tanducci had a successful career. Then, while in Dublin, he met a young girl who almost ruined his career and nearly cost him his life. She was Dorothea Maunsell and this book tells the story of their extraordinary marriage. Without wishing to say too much, it is fair to say that the marriage was unexpected and caused scandal and outrage at the time. The public joke was that the only conceivable pleasure Dorothea could gain from marrying a castrati was to hear him sing and Casanova, on first being introduced to Tanducci's wife, thought it was "a joke". In Italy, castrati's were forbidden to marry on pain of death and they were often mocked for their physical appearance.

This is an extremely well written, informative and enjoyable book. Helen Berry brings the people and the era vividly to life and you sympathise with the difficulties Tanducci faced. This is an intelligent and fascinating read and I recommend it highly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rock star? Castrato!, 8 Nov 2011
By 
Mr. D. McKenna "foliofreak" (East Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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This book, based largely upon historical research, is interesting but not very easy to read as often the detail in the text overshadows the story that the author is trying to tell. Initially the story is laboured but impoves in the third quarter and the romantic but tragic tale of Signor Ferdinando Tenducci and his contemporaries leaves a taste in the mouth that is not overly pleasant, involving as it does religious fanaticism, as it seeks perfection in the voice, greed and intolerance.
Well worth reading for an insight into the role and development of the castrati.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not my cup of tea, it may be yours., 21 Oct 2011
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M. Taplin "mikekoi" (Weston-super-Mare, England) - See all my reviews
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I like opera but knew little about the Castrato. This book offered an opportunity to improve my knowledge. After fifty pages I was not enlightened. Something was missing I did not feel engaged by the story, maybe because the narrative seemed too academic. This may suit someone of a more analytical turn of mind but I felt distanced by it. I ground to a halt. A friend who is much more knowledgeable has read this book from cover to cover, he really liked it. Hence the score.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, 18 Sep 2011
By 
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Like most people I know that castrati sung in choirs and opera, some of them were famous, and the practice wasn't officially sanctioned. When this book popped up then I thought why not read more on the subject. Although really a niche subject, Helen Berry's book drew me in and I found it hard to stop reading. Despite being a niche subject this book definitely has mainstream appeal, and I hope that people pick up on that.

Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci was a servant's son, but due to his castration and musical coaching he reached the pinnacle of his career, celebrated especially in this country. Like most people I thought that castrati just sung, but as this book shows, the conservatories where they trained taught them not only singing, but also playing musical instruments, as well as composing. It was also interesting to find that although prized in Europe the place to be was the British Isles, where the money was.

Tenducci's life isn't well documented, so Berry has had to play detective to piece together his life, and so this book tells us much more than just about Tenducci, but also the period in which he lived and the mores of the time. Being a castrato would normally mean that he could never marry, at least in a Catholic country, but slipping through loopholes he in fact married an Irish girl. The way that castrati were perceived would in itself make this marriage in itself weird, but perhaps we are more liberal minded than our European counterparts, in that despite the marriage eventually being annulled, and the fuss that the papers caused, the actual marriage didn't affect Tenducci's career, or his being invited to places in this country.

This whole book is truly fascinating and grips you from the very beginning and tries to spread light on a world that most of us know nothing or very little about. What is also refreshing is that Berry doesn't try to come up with convoluted pseudo-jabber about things that we don't know, instead she is honest, and says what we do and don't know about the period, and what is currently believed to be the case. If you are into books that are true and highly interesting, then you can't really go wrong with this, after all Tenducci was one of the first popstars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A thought Provoker, 20 Oct 2011
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I initially listened to the abridged version of this on Radio 4. I don't like opera, but the social history aspect of it interested me. Helen Berry is honest in her admittance of supposition in the book. However, her research deserves high credibility, she gained access to documents over 230 years old and the book is set during the 18th century. It's a thought provoker, certainly not a trashy romance. It deals with Giusto Ferdinanando Tenducci, who on his parents' authority was castrated, with pig shears, without anaesethic, at 11 years old to ensure his voice wouldn't break, so he could have a career in singing. He did become a notorious singer in Italy and England, he apparently sang Scottish ballads well!

Tenducci gained notoriety for his elopement with Dorothea Maunsell, a girl from Dublin. She evidently didn't wish to marry a man of her father's choosing, which is understandable. The elopement caused her public disgrace in the eyes of her family and wider society. Castrati were not permitted to marry as they couldn't procreate, if they married in Italy, they were executed.
This book gives a great insight into parental authority over children and its cruelty. It explores the duplicity of the church, apparently disapproving of castrati but using them for their choirs! Tenducci and Dorothea didn't remain happy, she married someone else and Tenducci was heartbroken. I never knew that castration took place to carve a career for future singers. It is an intriguing and knowledgeable read, but there is something disturbing about it. Thank goodness people's morality has advanced and progressed, since the 18th century.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Life and Times of Giusto Tenducci, 21 Sep 2011
By 
Mrs. K. A. P. Wright - See all my reviews
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People might be misled by the publicity surrounding this book into thinking that it is a rip-roaring historical romance. It isn't. It's a straightforward historical account of the life and times of Giusto Tenducci, an Italian castrato, a star of the London and Dublin stages in the late 1700s. It is true that his life was not dull and at the heart of it was a major scandal concerning his marriage to a fifteen year old, but Berry does not treat it as romantic fiction. She gives us a straightforward, if dry account, of his life citing sources wherever possible. She uses his story to discuss eighteenth century mores (and morals), the nature, legal and otherwise, of marriage and role of the castrati in society.

It is a fascinating, but not a light, read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating..., 28 Sep 2011
By 
Og Oggilby "Og Oggilby" (North London) - See all my reviews
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The sound of the Castrato is one which is now lost to us. Apparently, the castrato sound was utterly unlike anything we can now here - not like a woman's voice, or a man's, but somehow inbetween. The only recording of a castrato was made in the very earliest days of recorded technology, and apparently he wasn't one of the best. This book, which concerns the castrato Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci and his bride Dorothea Maunsell allows a peek into the world of Georgian Society, and sheds some light on the kind of 'pop star' life that Tenducci inhabited at the time. Helen Berry writes in a lucid and clear style, that's very easy to read, and yet does manage to convey some of the weight, colour and shade of this unlikely tale. Contemporaries thought that castrati could not have sexual relationships; this book shows that that was not the case. The relationship between the two main characters is explored deftly and revealingly, and all in all, this an absorbing and illuminating read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Castrato and His Wife, 13 Dec 2012
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N. Gough (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Castrato and His Wife (Paperback)
I found The Castrato and his Wife a facinating insight into a subject I had no idea about, once I started reading it I found it difficult to put down, a very interesting historical subject.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing and informative, 4 Aug 2012
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hiljean (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
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Although I am not an opera-lover, I was intrigued by the title of this book and read an excellent review of it in the Telegraph so my curiosity was aroused.

Helen Berry has written a thoroughly researched, well written book about Tenducci, the celebrated 18th century castrato who eloped with the 15-year-old Dorothea Maunsell, an Irish girl from a distinguished family. Although Dorothea undoubtedly wanted primarily to escape an arranged marriage, it is clear that she had something of a crush on Tenducci, a phenomenon not uncommon in those times (women were often drawn to these singers and Tenducci had already been unwillingly involved in a notorious case involving Baroness Lyttleton and her separation from her husband). Naturally the marriage ended in disaster to Tenducci's eternal sorrow.

One can only feel enormous sympathy for these castrati, having been castrated with the consent of their parents prior to the onset of puberty with the knowledge and encouragement of the Catholic Church for whom primarily these eunuchs were intended to sing in the church. Apparently it was not until 1903 that the Vatican officially outlawed the use of castrati.

Helen Berry touches on the whole question of the morality of using castrati including the complicity of the paying public who flocked to their performances. But that was a different age when women and children could be transported for minor infringements of the law. However much we may frown on the practice from our 21st century standpoint, one must also judge the practice in the context of the times when the public also paid to see circus "freaks" and the "mad" at Bedlam. None of this is to excuse the practice, particularly as it involved children who had no choice and were not even old enough to understand the implications of what was being done to them, but one also has to view the practice in the wider scale of atrocities committed in those times. Impoverished parents have always (and still do in some parts of the world) sacrificed their children's futures for financial gain.

This was a highly interesting book, and it certainly gave me plenty to think about.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating biography, 1 April 2012
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A very detailed and readable account of the life of Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci, one of the most famous celebrities of the eighteenth century. This book is very accessible and full of information and provides a very detailed portrait of life in 18th-century Europe. A fascinating and enjoyable read. Recommended.
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The Castrato and His Wife by Helen Berry (Paperback - 6 Sep 2012)
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