As I work on my current project, the Angelio Trilogy - about the friendship of castrato Carlo and bird-charmer Tammo in the fictitious city of Angelio - all sorts of interesting things come up in research. This week, I've been writing a poem for use in book 2, and have turned for inspiration to the castrato poet, Filippo Balatri da Pisa (1676-1756).
As far as I know, Filippo is the only castrato who wrote about his feelings and experiences publicly. He wrote a memoir in verse called Frutti del Mondo (The Fruit of the World) which tells of his travels as a singer, and some of his feelings about himself. It is probably one of the best insights we have into how a castrato singer saw himself, his life and his fate.
Here are some examples (in translation):-
"I am young, Italian and castrated
and seek my glory only through singing."
"I was already made into a mixed gender,
That is a soprano, and was quite young.
I apply myself to singing in the most human style
Doing so with industry and a good vocation."
"He asked me first if I am
Man or woman, where I came from,
If people like me are born
with this voice and skill, or rain down
from the sky. In confusion I reply:
If I say "man", I lie
"Woman" I certainly shall not say
and "neuter" would make me blush".
Filippo shares with us a very human and touching account of the complexities of his own identity, in a way that can help readers of our own era cone to terms with complex identities too. Expect to hear echoes of him in my future novel, Language of Birds.
There is an interesting- looking web page about Filippo Balatri at http://www.haendel.it/interpreti/old/balatri.htm
If there are any Italian speakers out there, I would love to see a translation.