The Tenor-castrato connection, 1760-1860

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • John Potter


Publication details

JournalEarly Music
DatePublished - 2006
Issue number1
Number of pages13
Pages (from-to)97-110
Original languageEnglish


This article looks at aspects of the tenor voice from the last quarter of the 18th century to the second half of the 19th. The extended falsetto range of tenors during this period is discussed in the context of the castrato teaching tradition and a case is made for a special relationship between castratos and tenors, many of whom were taught by castratos as children, adolescents and adults. This had a direct effect on the operas of Haydn, Mozart, Rossini and Bellini, whose tenor arias may have a stylistic affinity with the exercises of castratos such as Rauzzini and Crescentini. By contrast, the upward extension of tenors' chest voices (especially from the second quarter of the 19th century onwards) relies less on castrato teaching, the majority of the new tenors having been taught by other tenors. The evidence for the decline of the older style and its replacement by the more powerful technique that is the basis of the modern tenor voice is examined. It is suggested that the modern operatic countertenor sound may be something like the falsetto sound of the ‘Bellini’ tenor, and that re-creation of the older castrato-influenced sound might be possible using these voices.

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