Today, we can only guess what the true castrati may have sounded like. Today’s falsetto or counter-tenors give perhaps the closest approximation of the sound. A recording does exist of one of the last castratos from the Vatican Choir of the late 19th century. It gives an aged and ghastly sound which could not be representative of a castrato in his prime. Michael Maniaci describes himself as a “male soprano” rather than a counter-tenor, as he says this is his natural voice.
Most counter-tenors are in fact baritones (or, occasionally, tenors) who can produce a sustained and strong falsetto. Michael Maniaci says “my voice seems to sit most naturally in the soprano register. While my vocal cords lengthened and thickened somewhat, they didn’t do so to the extent that
most men experience”.
So here are arias for castrati from Idomeneo, Lucio Silla, La Clemenza di Tito and from Exsultate, Jubilate, sung in a style which may – just may – approximate what Mozart’s audience would have heard from that era’s superstar eunuchs. I don’t find Michael Maniaci’s voice a naturally beautiful one, but the artistry is evident, and the accompaniment from Martin Pearlman’s Baroque orchestra is exemplary.