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Remembering 'Castrapolis'

The Festival Les Voix Royales is mid-run at the Château de Versailles, ending on July 2. The program is focused in part on the castrato voice, not the actual voice, of course, but works composed for it. Next week will feature a performance of Leonardo Vinci's opera Catone in Utica, written for a cast that included four castrati, Giovanni Carestini, Giacinto Fontana ("Il Farfallino"), Giovanni Battista Minelli, and Giovanni Ossi. Marie-Aude Roux has an interesting preview for Le Monde, from her trip to Naples (A Naples, dans les vestiges de « Castrapolis », June 9), the city so associated with the castrato that Charles Burney dubbed it "Castrapolis" (my translation):

We have left Naples under the blue sky of March 28 to go to Caserta, some 30 km to the north, and the royal residence of the Bourbons, a magnificent replica of Versailles, built starting in 1752 by the architect Luigi Vanvitelli [...] the monumental palace of 47,000 square meters (or 27 square meters more than Versailles) sits on a property of 120 hectare, including three km of canals and waterfalls. It also has a court theater of exceptional beauty. Versailles did not go wrong in using it as the model for its royal opera, inaugurated in 1770 for the marriage of the Dauphin, the future Louis XVI. [...]

Beyond the composers Alessandro Scarlatti, Nicola Porpora, Leonardo Leo, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Niccolo Jomelli, Niccolo Piccinni, and Domenico Cimarosa, there is one whose rediscovery has been blazing thanks to the countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic: that is Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730), whose final opera, Artaserse, this fervent lover of Naples revived in 2012, recorded on disc and DVD for Erato with a staggering cast, exclusively masculine. Versailles will have the revival of another work by Vince, Catone in Utica. "Besides its absolutely ingenious music, I have been struck by the psychological depth of the Metastasio libretto," explains Cencic. "The pretext of a dispute between Cato and Caesar for reasons of state is quickly surpassed by a stunning gallery of narcissistic perverts who are megalomaniacs of varying degrees. And this was long before Freud!"
The opera was premiered in Rome in 1728 and then revived in Naples four years later. Hopefully some of the concerts from this festival at Versailles will become available for streaming eventually.

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