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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 July 2006, 15:24 GMT 16:24 UK
Castrato superstar disinterred
Farinelli
Castrato singers such as Farinelli were adored by female fans (Picture courtesy of the Royal College of Music)
The body of the world's most famous castrato singer, Farinelli, has been exhumed to try to find out how his virtuoso voice developed.

Scholars in the northern Italian city of Bologna will measure his skull and bones and perform DNA tests.

Farinelli was among thousands of boys castrated to preserve their high-pitched voices as they grew up.

Castrati singers were popular in Europe from the 16th Century until 1870 when the operation was banned.

Scholars will try to find out more about the vocal mechanism

The castrato's voice was prized for its combination of pitch and power - an unbroken male voice able to reach the highest notes, delivered by the powerful lungs of a fully-grown man.

In 17th and 18th Century Italy, up to 4,000 boys a year, often from poor families, were castrated from the age of eight upwards.

They became opera singers and soloists in church choirs and royal palaces.

Very few actually went on to achieve success, but those who did became the pop stars of their day, and they behaved as such.

Training schedule

Farinelli, born Carlo Broschi in 1705, was the most famous castrato of all.

Notoriously temperamental, he was buried in Bologna in 1782 dressed as a knight from the days of chivalry.

His remains will be examined at Bologna University by scholars who will try to find out more about his vocal mechanism, and the effects of his intensive musical training schedule on the shape of his body.

The team of scientists includes an acoustics expert, who is expected to study remains of vocal cords and larynx to discover what gave castrati such vocal range and power.

DNA tests will be conducted to try to determine what he ate and what diseases he had.

The project has been organised by the Farinelli Study Centre in Bologna, a group of scholars hoping to raise awareness of the singer's achievements.


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