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Portrait of a Castrato
Politics, Patronage, and Music in the Life of Atto Melani

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Part of New Perspectives in Music History and Criticism

  • Author: Roger Freitas, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, New York
  • Date Published: May 2009
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9780521885218

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About the Authors
  • This book explores the fascinating life of the most documented musician of the seventeenth century. Born in 1626 into a bourgeois family in Pistoia, Italy, Atto Melani was castrated to preserve his singing voice and soon rose to both artistic and social prominence. His extant letters not only depict the musical activities of several European centers, they reveal the real-life context of music and the musician: how a singer related to patrons and colleagues, what he thought about his profession, and the role music played in his life. Whether Atto was singing, spying, having sex, composing, or even rejecting his art, his life illustrates how music-making was always also a negotiation for power. Providing a rare glimpse of the social and political contexts of seventeenth-century music, Roger Freitas sheds light on the mechanisms that generated meaning for music, clarifying what music at this time actually was.

    • Presents many new documents concerning music and the lives of musicians during the seventeenth century, providing a fresh view on this period
    • Considers the under-studied genre of the Italian chamber cantata in new ways which will provoke new research and work on the topic
    • Takes a novel approach to the genre of the biography
    Read more


    • Winner of the Philip Brett Award 2010

    Reviews & endorsements

    'The book includes a survey of Atto's cantatas, polished, efficient exemplars of a fashionable new Italian genre, but in the end far less important to their creator than the wordly advancement their performances brought with it. Richly documented, this whole extraordinary chronicle of the eunuch as self-made man is one of the most absorbing studies in its field to have appeared in recent years.' The Times Literary Supplement

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2009
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9780521885218
    • length: 452 pages
    • dimensions: 255 x 180 x 27 mm
    • weight: 1.05kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Creating a castrato
    2. The politics of patronage:
    3. In pursuit of prestige:
    4. The sexuality of the castrato
    5. Disgrace and transformation:
    6. Atto Melani and the cantata
    7. Completing the portrait:
    Appendices: A. The letters of Atto Melani
    B. Letters addressed to or concerning Atto Melani
    C. Satires: Sopra Atto Melani musico and Al Signor Atto Melani
    D. Excerpt from the Receuil des défenses of Nicolas Fouquet
    E. Biographical sketch from Tommaso Trenta's Memorie
    F. The cantata texts of Atto Melani, with analyses and translations
    G. The Wills: For Italy
    For France
    H. The cabinet in the 'Salotto dell'Abbate Melani', from the inventory of 1782.

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    Portrait of a Castrato

    Roger Freitas

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  • Author

    Roger Freitas, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, New York
    Roger Freitas is Associate Professor in the Department of Musicology, Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester.


    • Winner of the Philip Brett Award 2010

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