To judge from the descriptions in primary sources, as well as the invaluablearchival work of Margaret Murata and Frederick Hammond on Barberini Rome,baroque Rome was a space of barely controlled chaos.
A variety of events
fromfireworks to operas with onstage fountains and flying clouds
mixed illusion,machinery, magic, and music. There were animate and inanimate objects; actorsand animals; clamorous events with trumpets, drums, screaming, shooting, andother noises. Within this environment of sensory overload, at certain momentsthe visual and the aural coalesced, and the castrato
s voice acted not just as amusical effect, but also as a special effect.Spectators of these events lived in a world in which mechanical philosophy was emerging, but earlier magical sensibilities still echoed. They experienced thecastrato as a kind of human machine, a variation among other wondrous objectscreated by technological attempts to manipulate and supplement natural materi-als. Castrati were
to produce sounds in ways that
bodies could not. If, as Jonathan Sawday and others claim, anatomy theaters andpublic autopsies played on the conceit of the body as a machine, then operas andspectacles used the castrato as both a machine and a malleable object.
Castratiand machines did not register as identical; everyone could tell the differencebetween a mechanical singing bird and an altered man singing an aria. Likewise,we in the twenty-first century can distinguish between the Terminator and theformer governor of California. But the distinction between constructed singersand machines was by no means absolute in the seventeenth century. The shared
Figure 1 Pasqualini as Fame, engraving by Francois Colllignon
, Festa, fatta in Roma(
This image is only available in print due to restrictions from the rights
the castrato meets the cyborg95