The most celebrated castrato of them all was Carlo Broschi, known professionally as Farinelli. Broschi had been castrated at age seven and made his singing debut in Naples eight years later. His incomparable voice spanned three octaves, and his thoracic development was such that it was said he could hold a note for a full sixty seconds without any need of air. In 1734 he made his debut in London, where orchestra members were so enthralled by his instrument they forgot to play their own. “One God, one Farinelli!” a British woman screamed during Broschi’s performance. Perhaps the artist found her comment distracting. Still, it was no doubt sweeter to his ears than the oft-heard cry of opera lovers in Italy: “Viva il coltello!” (Long live the knife!)

– David M. Friedman, A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis (2001)


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