King of the C

Rossini thought it sounded "like the squawk of a capon whose throat is being cut." John Ruskin used somewhat more elegant phrases: "Of bestial howling, and entirely frantic vomiting up of damned souls through their still carnal throats, I have heard more than, please God, I will ever endure the hearing of again." Both were complaining on the same score—the continuing struggle of Italian tenors trying to hit top notes at top volume.

The 18th century beginnings of Italian opera featured castrati, who could sing in loud treble voices. As the gelding of males for...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!