The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music,

Department of Musicology presents:

“Castrato De Luxe:

Bloods, Gifts, and Goods”


The 8th Annual Robert Stevenson Lecture:


Martha Feldman


The University of Chicago


For the castrato, social exchange, patronage, and kinship alliances were mutually entangled in the circulation of wealth.  At issue are whether a castrato ever fully deserve those riches or fully enter the ranks of givers, and whether his immaterial reciprocations for material gifts and goods were commensurate with what he received.  Exploring this issue through philosophies of gift exchange, this paper pictures the castrato as an old-regime figure who barters vocal opulence, physical artifice, and stardom. Though such gifts, essentially inalienable, are his natural domain, he is suspiciously implicated in a new cash economy that treats his offerings as alienable commodities, traded for (abstract) money.


How then does the vocal opulence of castrated men sit within an early modern logic of social reproduction?  In such terms, castrati might be upwardly mobile in wealth and increasingly opulent vocalists, yet increasingly debased as men, undervalued as patriarchs, and frustrated by patrilineality.



Martha Feldman is a Professor at the University of Chicago. She is a cultural historian of European vernacular musics, ca. 1500-1840.  Her projects have explored social and political phenomena, artistic production, the senses and sensibilities of listeners, the interplay of myth, festivity, and kingship, and the figure of the musical artist.


Thursday, June 3, 2010



Royce 314, 

Reception to follow