Beginning at the turn of the 17th century and lasting for over 200 years, the musical phenomenon of the castrati took Europe by storm. The need for voices that could handle the requirements of Baroque music explains the demand for castrati at this particular period in European history. This enthusiasm for male soprano singers who had been castrated before puberty to preserve their high voices originated in Italy. It also coincided with the development and rise in popularity of opera, where castrati were often featured performers. Composers, including Handel and Mozart, wrote music specifically for the unique voices of the castrati. Certain singers achieved international recognition for their talents. Elevated to the position of stars throughout the 18th Century, castrati raised the art of singing beyond human limits.
It was not uncommon for children to find themselves forced to join religious orders, as this would ease the financial burden on a large family. Sometimes, poor parents with a son who could sing well would have that child castrated to insure his fortune in life as well as a comfortable old age for themselves. The lavish lifestyles and occasionally extreme behavior of the castrati were a contrast to their often poor origins.
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