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Price: $29.95

Hardback 288 pp.
8pp b/w plates, 138 mm x 216 mm



Publication date:
August 2011

Imprint: OUP UK

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The Castrato and His Wife

Dr. Helen Berry

The opera singer Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci was one of the most famous celebrities of the eighteenth century. In collaboration with the English composer Thomas Arne, he popularized Italian opera, translating it for English audiences and making it accessible with his own compositions which he performed in London's pleasure gardens. Mozart and J. C. Bach both composed for him. He was a rock star of his day, with a massive female following. He was also a castrato.

Women flocked to his concerts and found him irresistible. His singing pupil, Dorothea Maunsell, a teenage girl from a genteel Irish family, eloped with him. There was a huge scandal; her father persecuted them mercilessly. Tenducci's wife joined him at his concerts, achieving a status as a performer she could never have dreamed of as a respectable girl. She also wrote a sensational account of their love affair, an early example of a teenage novel. Embroiled in debt, the Tenduccis fled to Italy, and the marriage collapsed when she fell in love with another man. There followed a highly publicized and unique marriage annulment case in the London courts. Everything hinged on the status of the marriage; whether the husband was capable of consummation, and what exactly had happened to him as a small boy in a remote Italian hill village decades before.

Ranging from the salons of princes and the grand opera houses of Europe to the remote hill towns of Tuscany, the unconventional love story of the castrato and his wife affords a fascinating insight into the world of opera and the history of sex and marriage in Georgian Britain, while also exploring questions about the meaning of marriage that continue to resonate in our own time.

Readership : All those interested in the history of opera, eighteenth century Britain, and the history of love and sex.

1. The Pig Man Arrives in Monte San Savino
2. Schooling Angels in Naples
3. The Castrato in London
4. Fancying Tenducci
5. A Dublin Scuffle
6. The Elopement
7. Married Life
8. The Trial
9. Legacy
Select Bibliography

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Helen Berry is Reader in Early Modern History at Newcastle University. She is the author of numerous articles on the history of eighteenth-century Britain, and is the co-editor (with Elizabeth Foyster) of The Family in Early Modern England (2007). This is her second book.

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Special Features

  • The story of Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci, eighteenth-century opera star, heart-throb, and international celebrity - now told for the first time.
  • Unravels the intriguing tale of his elopement with teenage pupil Dorothea Maunsell - their subsequent marriage and celebrated divorce.
  • Affords a fascinating insight into the world of opera, sex, and marriage in the eighteenth century.
  • Explores fundamental questions about the meaning of marriage that continue to resonate in our own time.