This essay argues that the fundamentally rhetorical nature of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century aria was embodied in the figure of the castrato, who delivered an idealized form of Ciceronian oratory designed to move audiences using the precepts of invenzione, variazione, and decoro. As singers, courtiers, and teachers, castrati were exemplary orators, schooled in oratorical ideals and inculcated in oratorical modes of musical persuasion. Yet they were also precariously positioned. While oratorical brilliance was demanded of them in a form we might conceive as musical ornatus, often manifested in exceptionally elaborate figuration and ornamentation (notably in the arias of Farinelli), such flights of ornatus also provoked recurrent criticism as breaches of the oratorical principle of decorum, especially toward the later eighteenth century.
Castrato; Rhetoric; Farinelli; Virtuosity; Ornatus