This book tells the story of Giusto Tenducci, an Italian opera singer and castrato, who was wildly famous in the mid-1700s. He sang for Marie Antoinette and was friends with some of the leading composers of the time, including Bach and Mozart, who composed music specifically for Tenducci. He spent most of his adult life living and performing in England, but for a short time lived in Ireland.
In Ireland he was hired to tutor a very talented young woman, Dorothea Maunsell, who was from a rich and influential Protestant family. The two became very close and eventually eloped, causing a huge scandal. First of all, Tenducci was fifteen years older than Dorothea, he was a castrato, and he was also Catholic. Her family was outraged.
Dorothea’s father hired soldiers to chase the pair and Tenducci was thrown in prison twice, but eventually they made their way to England where they lived happily for five or six years. Then the spirited Dorothea eloped with another man.
The Castrato and His Wife is much more than a biography. It tells the story of a group of men, the castrati, who lived unusual lives at the edges of society. It’s also a fascinating look at the history of opera.