01 July 2014

Three sexes?

Some months ago I took part in a performance of Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle in Poland. It wasn't an entirely authentic performance: the choir was much larger than the numbers called for by Rossini. He specified a choir of twelve singers including four soloists. Specifically, on the autograph manuscript he wrote:
Douze chanteurs de trois sexes, hommes, femmes et castrats seront suffisants pour son exécution ; à savoir huit pour le choeur, quatre pour les solos, total douze chérubins
i.e.
Twelve singers of three sexes, men, women and castrati will suffice for its execution: that is, eight for the choir, four soloists, in all twelve cherubim.
[I note that Novello refrained from reproducing this in the prelims of their edition of the score.]

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