MILAN, Italy – Scientists have exhumed the body of the legendary 18th-century opera singer Farinelli to learn more about the castrati, male singers neutered in childhood to preserve their high-pitched voices.
Farinelli was the most popular and best-paid opera singer in Europe before his death in 1782. His remains were exhumed Wednesday from the historic Certosa cemetery in Bologna, said musicologist Carlo Vitali, a founder of the Farinelli Studies Center.
The bones will be examined by scientists from the universities of Bologna and Pisa for insights into Farinelli's lifestyle, habits and possible diseases, as well as the physiology of a castrato.
Scientists were surprised to find not just Farinelli's remains but also those of his grandniece Carlotta Pisani Broschi.
"When Carlotta died in 1850, the grave was reopened and Farinelli's bones were stacked together at the base of the tomb to make (a) place for Carlotta's remains," Vitali said Thursday.
The stacking of the bones degraded the preservation of Farinelli's remains, which included his jawbone, several teeth, parts of his skull and almost all of his major bones.
Vitali described the major bones as "long and sturdy, which would correspond with Farinelli's official portraits, as well as the castrati's reputation for being unusually tall."