Brianna Robertson-Kirkland



Castrated Singers: Their Vocal Legacy

You can also hear my 3MT thesis presentation and my TEDxGlasgow talk.


Research title

Are we all castrati? Venanzio Rauzzini: 'the father of a new style in English singing'

Summary of research

Though the castrato has been absent from the operatic stage since the nineteenth century, this voice is often described as the mysterious link in understanding the vocal techniques attributed to bel canto. The mystery lies in the fact that the voice of the operatic castrato cannot be heard by modern ears; and yet its legacy can be seen in the vocal tuition of several successful opera singers at the turn of the nineteenth century. What is unusual about this period is that some of the most successful singers of the day, including Nancy Storace, John Braham and Elizabeth Billington were British and shared the same vocal teacher. The castrato Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810) began his career as a primo uomo on the continent and while he established himself in various areas of musical activity, his main contribution and legacy was as a vocal teacher. During his residency in Britain from 1774 until his death, he trained several leading British professional singers who were the stars of opera in London and on the continent. They each demonstrated a use of techniques associated with the castrato vocal aesthetic and popularised a new vocal style, which can be traced to Rauzzini.

Through this thesis, I will draw attention to the importance of Rauzzini’s impact on vocal teaching practice in Britain and his wider influence on the development of vocal style. I will demonstrate that Rauzzini should be considered part of the vocal teaching canon to which Pier Francesco Tosi (c.1653-1732), Nicola Porpora (1686-1768) and Manual García II (1805-1906), three other foreign vocal teachers, who were resident in Britain, already belong. By examining exactly what the expected vocal aesthetics were for all singers, castrato, non-castrated male and female during the period in which Rauzzini was active, I will demystify the castrato technique and provide a more tangible understanding of what this encompassed, demonstrating that many of these techniques were learned, performed and popularised by other voice types such as the female soprano and the male tenor.


  • Robertson-Kirkland, B.E. & Berger, C. (2015) Vibrati: A vibrant history of the voice, In: UNFIX, Glasgow, Self published conference proceedings
  • Robertson-Kirkland, B. E. (2014), Opera Identity: The Singer, the Character or the Immortal Performer? In: Wiseman, Sam (Ed), Assembling Identities, Cambridge, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 45–57
  • Robertson-Kirkland, B.E. (2014) The Silencing of Bel Canto, eSharp, [Online], Issue 21. Available from
  • Robertson, B.E. (2011) Performance practice and shape note singing, The Score, [Online]. Available from
  • Robertson, B.E. (2011) Madrigirls: The past ten years, The Score, [Online]. Available from
  • Robertson, B.E. (2010) Love; the punch-line to a joke?, The Pulse, Issue 1, Glasgow, Independent publisher, University of Glasgow

Book Reviews

 Blog Posts




  • 2010–Present: Lanfine Choral Scholar, : University of Glasgow Chapel Choir
  • 2014/15 College of Arts Intern Studentship
  • 2012/13, 2013/14 & 2014/15 McGlashan Charitable Award
  • 2014: School of Culture and Creative Arts Support Award: grant towards the digitisation of 24 Solfeggi or Exercises for the Voice by Venanzio Rauzzini
  • 2012: Lanarkshire Education Award, PhD
  • 2011: Lanarkshire Education Award, MMus Historically Informed Performance
  • 2011: Edward Caird Award, College List, University of Glasgow, MMus Historically Informed Performance

Conference Grants

  • 2016: British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies conference grant, Women and Education in the Long Eighteenth Century workshop at Glasgow Women's Library
  • 2016: New Inititatives Fund Women and Education in the Long Eighteenth Century workshop at GWL
  • 2014: Chancellor's Fund, Sound Thought, Postgraduate Music Festival
  • 2014: Creative Practice Award, Sound Thought, Postgraduate Music Festival Open Day

Travel Grants

  • 2016: University of Glasgow School of Culture and Creative Arts Research Award
  • 2015: Music and Letters Grant, trip to 1st Transnational Opera Studies Conference, University of Bologna
  • 2015: Sir Fitzroy McLean Travel Scholarship Award, University of Glasgow
  • 2015: The Friends of St Cecilia’s Hall and Museum of Instruments Bursary Award 2015 for Projects Relating to Music Pre-1820 
  • 2015: ASECS Traveling Jam Pot
  • 2015: University of Glasgow College of Arts Research Award
  • 2015: University of Glasgow School of Culture and Creative Arts Research Award
  • 2014: College of Arts Support Award: travel to London in order to research first study sources at the British Library
  • 2012: WGS Next Generation Bursary, Conference trip to Royal Music Association in Hull


Conference Committee

8 September 2016: Women and Eduation in the long 18th century, in collaboration with the Glasgow Women's Library

22 May 2014: 'Dialogue Across Decades' eSharp, 10th Anniversary Conference (General Editor)

10-12 January 2014: Sound Thought Beta (Creative Director)


23 June 2016 The Lighthouse, Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities showcase
  Performance-talk: Are we all castrati?
22 June 2016 Cultural Encounters series, Cottiers Chamber Project, Alliance Française, Glasgow
  Performance-Talk: Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810)
3 June 2016 TEDxGlasgow, Theatre Royal, Glasgow
  TED talk: The Castrated Opera Singer
17 May 2016 Centre for 18th-century Studies Postgraduate Forum, University of York
  Paper: Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810): The father of a new style of English singing and a new race of singers
15 April 2016 Contested Identities Network Workshop, University of Glasgow
  Paper: The Corri Family 1770-1840: a musical dialogue between London and Edinburgh

8 March 2016

3 Minute Thesis, University of Glasgow
  Presentation: The legacy of the castrato: Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810)

18 September 2015

Centre for Robert Burns Studies Seminar, University of Glasgow


Paper: Singing lessons in 18th-century Scotland

 28 July 2015

International Society for Eighteenth Century Studies 2015, Eramus University, Rotterdam


Paper: Venanzio Rauzzini (1746-1810): The father of a new style of English singing and a new race of singers

12 July-18 July 2015

 Bel Canto Summer School, Irish Academy of Music, Dublin


A week focussing on the performance practice of singing in the bel canto style. Tutored by Emma Kirkby, Nicholas Clapton & Robert Toft

 11 July 2015

UNFIX: Festival of Performance and Ecology


Performance-Paper:Vibrati (with Cara Berger)

 8 July 2015

10th Biennial International Conference on Music in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland


Paper: The legacy of the ‘coup de glotte’: The Case of John Braham (1774 – 1856) and Manuel Garcia II (1805 – 1906)

 1 July 2015

1st Transnational Opera Studies Conferece, University of Bologna


Paper: Venanzio Rauzzini (1746 – 1810): The father of a new style of English singing and a new race of singers

3 June 2015:

Ingenious Impressions at the Hunterian, University of Glasgow


Performance talk: 'Forgotten history: the long lost voice'

26th May 2015:

"Creativity: Method or Madness", College of Arts Postgraduate conference, University of Glasgow


Paper: The Art of Solfeggi in early 19th century Vocal Education

19 March 2015:

American Society of Eighteenth Century Studies, Los Angeles (Funded by ASECS Traveling Jam Pot, UoG CoA   Research Award and UoG CCA Research Award)


Paper: Singers from the London stage: Their contributions to Scottish music concerts

22 November 2014:

Hunterian Associate Programme, University of Glasgow


Performance talk: 'First crusade fictions: how they inspired opera', Collaboration with Ioulia Kolovou, PhD Candidate in   Creative Writing

12 November 2014:

Historical Perspectives, University of Glasgow


Paper: Elizabeth Billington and Gertrud Mara –   The Rival Queens

20 September 2014:

The Burning Circle, Isle of Arran


Performance Walk: ‘Journey of the Shamen'

In association with Northlight Heritage and Arran   Rangers

21 February 2014:

Postgraduate Seminar, Department of Music,   University of Glasgow


Paper: 'Singing treatises and their function'

11 January 2014:

Sound Thought, CCA, Glasgow


Performance and Paper: Training a prima donna:   Exploration of singing treatises

14 November 2013:

Hunterian Associate Programme, University of   Glasgow


Performance and paper: ‘Reaching the high notes:   Musical and Biological aspects of singing like castrati’

11 November 2013:

Hunterian Associate Programme, University of   Glasgow


Paper: ‘Singing Treatises and their function’

16 May 2013:

Historical Perspectives, University of Dundee


Paper: ‘The Science of Singing’

22 May 2013:

Assembling Identities, University of Glasgow


Paper: ‘The character, the composer or the   immortal performer’ - Exploring the debut singers of well-known operatic   characters and their immortal imprint on these roles

12 April 2013:

Women and the Value of Work, University of   Glasgow


Paper: ‘Castrati, music education and the female   opera singer’ – Discussion of female opera singers and how they succeeded the   castrato in opera






  • Listening and Repertory
  • Opera
  • Music of Scotland
  • Music in the Long Nineteenth Century
  • Performance Practice
  • Performance (Course administrative assistant)
  • eSharp Peer Review Workshop for postgraduate students
  • Kelvingrove review, book review workshop for postgraduate students
  • Hunterian Associate programme for postgraduate students, workshop leader, 'Digital Media'

Professional Affiliations

  • College of Arts Intern
  • Higher Education Academy
  • Royal Musical Association
  • British Association for Romantic Studies
  • Centre for Nineteenth Century Studies
  • British Society for Eighteenth Century Studies
  • American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies
  • The University of Glasgow Chapel Choir
  • Hunterian Associate
  • Chartered Management Institutute
  • Chair, Sound Thought 2014
  • General Editor, eSharp & The Kelvingrove Review 2013/14
  • Creator and Editor, Sound Thought Creative Practice Journal (in association with eSharp), 2013/14

Professional Recognition

  • Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Level 3 Award in First Line Management, Chartered Management Institutute

Additional Activities

  • 2013-Present: Peer reviewer, eSharp (University of Glasgow), The Kelvingrove Review (University of Glasgow), Skepsi (University of Kent)
  • 2016: Public Engagement Intern, Research Strategy and Innovation Office, University of Glasgow
  • 2016: Research Intern, Glasgow University's Great War: A Centenary Project, Archives, University of Glasgow
  • 2016: PGR representative for the REF working group, Music, University of Glasgow
  • 2016: PGR representative for the College of Arts Development Board, University of Glasgow
  • 2014: Research Assistant, College of Arts, Learning and Teaching Centre, University of Glasgow