This article considers the spectral afterlives of castrati in nineteenth-century music historiography, reading them as transhistorical mediators between the “stuff” of archives and embodied musical experience. The article first sketches out the germane late eighteenth-century notions of feeling, art history, and aesthetics—from the empirical potential of sensibility to J. J. Winckelmann's systematization of classical art—that invited people to imagine certain bodies as capable of sensing history and, in turn, of rendering history “sense-able” through artistic style. Bringing these historical threads into dialogue with recent theories of queer temporality and queer aesthetics, the article argues that castrato singers were cast as once-living art objects and thereby invested musically, dramaturgically, and bodily with the same hybrid temporalities associated with artifacts of material culture—enabling later writers to invoke castrati as having materialized both the ephemerality and the historical situatedness of past musical styles.
Moving from the generalized castrato figure to one particularly salient example, the article then focuses on three writers' representations of Gasparo Pacchierotti (1740–1821). The authors discussed here—Alessandro Pepoli (1790s), Stendhal (1820s), and Vernon Lee (1880s)—each portrayed Pacchierotti as embodying the frictions between the singer's late eighteenth-century moment and the writer's own hybrid present. Imaginatively encountering Pacchierotti as, respectively, a living body, a remembered voice, and material remains, each grappled with the limitations—and the stakes—of music histories. Ultimately, the castrato emerges from these scattered remains as a ghost of the feelings, fictions, and fantasies that haunt historiography.