The advent of a new political regime in Italy in the 1790s led to decrees banning castrati from the stage and the closure of the singing academies where they taught. But seventy years later the composer Gioacchino Rossini looked back to the castrati as the last adepts of the art of bel canto: “As to the castrati, they vanished, and the usage disappeared in the creation of new customs. That was the cause of the irretrievable decay of the art of singing.” This essay focuses on the eighteenth-century castrato Gasparo Pacchierotti—friend of Charles, Frances, and Susan Burney, idol of William Beckford—and on the efforts of the novelist and critic Stendhal to “remember” Pacchierotti’s lost voice. Stendhal never heard Pacchierotti in his prime, but in his 1824 Vie de Rossini he declared that the art of bel canto had reached its apogee with Pacchierotti in 1778: five years before the writer’s own birth. Stendhal sought to demonstrate that the lost voice could be remembered by way of both historical evidence and the textual and viva voce “recordings” of earlier listeners: Beckford, the Burneys, and the singer Gabriel Piozzi. In Stendhal’s erotics or mnemonics of musical sensation, such textual and performative recordings allow us to remember the sensations elicited by an absent voice as vividly as the phonographic or digital recordings on which later listeners would rely.

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