Victorious Secret

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The next event in the Salon Sanctuary concert series is "Victorious Secret: Love Gamed and Gender Untamed in the Sparkling Courts of the Baroque":

Before the bars of gender binaries caged the mainstream operatic imagination, a golden age of fluidity guided the vocal soundscape. Virility declared itself with the castrato’s clarion high notes, while femininity spoke in earthy tessiture that plunged to shimmering depths.

Texts of the period revel in ambiguity, unfurling genderless narratives of anonymous lovers and unnamed beloveds. Stories of active pursuit and passive reverie remain alike at loose ends, with neat resolutions many movements away.

Please join us for this special program in honor of Pride Month, as the music of the past reveals a golden underground of nonbinary riches, accompanying us in our witness to a new Renaissance.

The featured performers are Elijah McCormack, male soprano, and Christopher Morrongiello, lutes & baroque guitar.

The program:

The event's name strikes me as the best pun of the year.


  1. Taylor, Philip said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 6:51 am

    "Virility declared itself with the castrato’s clarion high notes". Really ? How ?

  2. Mark Liberman said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 7:11 am

    @Philip Taylor:

    Don't just react without knowledge — read:

    Although female roles were performed by castrati in some of the papal states, this was increasingly rare; by 1680, they had supplanted "normal" male voices in lead roles, and retained their position as primo uomo for about a hundred years;[11] an Italian opera not featuring at least one renowned castrato in a lead part would be doomed to fail. Because of the popularity of Italian opera throughout 18th-century Europe (except France), singers such as Ferri, Farinelli, Senesino and Pacchierotti became the first operatic superstars, earning enormous fees and hysterical public adulation.[12] The strictly hierarchical organisation of opera seria favoured their high voices as symbols of heroic virtue […]

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 7:33 am

    "Victorious" was the title of a cable-tv show aimed at a "tween" girl audience which originally ran from 2010 to 2013, at which point my older kids were in its target audience so I became familiar with it. The basis of the title is that the primary character is named "Tori," which is understood as a clipped form of "Victoria" (and who was played by an actress whose "real" name is Victoria). So not a particularly innovative bit of wordplay if you ask me.

  4. Mark Liberman said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 8:08 am

    @J.W. Brewer:

    The simple lexical connection victorious-victoria is not what I had in mind (nor, I think, what the concert organizers had in mind). In the first place, the relevant relation is victorious-victoria's (explicitly in relation to the underwear outlet Victoria's Secret). And in the second place, the point of the pun (as I understand it) is that gender-related issues that used to be secret are now open and even "victorious".

  5. Benjamin Orsatti said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 9:02 am

    Philip Taylor,

    (1) Remember the "falsetto fad" in do-wop music from the late 50's & early 60's? Probably something like that.

    (2) Careful — people who believe that race is binary and that gender exists on a spectrum get "prickly" when one suggests that "believing the science" points to precisely the opposite conclusion.

  6. Kristian said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 9:23 am

    Yeah, I get the reference to the underwear brand, but the point seems pretty far fetched, unless I am missing something (they aren't even singing "Vittoria, mio core!").

    Also, it is a bit weird that they are apparently celebrating the production of castrati (a terrible crime) as some kind of openness to "non-binariness".

  7. Haamu said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 1:10 pm

    @All — Please forgive me for the following. I know this is not a political forum, but I'm justifying the reply because it is a science-based blog and "believe the science" has been invoked.

    @Benjamin Orsatti — I'm confused about whom your point (2) refers to, given that "race is binary" tends to be more of a right-wing viewpoint while "gender exists on a spectrum" would be more closely associated with the left. Perhaps I'm misreading your comment. If not:

    Re gender, "a spectrum" mischaracterizes the prevailing progressive viewpoint: biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual preference are each different, relevant aspects of human identity — i.e., at a minimum, "gender" and "sex" should not be confused — and each exists on its own spectrum. Even with biological sex, there's no pure binary: one must take account not only of XX and XY, but of XXY, XYY, and potentially other chromosomal variants, as well as environmental impacts and other epigenetic factors that might influence or override genetic expression — that is, if you want to consider (let alone believe) the science.

    As for race (a weird tangent, given the original post), that's a pretty tangled area as well. I don't know any progressives who believe that race is binary — we tend to believe in infinite combinations and possibilities here — or that "believing the science" is really all that relevant, since race is seen as either a mashup of biology and culture or (for some) entirely a cultural construct. There may indeed be a binary here, but it isn't between Race 1 and Race 2 (or Races 2 through N), but between Inclusion and Exclusion, and members of any race, however that might be determined, can be on either side of that divide.

    If that's me getting "prickly," so be it. I do believe that words like "precisely" ought to be earned, and that the mantle of scientific truth should not be glibly or casually claimed.

  8. DJL said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 4:33 pm

    I think the science is that biological sex is properly determined in terms of gametes rather than in terms of chromosomes, and the consensus is that biological sex is indeed mostly binary. The biologist Jerry Coyne over at the Why Evolution is True blog has written extensively about this. And I don’t think science should be dealing with right-wing or progressive viewpoints (as in, they are irrelevant).

  9. Seth said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 4:44 pm

    @Haamu Treading very carefully here, due to the politics, the issue with race/sex vs spectrum/binary is the perspective that someone can be transgender which claim deserves nothing but affirmation, but they cannot be transracial, that deserves nothing but withering personal attack. One can try to argue out of it with much philosophizing distinguishing the two. But it does seem an odd reaction given how much biological sex is a binary, while race is so variable.

    Note biological sex is a binary to around the 99.98% or so level. The literal 0.02% of less than obvious cases do not qualify for the term "spectrum" in any reasonable language sense. I understand why there's a movement to use that phrasing, and I support transgender people. But there's just no biological sex "spectrum" in the sense that's being used.

    @Kristian Indeed, that the writer seems to airily pass over extreme male genital mutilation, is a very interesting statement about our own culture.

  10. Terry K. said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 5:41 pm

    The question I had, which I took to be what Philip Taylor was asking, is how can a man who's been castrated (a castrato) be an example of the ability by a male to procreate (virility).

    Looking at dictionaries suggests to me that "virility" might sometimes have the idea of masculinity without that idea of ability to procreate.

    But I still find "Virility declared itself with the castrato’s…" to be odd.

  11. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 6:38 pm

    You could pick on specific things like "airily pass[ing] over" castration, but perhaps the broader point here is that the promoters of this event are *not* pointing out that the past was indeed a different country which thought about things rather differently than we do, and that perhaps reflecting on that could make all of us more humble about our degree of certainty about our current conceptual schemae and more self-aware about their contingent nature. Rather, the promoters' point seems to be that, properly understood, the past can be enlisted to straightforwardly support My Side in some current 21st-century controversy, thus confounding the assumptions of those who naively might have supposed that the past supported The Other Side in that same controversy.

  12. Kristian said,

    June 13, 2023 @ 10:24 pm

    One can ask whether the quality that a castrato's performance of e.g. Julius Caesar was intended to highlight the character's virility rather than some other quality.

  13. ardj said,

    June 14, 2023 @ 2:20 am

    @Kristian: I think Handel would answer yes. Certainly the Glyndebourne production of a few years ago had no difficulty with a distinctly male characterisation. Unfortunately, I have much less access to opera nowadays so do not know how effecminately the character may be portrayed by some.

  14. rosie said,

    June 14, 2023 @ 2:30 am

    This thread's first use of "spectrum" was Benjamin Orsatti's stating the fact that gender exists on a spectrum. However close biological sex in humans is to a binary, that is a separate matter from gender. A person can't change their chromosomes. By contrast, they may change their gender from male to female or vice versa, or reject gender altogether, or be gender-fluid. If they do this, they do not thereby claim to change their biological sex. Facts about biological sex do not disprove facts about certain people being transgender.

  15. DJL said,

    June 14, 2023 @ 2:31 am

    @rosie I don’t think anyone had suggested otherwise.

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