A fictional tale by about Pedrolino Il Magnifico, il primo castrato del mondo! with some of the greatest arias written for the castrati.

Performed by Buddug Verona James

To the accompaniment of baroque violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord

Music Director: Andrew Wilson-Dickson
Director: Chris Morgan
Playing men on stage has an enduring fascination for Buddug Verona James. It may be because she was the only woman working in her father's butcher shop. Whatever the reason the result is an entertainment which is as much fun as educative and musically profound, for Buddug has a special understanding of Baroque music and is expert in the arcane art of gesture.

The Castrato

Angels in the eyes of some people, monsters to others, the castrati were a musical, social and cultural phenomenon without precedent in the European history of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Patronised by the Church but above all espoused by the emerging art of opera, they flashed across the musical stage before vanishing from the scene with the dawn of the romantic era, when the world of illusion, of artifice and of vocal ambiguity began to lose its appeal." Patrick Butler.

Commedia dell'Arte was flourishing in eighteenth century Italy, the characters and situations of the castrati are much alike the stock characters and scenarios of today's pantomime. The author John Rudlin describes the genre as 'inherently musical and constantly on the brink of tipping into operetta'.

There was a demand for men to dress up as women on stage due to the fact that the pope banned women from performing. Castrati served this purpose. Young boys were sold to the church by poor parents, and then castrated to preserve their high voices. Not only were their powerful voices intriguing, they were much sought after by women, especially married ladies as any dalliance would not result in embar rassing pregnancies.
With this in mind the playwright Mark Ryan has weaved a tale of the extraordinary lives of the castrati around some of the finest arias Handel and Gluck wrote for them.

Arias of the Castrati

Dopo notte from Ariodante by Handel (sung originally by CARESTINI - His voice was at first a powerful and clear soprano, which afterwards changed into the fullest, finest, and deepest counter-tenor that has perhaps ever been heard. Burney).

Cara sposa from Rinaldo by Handel (sung originally by NICOLINI - This great singer - and still greater actor. Burney).

Piangete from La Resurrezione by Handel (sung originally by SENESINO -He had a powerful, clear, equal and sweet contralto voice, with a perfect intonation and an excellent shake. Quantz). Sensino's contract with the Royal Academy in London was 3000 guineas.
Sento la gioia from Amadigi by Handel (sung originally by NICOLINI - every limb, and every finger, contributes to the part he acts, insomuch that a deaf man might go along with him in the sense of it. Steele).

Pena Tirana from Amadigi by Handel (sung originally by Diana Varco and the by castrato BERNACCHI -In person and voice he does not please as much as Sensino but his great reputation as an artist silences those who cannot find it in them to applaud him. Rolli).

Ho non so che nel cor from La Resurrezione/Agrappina/Il Pastor Fido by Handel (sung originally by Durastanti but after the first performance Pope Clement XI objected to a female performing in public and was replaced by the castrato Pippo della Regina. This aria was also performed by Jane Barbier and Diana Varco - women famous for playing trouser roles).

Addio miei sospiri from Orfeo by Gluck (sung originally by GUADAGNI -as an actor, he seems to have had no equal on any stage in Europe. His attitudes and gestures were so full of grace and propriety that they would have been excellent studies for a statuary.Guadagni's 'ideas of acting were taken from Garrick, who when he performed in an English opera called The Fairies took .... pleasure in forming him' Burney.)


Andrew Wilson-Dickson is an irresponsibly wide-ranging musician: composer, keyboard-player, director, teacher and writer. After many years as Head of Early Music at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. he has rather late in the day, committed himself to a free-lance existence to concentrate on his passion for composing. As a keyboard-player he has a particular interest in contemporary scores and in playing continuo, which he does in concerts in the UK and abroad. Andrew is the Musical Director and founder of the Welsh Baroque Orchestra and of the Welsh Camerata choir.

Mark Ryan was born in Limerick. He has written several adaptations for Snap Theatre which have toured internationally; Tom Jones, Far from the Madding Crowd, Funnybones, Pinocchio, Candide and The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Recent work includes Perspecitve for Made in Wales, The Lazy Ant for Spectacle Theatre and The Family for Opera Cocktail/Theatr Mwldan.

Chris Morgan is the artistic director of Theatr Y Byd and recent productions have included the award winning FLOWERS FROM TUNISIA and BUTTERFLY by Ian Rowlands. As associate director of Hijinx Theatre he directed DREAMING AMELIA and PAUL ROBESON KNEW MY FATHER. He directed Letitia Dean in RATTLE OF A SIMPLE MAN at the Redgrave Theatre in Farnham. Recently he has written and directed BEING DORIS DAY which will be seen at the Wales Millennium Centre and at the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden. He regularly directs students from the University of Glamorgan.


World Premiere at Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan, Wales

The Western Mail, January 17, 2000
Wales may be the only place in the world where a cross-dressing butcher's daughter can enchant a full house with arias by Handel and Gluck in her father's old slaughterhouse. The world premiere of Castradiva at Theatr Mwldan, Cardigan was the happy occasion for this unusual mix. Buddug became interested in the colourful world of the castrati while impressing critics across the world by portraying men on the opera stage. This is her pet project, and its first performance attracted a full house in her hometown. This is real entertainment, even if your ear is not tuned to opera. Buddug is a stunning mezzo-soprano and has chosen seven arias, originally written for the castrati of 17th and 18th Century Rome, which perfectly illustrate her range, and her virtuosity in coloratura. The music is made accessible through her portrayals of six characters, including the Pope, that are full of slapstick and visual humour, laced with a witty, comic and intelligent script by Mark Ryan. Steve Dube

The Tivyside, January 19, 2000
The audience at Theatr Mwldan were treated to a unique and brilliant piece of theatre. Castradiva, devised and written by Buddug Verona James and Mark Ryan - a collaboration which has produced one of the wittiest and original one-woman shows on the stage today. Set in the hot-house environment of Roman society of the 18th century with scheming clerics, amoral high society. Pedrolino, the magnificent castrato singer, tells the tale of how he outwitted the Pope and saved the day for his mistress the Contessa. Buddug played all the parts: the vainglorious posturing Pedrolino, the effete Contessa; the grubby little Monsignor Graziano, the Pope's spy; the senile Pope himself; and for good measure, the brainless nincompoop Silvio - the young tenor - and the equally witless heroine Ortensio. Buddug maintained this brilliant theatrical illusion of a woman playing the part of a man who in turn plays the part of a woman and then back to a woman playing the part of a man and then ... ad infinitum as though through a series of mirrors, with a surety and effortlessness that belied sheer stamina needed to hold the stage on her own. But, there was more. Pedrolino as he narrates the lascivious, bawdy tale with beautifully timed throw-away lines and gestures and slight changes of facial muscles - which engendered instantly a new character (the only props being half-faced Commedia masks) - now and then breaks off to show that he can really sing. Buddug demonstrated her outstanding quality of voice. The accompaniments were by Early Music Wales. All were dressed, as was Buddug in exquisite 18th century costumes. FB

Irish Premiere of Castradiva at the UnFringed Fesitval, Belltable Theatre, Limerick.

The Irish Times, January 29, 2000
Buddug Verona James takes the stage with a swagger in costumed finery. For the next hour she sings seven arias by Handel and Gluck in a magnificent voice with an androgynous tone. Around them she weaves a saucy little tale of the sex life of her ilk in roman society, using masks to introduce other characters. The singing is the thing here and, for the bravura hour-long performance, boredom is simply not an option. A trio of musicians provide excellent accompaniment. Gerry Colgan.

The Sunday Tribune, January 30, 2000
In Castradiva, a crossover opera-theatre show about cross-dressing, mezzo-soprano Buddug Verona James is winning and impressive as she alternates between acting six commedia dell'arte characters and singing numerous Gluck and Handel arias accompanied by live harpsichord, wiolin and viola da gamba. Karen Fricker

Sunday Independent, January 30, 2000
Buddug Verona James acts and sings to the accompaniment of a baroque trio led by Andrew Wilson- Dickson. The arias are a glory (including Cara Sposa) James has a wondrous mezzo voice. This imaginative piece of mischief is a quirky delight, great fun dramatically and exquisite musically. Emer O'Kell

Cork Examiner, February 5, 2000
Arias and a few graces

The UnFringed Festival at the Belltable, Limerick, which ends today, threw up some noteworthy performances. One such show was Castradiva, from Theatre Mwldan / Opera Cocktail. It was written by Mark Ryan, directed by Chris Morgan and performed by Buddug Verona James. Like a peacock, Pedrolino Il Magnifico presents himself to the audience over the on-stage accompaniment of violin, viola and harpsichord. You get an idea of his character through his opinions, and then he proves his credentials by bursting into an aria complemented by much macho posturing.

He struts, he fawns, he pontificates on the trappings of his genius while at the same time telling a story of love, politics and the role of genitalia in 18th century entertainment. The discourses are quick, incisive and very witty: commenting on a castrato being discovered to be a female, via the lack of an appendage, he comments "as with singing, one is not always offered the parts they wish for".

Mezzo soprano Buddug is hilarious as Pedrolino. The music, her voice, and the simple story make for a great spectacle. Some may question its theatricality, but this is a little bit of magic in the making. Fionnán Sheahan

Castradiva at Garterlane Arts Centre

The Munster Times, April 28, 2000
Garter Lane Arts Centre on Wednesday 19th April provided a glorious gem of an evening with a touring Welsh production of 'Castradiva'. This was a one-woman show telling of the story of the greatest of the castrati. There was a whiff of the forbidden about them and Buddug, captured the oddity, the comedy, the sleaze and the travesty of these singers. She was camp when she needed to be camp and she had tears in her eyes when needed.

Her performance entranced the audience and her clear vocal tone soared and trilled to the angelic music of Handel and Gluck. She entertained the audience with the vigour and virtuosity of her performance.

Accompanied by a trio of harpsichord, viola da gamba and baroque violin she strode on stage and began "Allow me to introduce myself, Pedrolino - Il Magnifico - Il primo castrato". The monsterous ego of a pampered superstar was evident and quickly the other characters were introduced, a love sick tenor, who sang of his "Dear Bride". A younger castrato who later turned out to be a woman using a pork sausage; a dotty Contessa: a Monsignor with cold hands for young boys' private parts and a ruddy-cheeked Pope who would at least warm his hands.

In quick succesion we got the masculine swagger and bragaddocio, the female guile and girlishness, the crude cleric and a belly laughing Pontiff as well as dazzling singing. We had parody; some "in" - theatrical jokes and some clever side swipes at clerics. Castradiva is the style of show that will grace major venues, and festival stages much in the way that Red Kettles "Catalapa" is still doing. Liam Murphy.

Castradiva at Theatr Ardudwy, Harlech

The Daily Post, October 16, 2000
James simply magnificent in bizarre tale The plot is Mozartian. A lovely aristocratic girl, forced to play a boy, falls in love with a tenor, also an aristocrat. She is loved in vain by the celebrity castrato who plays a practical joke that foils the Pope. Splendidly attired as a Roman dandy, Buddug Verona James plays all the roles in this story of an 18th century castrato. She is the celebrated castrato himself, the younger fake castrato who is even less than he appears, a bawdy Contessa, a priapic Pope and a scurrilous Monsignor. Her only props are two carnival masks, a trio of feathers and a silk wrap. Yet each character comes to life before your eyes. She is in turn a braggadoccio, tender, sentimental and downright raunchy. Magnificent though James' acting is, it pales besides her singing. In the average opera, a role carries three arias. She sings seven fiendishly difficult pieces by Handel and Gluck and climaxes, literally, with a disco flashing light routine and a somewhat suggestive microphone. She meets the demanding music with total assurance, creamy as cappuccino, each note architecturally faultless. The play by Mark Ryan, directed by Chris Morgan, is a joy. Music Director Andrew Wilson Dickson, harpsichord, Patxi del Amo, viola da gamba, and Marianne Szucs' enchanting baroque violin completed the pleasure in the prettiest theatre in Britain. Ian Skidmore.

Castradiva at the Purcell Room, London

Musical Opinion, 2001
On 6 May the severely functional stage of the Purcell Room was transformed into a castrato's boudoir for Castradiva, Buddug Verona James's operatic cabaret act. Written by Mark Ryan, it is the story of Pedrolino, il primo castrato, the leading singer in early 18th Century Rome, and the musical circles over which this imaginary castrato held sway. With the help of a chaise-longue, a table and curtain, his overheated world of intrigue was re-created in words and music by this talented singing actress and peopled with no fewer than six different characters. For Buddug Verona James not only brought to life the egregious Pedrolino, but using a series of masks she sketched in his rivals, the tenor Silvio and the young castrato Ortensio, his employer the Contessa, the Pope, whose authority extended to the Roman musical world, and the Pope's detective, who enforced the church's ban on the employment of female singers. Interspersed with the unfolding of thes slightly risque edetails of Pedrolino's love life and the adventures of a young girl passing herself off as a castrato to escape an unwanted marriage, James sang a number of Handel arias originally performed by such luminaries as Carestini and Nicolini. In a well-schooled, darkly coloured mezzo that simulated the sound of the male alto, she opened with Dopo notte from Ariodante, lightening her tone for the languishing mood of Cara sposa from Rinaldo. Then came two arias from Amadigi, Sento la gioia, which she attacked with joyous zest, and Pena tiranna in which she ornamented the singer's grief expressively. Handsomely costumed in purple silk lavishly overlaid with gold brocade, she cut a swaggering extrovert figure, no doubt on the lines of the image cultivated by the castrati in their day.

The stylish accompaniment was provided by Lucy Robinson on Bass Viol, Marianna Szucs on Baroque Violin and Harpsichordist Andrew Wilson-Dickson, the Music Director, all three dressed in period Costumes and helping to set the scene. The Director of this entertaining show was Chris Morgan. Margaret Davies.

Castradiva at the Tudeley Festival, Tonbridge

K & S Courier, July, 2001
Bronze-toned in voice as Rodney Milnes tells us, and brazen in manner, the truly remarkable Buddug Verona James swept all before her in Castradiva, the latest presentation in the Tudeley Festival series.

The main character - indeed, the only character - is Pedrolino ('Il primo castrato' also known as 'Il Magnifico') whose adventures are modelled on the careers of those few castrati whose success made them famous, rich and powerful. Mezzo-soprano Buddug Verona James throws herself into this role with enormous gusto and, beautifully dressed and bewigged, dominates the stage for much of the performance. She sang six arias from operas by Handel and one from 'Orfeo' by Gluck. Some were laments, powerfully expressive and sung with great feeling, while the more joyful arias - especially one deliciously sent up in an Andrew Lloyd Webber fashion - were full of vivacity and charming wit.

The voice itself is quite magnificent - rich, powerful, creamy and full-toned across a most impressive range. No wonder Buddug Verona James has drawn such praise from the critics, and has played so many different parts in a highly varied and successful career. Robert Hardcastle.

Castradiva at the Ustinov Theatre, Theatre Royal, Bath

Wiltshire Times, June 2002
Gender is a haunting theme Buddug Verona James played all the characters in this operatic drama, telling a tale of desire and tragedy with hauntingly sweet arias, primarily by Handel.

Dressed in the gender-crossing castrato splendour of 18th century Rome, James moved easily from one role to the next by the simple use of facial expression, masks and voice, demonstrating an amazing range of vocal skills.

Castrati fed not only the musical needs of the Church at the time, but flourished in the theatre where, in papal states, women were banned from the stage. A bewitching performance where James's voice enchanted the audience. Liz Gwinnell

Castradiva at the Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea

The Big Issue, July 29, 2002
This one-woman show, in which the internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano Buddug Verona James plays no less than six characters (including three male singers, an Italian countess and the pope), is an absorbing and exotic piece of theatre which introduce us to the utterly bizarre concept of the castrati - male operatic performers whose pre-pubescent singing voices were preserved by means of castration.

The practice was common for more than two centuries, having originated as a result of a papal ban on female performers, firstly in church choirs and later on the theatrical stage. Mark Ryan's script is sharp, witty and knowing, encapsulating all the intrigue and mystery of a subject which is largely unknown to a modern mainstream audience. And James' full-blooded portrayal of Pedrolino- the primo castrato who narrates the story - is supremely energetic and intense.

The baroque atmosphere is reinforced by a trio of musicians who perform in full period costume: Andrew Wilson-Dickson (harpsichord), Lucy Robinson (viola da gamba) and Marc Elton (baroque violin) provide a bewitching soundtrack which enhances this extraordinary tale. At one point they even inject a brief touch of modern irony into an Elvis-style series of bumps and grinds.

 Opera buffs may care to note that no less than six arias from the works of George Frederic Handel are performed here, including Sento la gioia and Pena Tirana (both from Amadigi), as well as Addio Miei Sospiri (from Christoph Willibald von Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice). James tackles these pieces with absolute control and precision, never once losing touch with her characterisation, and retaining the rapt attention of the audience from beginning to end. Graham Williams.

Castradiva at the Swaledale Festival, Elite Cinema, Leyburn

Darlington and Stockton Times, June 6, 2003
Castradiva was an elite performance in an elite setting. Not only does Buddug Verona James have a stunning voice, she is also a superb actress. At her performance in Leyburn last week, it was amazing to see her swapping with ease between various characters using masks to help with each swift transition. She enthralled her audience with her story of the life of a castrato in eighteenth century Italy. An accompanying trio of musicians was equally accomplished. They had the stage to themselves in the first part of the programme when each described the history of their authentic instruments. Lucy Robinson explained that even if her viola da Gamba, made in 1649, looked like a cello, it was in fact a British-made ancestor of the guitar. Mark Elton played a baroque violin and Andrew Wilson-Dickson was at the harpsichord, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the latter's commentary as he introduced the selection of early-eighteenth century instrumental music. All three were suitably attired for that period and so harmonised in every way with James, whose costume was as sumptuous as her performance. P.E

Castradiva at the Gower Festival

South Wales Echo, July 24, 2003
As Pedrolino, castrato superstar Buddug James evoked the tragedy and comedy of her subject's condition. A strong voiced, positive mezzo-soprano with fine stage presence and a highly professional command of range and manner, she was both bawdy and touching, playing all the roles in her narrative. AJV Castradiva at the Bewdley Festival.

Castradiva at the Exeter Festival, Northcott Theatre
Express and Echo, July 20 2006
Quirky offering was a delight
HAPPILY, the world of the castrati is not one that we can experience at first hand these days. Times when young boys of good voice paid a heavy price for an admittedly glittering long-term career are thankfully long behind us.
Castradiva was a quirky offering from this year's Exeter Festival, and although it attracted only a half-full house at the Northcott Theatre, there were a lot of highly impressed people in the audience by the end.
Mezzo soprano Buddug Verona James starred as a castrato in the Rome of 1700, and told the story with six arias written for castrati by Handel and one by Gluck.
Her voice is a delight. She has fluid dexterity and marvellous control and her charismatic stage presence takes the slight story of a well-established castrato who faces a predicament at a fair old lick.
James had fine support from musicians Andrew Wilson-Dickson (harpsichord), Lucy Robinson (bass viol) and Simon Jones (baroque violin), all performing heroically in layers of period costume despite the hot summer evening.

The show is written by Mark Ryan and directed by Chris Morgan and although the first half, a 'musicians-only' introduction to baroque music, was relaxed and enjoyable in its own way, it felt rather like padding and the main section could have happily stood by itself. David Marston

Castradiva CD review
Opera Today 2008 - Buddug is compared to Bartoli!


Castradiva at the Tenby Festival
Tenby Observer October 2, 2008
The staging of an opera with music by Handel and Gluck was a first for Tenby Arts Festival last week, and a first for the De Valence Pavilion as well. But this was real entertainment, even if your ear is not tuned to opera. Castradiva is no conventional opera. Instead there was dialogue for several characters, all cleverly played by mezzo-soprano Buddug Verona James. More appropriately, Castradiva should be called a play with fine music.
The fictional play was devised and written by Mark Ryan and Buddug herself, about the Castrato ‘Pedrolina il Magnifico’, and featured some of the greatest arias written by Handel and Gluck for the castrati of the 18th century.
The time was 1700, the place Rome. The Pope had banned women from performing in public. Young boys were sold to the church and castrated to keep their voices high. Castrati performing the female as well as the male roles, were adored like pop stars and discovered the perfect disguise for visiting a ladies boudoir. Cross dressing became the order of the day. Castradiva tells the tale of the extraordinary lives of the castrati.
Buddug treated the audience to a unique and brilliant piece of theatre. Dressed in exquisite costumes and bewigged in the style of the times, she swaggered across the stage perfect in every look, move and and gesture.
With style and wit, Pedrolino the Magnificent unfolded the risqué details of his love life and adventures. Throughout the show,Buddug maintained the illusion of a woman playing a man, who in turn plays the part of a woman and then back to a woman playing a man as though falling through the looking glass!
But Buddug is an experienced and skilled actor. The parts were played with impeccable timing, her superb gestures and changes of facial expression aided at times by half-facial masks, brought each character to life.
Buddug’s voice has been described as ‘bronze-toned’, the rich mezzo dealt effectively with the intricacies of the arias and evoked the great emotions of sadness in ‘Pena Tirana’ from Amadigi by Handel, and joy in Ho non so che nel cor’ from La Resurrezione.
Musical director Andrew Wilson-Dickson led the stylish accompaniment on harpsichord, with Lucy Robinson on bass viol and Mark Elton on baroque violin. All were dressed in period costume and performed on the stage which helped to set the scene.
The director of this entertaining show was Chris Morgan. P.P.


Castradiva at the Laugharne Festival
The Big Issue April 22, 2009
One of the highlights of the Laugharne Weekend


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