Theatre Tours International Ltd
Theatre Tours International Ltd
What's On NOW!
To: Castradiva
  • Written by Mark Ryan
  • Performed by Buddug Verona-James
  • Directed by Chris Morgan & Guy Masterson
  • Toured the UK from 2000-2004
  • Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Fringe 2001

Rome, 1700, and the Pope has banned women from performing on the stage. Young boys are, instead, sold to the church for their beautiful voices - and castrated to keep them. With voices allowing them to take both female and the male roles, often brilliantly, the castrati became adored like today's pop stars; and discovered they had been given the perfect disguise to slip into a lady's boudoir! Cross-dressing and bed-hopping became the order of the day.
The virtuosic Eisteddfod-winner Buddug Verona James plays all the characters in an aria-studded drama, weaving a tale of the juiciest moments from the aftermath of Pope Innocent XI's edict against performing women around the life of a castrato and his circle. Ranging from love to murder, subterfuge to stupidity, the piece delves gleefully into this fascinating period in sumptuous Settecento finery.
The music is provided live on authentic instruments, and Buddug takes on seven arias by Handel and Gluck in the hour (a usual opera lead only asks for three), in both sexes' voices. This is not only an Olympian feat of range, however; her feel and passion for the music were described simply as "wonderfully expressive singing" in the Sunday Times and "luscious, suave and creamy" in the New York Times.
Buddug is a highly skilled butcher and has won several awards for her meat manipulation.

"A real show-stopper" (The Guardian)

"The tremendous Buddug Verona James' singing is ravishing - every demand of the music met with dazzling command; the tone gloriously sustained..." (Financial Times)

"This is real entertainment... 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." (Western Mail)

"A saucy little tale of the sex life of Roman society... a magnificent voice with an androgynous tone... boredom is simply not an option." (The Irish Times)

"The arias are a glory... This imaginative piece of mischief is a quirky delight, great fun dramatically and exquisite musically." (The Sunday Independent)

"a performance of seething intensity, her vocal gymnastics setting Handel's arias aflame." (The Herald)

"James is simply magnificent in this bizarre tale. She meets the demanding music with total assurance, creamy as cappuccino, each note architecturally flawless." (The Daily Post)

"luscious, suave and creamy, the splendid Buddug Verona James sounds like a Brancusi" (Paul Griffiths)

"The most convincing travesty role I have ever seen" (Daily News, Portugal)

"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 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." (The Tivyside)

"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, violin and viola da gamba." (Sunday Tribune)

"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... In quick succession we got the masculine swagger and braggadocio, the female guile and girlishness, the crude cleric and a belly laughing Pontiff as well as dazzling singing." (The Munster Times)

"With the help of a chaise-longue, a table and curtain, this 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... 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." (Musical Opinion)

"Bronze-toned in voice and brazen in manner, the truly remarkable Buddug Verona James swept all before her in Castradiva... 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. ... 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." (K&S Courier)

"Buddug Verona James... has a voice that sets Handel's music alight with the acrobatics of her singing." (The Press and Journal)