The idea for Evirati came from the research I had done whilst music director of the Modern Baroque Opera Company, in Vancouver. We were performing a number of works that included roles which had been written for castrati, and I became fascinated by these singers; by what they might have sounded like; how contemporary society treated them; how the mutilation of these boys came about, and why it continued.

In my research I repeatedly came across accounts of Bellino, a “false” castrato. The most detailed account of this singer coming from the diaries of Casanova, in which the infamous libertine recounts how he met a young singer, by the name of Bellino, whom he subsequently, and intimately, discovered was a woman, Angiola Calori.

Angiola’s reasons for the deception were part amour, and part survival. A renowned castrato, Salimbeni, had lodged in the Calori house. Angiola and the famous maestro subsequently became lovers. In order that they should remain together, she took the identity of his student Bellino . This deception may seem ridiculous to modern sensibilities, but in the 18th Century castrati were forbidden from marriage, being that it was impossible, in the eyes of the church, for such men to consummate their marriage.

Evirati does not attempt to tell the whole story of Angiola Calori, how could it in twenty- five minutes? My aim was to present a pivotal episode in her life: Her first audition as a castrato for an opera company in Bologna. In this audition Angiola was faced with not only singing adequately for the position, but she would also have to carry off the persona of a young man. If that wasn’t enough, she would also experience the indignity of a “penis check”: An inspection, for the purpose of weeding out female imposters, usually performed by an elderly clergyman.

My aim for this short film was not to give conclusions, but to present some interesting questions. I hope that audiences leave the theatre intrigued by the world of the Evirati, stimulated by their experience, but not necessarily satisfied. I have tried to created an experience that is quite alien to the 21st Century, a synthized-verite look at the 18th Century.

I could not have made this film if it were not for digital technologies. I initially planned to shoot on 35mm and my budget was close to $100,000 US. 16mm was not an option: I planned to record the music for the film with eleven members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Soprano Elizabeth Skillings. There was no way I was going to have their beautiful performances mutilated by a 16mm mono sound track. I had to look into alternatives, or rob a bank.

After some months of searching, and getting frighteningly close to the shoot date without having found a solution, I meet James Tocher who was to become my Director of Photography. James had recently opened a local facility specializing in digital to film transfer. He had experience both with 35mm and digital video, and introduced me to JVC’s marvelous D9 system: A digital format that was comparable with digi-Beta but at a fraction of the cost.

Convinced by James, and some tests with D9, we moved forwarded to produce Evirati as a digital/35 hybrid. We would shoot the film on digital for transfer to 35mm film. This decision had substantial effects on the aesthetics of the film: I was able to transfer the money I had for film stock to building sets and costumes. I had a 20:1 shot ratio, which allowed my actors the freedom of extended takes, and presented me with a wealth of delightful footage in editing. I had remarkable flexibility in lighting. My challenge for James was to give a sense of chiaroscuro, in the style of Joseph Wright of Derby or Carravaggio, painting with light on a black canvas. The D9 system offered incredible light sensitivity. In the scene with Angiola and her Mother we lit the entire set with just five candles!

Evirati premiered at the 2000 Vancouver Film Festival, and was seen by close to a thousand people. At the Vancouver screenings I had the oportunity to ask a couple of questions of the audiences: How many people were aware that Evirati had been shot digitally? and for those that were aware, was their experience in anyway deminished by the knowledge?

Out of a aproximatetly one thousand members of the general public, about twenty people said that they could tell that Evirati had been shot digitally, and as yet I have received no complaints about the aesthetics of the film.

35mm is far from dead, and in my opinion probably never will be. However, digital technologies are now becoming so sensitive, consistent and high quality that they are a wonderful alternative for filmmakers of any budget, and aesthetic. They certainly enabled me to make Evirati a reality.