The seventeenth century could well be characterised as one in which singers and singing in general, and the figure of the individual solo singer in particular, were the driving forces in a range of major developments both in specific genres and in the broader institutional manifestations of music. The most obvious of these, perhaps, is the acceleration of what began as a fairly marginal form of music theatre – opera – from its near standing start in the elite space of the Florentine court in 1600 to its flourishing establishment in the public theatre culture of most of Western Europe by the early 1700s. Music historians rightly point to innovations in a whole variety of other genres of vocal music, including in the church: the sacred concerto, oratorio and grand motet; in chamber music: secular song in many different national styles, concerted madrigal and cantata; and the various different kinds of theatre music besides Italian opera, such as French ballet de cour and tragédie en musique, Spanish comedia and zarzuela. English masque and ‘semi-opera’, and so on. All of these largely depended for their realisation on the highly developed skills of virtuoso singers. Furthermore, the emergence of professional women singers from their barely visible sequestration in the north Italian courts onto the centre stage of public acclaim and accessibility, and an almost parallel trajectory for castrato singers, are two of the more obvious phenomena which, in different ways, both drove and resulted from these developments.