Farinelli (January 24, 1705 September 16, 1782), whose real name was Carlo Broschi, was one of the most famous Italian soprano castrato singers of the 18th century.
Broschi was born in Andria (now in the Italian region of Puglia) into a family of musicians. His father Salvatore was also governor of Maratea and Cisternino from 1706 to 1709. Broschi was castrated as a boy to preserve his young voice into adulthood.
As was often the case, an excuse had to be found for this always illegal operation, and in Carlo's case it was said to have been necessitated by a fall from a horse.
In 1711, Carlo's family moved to Naples, where the young singer later studied with the famous composer and singing-teacher Nicola Porpora. He made his public debut in 1720 in Porpora's Angelica e Medoro, and soon became famous throughout Italy as il ragazzo ("the boy"; the origin of his stage name of Farinelli is unclear, though a possible explanation is that three rich Neapolitan music-loving brothers by name Farina sponsored Carlo in his studies).
Career in Europe
Farinelli, by Corrado Giaquinto c1755
In 1731, Farinelli visited Vienna for a third time. There
he was received by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI, on whose advice,
according to the singer's first biographer, Giovenale Sacchi, he
modified his style, expanding his affective repertoire to include pathos
and simplicity alongside bravura. After further seasons in Italy, and
another visit to Vienna, during which he sang in oratorios in the
Imperial chapel, Farinelli came to London in 1734. He had been engaged
by "The Opera of the Nobility", a company, supported by Frederick,
Prince of Wales in opposition to Handel, that had Porpora as its
composer and Senesino as principal singer. Farinelli's first appearance,
at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, was in Artaserse, a pasticcio
opera for which his brother Riccardo Broschi had composed some of the
music. Though his success was instantaneous and enormous, neither the
Nobility Opera nor Handel's company was able to sustain the public's
interest. Farinelli, nonetheless, was still under contract in London in
the summer of 1737 when he received a summons, via Sir Thomas
Fitzgerald, Secretary of the Spanish Embassy there, to visit the Spanish
In London the previous year, Senesino, a singer who had
been a part of Handel's "Second Academy" which performed at the King's
Theatre, Haymarket, quarrelled with Handel and established a rival
company, "Opera of the Nobility", operating from a theatre in Lincoln's
Inn Fields. This company had Porpora as composer and Senesino as
principal singer, but had not been a success during its first season of
1733-34. Farinelli, Porpora's most famous pupil, joined the company and
made it financially solvent.
Both the cognoscenti and the public adored him. The librettist Paolo
Rolli, a close friend and supporter of Senesino, commented: "Farinelli
has surprised me so much that I feel as though I had hitherto heard only
a small part of the human voice, and now have heard it all. He has
besides, the most amiable and polite manners ...". Some fans were more
unrestrained: one titled lady was so carried away that, from a theatre
box, she famously exclaimed: "One God, one Farinelli!" and was
immortalised in a detail of Plate II of William Hogarth's "The Rake's
Progress" (she may also appear in Plate IV of his series "Marriage à la
mode" of 1745).
Farinelli, by Jacopo Amigoni c1750-52
Apparently intending to make only a brief visit to the
Continent, Farinelli called at Paris on his way to Madrid, singing at
Versailles to King Louis XV on 9 July. Louis XV gave him his portrait
set in diamonds, and 500 Louis d'or. On 15 July he left for Spain,
arriving about a month later. Elisabetta Farnese, the Queen, had come to
believe that Farinelli's voice might be able to cure the severe
depression of her husband, King Philip V (contemporary physicians, such
as the Queen's doctor Giuseppi Cervi, believed in music therapy).
Retirement and death
In 1759, Ferdinand was succeeded by his half-brother
Charles III, who was no lover of music. Charles was the son of
Elisabetta Farnese, who had never forgiven Farinelli for his decision to
remain at court after Philip V's death, rather than following her into
internal exile. It was clear that Farinelli would now have to leave
Spain, though he was allowed a generous state pension. He retired to
Bologna, where in 1732 he had acquired a property and citizenship.
Though rich and still famous, much feted by local notables and visited
by such notable figures as Burney, Mozart and Casanova, he was lonely in
his old age, having outlived many of his friends and former colleagues.
One distinguished friend of his latter years was the music historian,
Giovanni Battista (known as "Padre") Martini. He also continued his
correspondence with Metastasio, court poet at Vienna, dying a few months
after him. In his will, Farinelli asked that he be buried in the mantle
of the order of Calatrava, and was interred in the cemetery of the
Capuchin monastery of Santa Croce in Bologna. His estate included gifts
from royalty, a large collection of paintings including works by
Velázquez, Murillo and Jusepe de Ribera, as well as portraits of his
royal patrons, and several of himself, one by his friend Jacopo Amigoni.
He also had a collection of keyboard instruments in which he took great
delight, especially a piano made at Florence in 1730 (called in the will
cembalo a martellini), and violins by Stradivarius and Amati.
Farinelli's other musical activities
Farinelli not only sang, but like most musicians of his time, was a competent harpsichordist. In old age, he learned to play the viola d'amore. He occasionally composed, writing a cantata of farewell to London (entitled Ossequiosissimo ringraziamento, for which he also wrote the text), and a few songs and arias, including one dedicated to Ferdinand VI.
Farinelli Study Centre
Farinelli lived in Bologna from 1761 until his death. The
Farinelli Study Centre (Centro Studi Farinelli) was opened in Bologna in
1998. Major events and achievements include:
Farinelli's remains were disinterred from the Certosa
cemetery on 12 July 2006. The stacking of the bones had degraded the
condition of Farinelli's remains, but these included his jawbone,
several teeth, parts of his skull and almost all of the major bones.
Florentine antiquarian Alberto Bruschi and Luigi Verdi, Secretary of the
Farinelli Study Centre, co-ordinator and general manager of the project,
promoted the exhumation. The next day Carlo Vitali of the Farinelli
Study Centre stated that the major bones were "long and sturdy, which
would correspond with Farinelli's official portraits, as well as the
castrati's reputation for being unusually tall." Maria Giovanna
Belcastro of the Anthropology Institute of Bologna University, Gino
Fornaciari, paleoanthropologist of the University of Pisa and engineer
David Howard of York University are charged with deriving such new data
on Farinelli and his lifestyle, habits and possible diseases, as well as
the physiology of a castrato, as can be retrieved from these remains.
Their research methods will include X-rays, CAT scans and DNA sampling.
A film, Farinelli, directed by Gérard Corbiau, was made
about Farinelli's life in 1994. This takes considerable dramatic licence
with history, emphasising the importance of Farinelli's brother and
reducing Porpora's role, while Handel becomes an antagonist; the
singer's time in Spain is ignored almost entirely. Farinelli's supposed
sexual exploits are a major element of the film's plot. Though
cinematically effective, they have no basis in reality.
Ellen T. Harris. "Farinelli", Grove Music Online, ed. L.
Macy (accessed 07 November 2007), grovemusic.com (subscription access).