Life of the great 18th century singer
Contributor: James Sanderson
Born Jan. 24, 1705, Naples
Died July 15, 1782, Bologna
Farinelli was born Carlo Broschi in 1705 in Naples and was perhaps the most celebrated Italian castrato singer (castrato, evirato) of the 18th century. His name developed by adopting the surname of his benefactors, the brothers Farina.
He studied under Nicola Porpora at the Conservatorio in Naples, and at 16 made his debut at Rome in Porpora’s Gli orti esperidi and Eomene. He also sang in Porpora’s Angelico e Medoro. The libretto to all three were by the pivotal librettist Pietro Metastasio (see other article), with whom Farinelli formed a life-long friendship. Farinelli’s reputation spread throughout Italy, and Germany to Vienna and London, and he was admired for his pure, powerful voice, his technical proficiency, his skill in florid embellishment, and his musical expression. There is, of course, the famous story of a duel with a trumpet player where Farinelli outdid the instrumentalist in every aspect of the performance.
From Rome Farinelli moved to Venice where he was associated with the opera composer Hasse. In 1734 he joined Porpora in London at the ‘Opera of the Nobility’, appearing in his operas, the serenata La festa d’Imeneo and, with Senesino, in Hasse’s opera Artaserse.
In 1737 Farinelli all but retired from the operatic stage and accepted a request to go to Spain, where his singing lifted the mood of Philip V. It is said that Philip could not bear the sound of any music other than the singing of Farinelli and nightly for 10 years Farinelli performed the same four songs to the King. He remained in Spain until 1759, working as an impresario and taking an active part in public life. He accumulated great wealth and retired to Bologna after being dismissed by Charles III for ‘political differences’.
Farinelli’s brother, Riccardo, was an opera composer of some contemporary note although little of his music has survived.