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Farinelli [Broschi, Carlo; Farinello]

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Farinelli [Broschi, Carlo; Farinello]

(b Andria, Apulia, 24 Jan 1705; d Bologna, 16/17 Sept 1782). Italian soprano castrato, the most admired of all the castrato singers.

1. Life.

2. Achievements.







1. Life.

In 1740, Farinelli wrote of his birth to Count Pepoli, ‘I do not claim I was born from the third rib of Venus, nor that my father was Neptune. I am Neapolitan and the Duke of Andria held me at the baptismal font, which is enough to say that I am a son of a good citizen and of a gentleman’. Farinelli's father, Salvatore Broschi, was a petty official in Andria and later in Barletta. There is evidence that the family moved from Barletta to Naples in 1711, but none for the often-repeated assertion that Farinelli's father was a musician. He may have received some musical training from his brother Riccardo Broschi, seven years his elder. In 1717, the year of his father's death, he began private study in Naples with Nicola Porpora, the teacher of many fine singers. As Giovenale Sacchi, his first biographer, and Padre Martini, who often met him during the years of his retirement, attest, the stage name of Farinelli came from a Neapolitan magistrate, Farina, whose three sons had sung with the Broschi brothers and who later patronized the young singer.

Farinelli made his public début in 1720 in Porpora's Angelica e Medoro, based on the first printed libretto of Pietro Metastasio. This marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship between singer and librettist, who always referred to each other as ‘dear twin’ (‘caro gemello’) in reference to their operatic ‘twin birth’ in this opera, in which Farinelli, aged only 15, sang the small role of the shepherd Tirsi. Two years later his performing career began in earnest. In 1722–4 he sang in Rome and Naples in operas by Porpora, Pollaroli and Vinci, among others, and was quickly promoted into leading roles; at this time he often sang the part of the prima donna, such as the title role in Porpora's Adelaide (1723, Rome). His earliest surviving image, a caricature by Pierleone Ghezzi (1724), ‘Farinello Napolitano famoso cantore di Soprano’, shows him costumed as a woman.

From 1724 to 1734 Farinelli achieved extraordinary success in many northern Italian cities, including Venice, Milan and Florence. His appearance at Parma in 1726 at the celebrations on the marriage of the duke, Antonio Farnese, marks his first association with the Farnese family, who played a critical role in his later life through Elisabetta Farnese, niece of the duke and wife of Philip V of Spain. From 1727 to 1734 he lived in Bologna, where both he and his brother were enlisted in the Accademia Filarmonica in 1730. In 1732 he was granted rights of citizenship and purchased a country estate outside the city, where he retired in 1761. In Bologna he met Count Sicinio Pepoli, with whom he began to correspond in 1731; his 67 letters to Pepoli, recently discovered, provide rich new detail of the singer and the period (Vitali, 1992; Vitali and Boris, 2000). In Turin, he met the English ambassador, Lord Essex, who in 1734 played a critical role in negotiating for his performances in London (Taylor, 1991), and may have been responsible for commissioning the formal portrait of 1734 by Bartolomeo Nazari, the first of many imposing depictions that serve to transform Farinelli's image from the caricatures of Ghezzi, Marco Ricci and Antonio Maria Zanetti (all before 1730).

Attempts had been made to lure Farinelli to London since 1729. Handel failed to secure him for his company, but Farinelli signed a contract in 1734 with the competing company, where Porpora was the leading composer. From 1734 to 1737 he performed in operas by Porpora, J.A. Hasse and his brother, and his singing took the city by storm. The extensive commentary, public and private, is rarely less than ecstatic. When, in 1737, he decided to break his contract and go to Madrid at the command of ‘Their Catholic Majesties’ (as described by Benjamin Keene, British ambassador to Spain), the resentment was equally strong. The Daily Post reported on 7 July 1737 (Lindgren, 1991):

Farinello, what with his Salary, his Benefit Night, and the Presents made him by some of the wise People of this Nation, gets at least 5000 l. a Year in England, and yet he is not asham'd to run about like a Stroller from Kingdom to Kingdom, as if we did not give him sufficient Encouragement, which we hope the Noble Lords of the Haymarket will look upon as a great Affront done to them and their Country.

Farinelli had been called to Madrid by the queen in the hope that his singing would help cure the debilitating depression of Philip V. It became his responsibility to serenade the king every night (the exact number of arias differs in reports between three and nine), an obligation he apparently maintained until the king's death in 1746. Appointed ‘royal servant’ to the king in a royal patent of 1737, his remuneration was 1500 guineas in ‘English money’, as well as a coach with two mules for city travel, a team of six mules for trips between cities, ‘as also the necessary Carriages for his Servants and Equipage, and a decent and suitable Lodging for his person and family as well in all my Royal Seats as in any other place where he may be ordered to attend on my Person’ (McGeary, 1998).

That Farinelli's activities encompassed more than singing the same arias every night to the ailing king is especially well documented in the period after Philip V's death and the accession of Ferdinand VI (1746–59). In 1747 he was appointed artistic director of the theatres at Buen Retiro (Madrid) and Aranjuez, marking the beginning of a decade of extraordinary productions and extravaganzas in which he collaborated extensively with Metastasio. Only Metastasio's side of this correspondence survives: the 166 letters, beginning on 26 August 1747, detail many of Farinelli's projects, from the importation of Hungarian horses (with which Metastasio was engaged from Vienna for a year and a half) to the redirection of the River Tagus in Aranjuez to enable elaborate ‘water music’ or embarcadero for the royal family. 17 of the 23 operas and serenatas produced under Farinelli's direction between 1747 and 1756 had texts by Metastasio, many of them revised for the Spanish performances. Metastasio's letters preserve one side of an engaging conversation about all aspects of performance. His new serenata L'isola disabitata was set by Giuseppe Bonno and performed in 1754, the year the Aranjuez theatre was inaugurated; Metastasio wrote to Farinelli after hearing about the production: ‘I have been present at Aranjuez all the time I was reading your letter … I have seen the theatre, the ships, the embarkation, the enchanted palace; I have heard the trills of my incomparable Gemello; and have venerated the royal aspect of your divinities’. Farinelli's ‘royal aspect’ was also captured by the painter and set designer Jacopo Amigoni in two large canvases of 1750–52; in one, the singer is depicted at the centre of a seated group flanked by Metastasio, the soprano Teresa Castellini and a self-portrait of the painter, and in the other he is seated alone in the countryside of Aranjuez with the ‘fleet’ of ships he created for the embarkations on the Tagus behind him. In both, Farinelli wears the cross of the Order of Calatrava with which he was knighted in 1750. The most imposing portrait, however, is the last, painted about 1755 by Corrado Giaquinto, showing him full length in his chivalric robes with Ferdinand VI and Queen Maria Barbara revealed in an oval behind him by flying putti.

The Giaquinto portrait marks the apogee of Farinelli's career. Metastasio's Nitteti, set by Nicola Conforto, had its première in 1756. After Ferdinand VI's death in 1759, he was asked to leave Spain, and retired to his villa in Bologna where he installed his extensive collections of art, music and musical instruments. He nurtured hopes of returning to Spain or of attaining a position of similar authority elsewhere, but they proved to be vain. He lived out his years corresponding with Metastasio (who died in April 1782) and receiving the homage of musicians and nobility, including Martini, Burney, Gluck, Mozart, the Electress of Saxony and Emperor Joseph II, and died shortly after his ‘twin’.


2. Achievements.

Farinelli's voice was by all accounts remarkable. J.J. Quantz, who first heard him in Naples in 1725 and then again at Parma and Milan in 1726, published a description:

Farinelli had a penetrating, full, rich, bright and well-modulated soprano voice, whose range extended at that time from a to d'''. A few years afterwards it had extended lower by a few notes, but without the loss of any high notes, so that in many operas one aria (usually an adagio) was written for him in the normal tessitura of a contralto, while his others were of soprano range [Farinelli's later repertory indicates that his lower range ultimately extended to c]. His intonation was pure, his trill beautiful, his breath control extraordinary and his throat very agile, so that he performed even the widest intervals quickly and with the greatest ease and certainty. Passage-work and all varieties of melismas were of no difficulty whatever for him. In the invention of free ornamentation in adagio he was very fertile (Marpurg, 1754).

The messa di voce was the cornerstone of 18th-century vocal pedagogy and Farinelli's was legendary. In a letter to Pepoli from Vienna in March 1732, the singer described his audience before the Habsburg emperor Charles VI: ‘I presented him with three messe di voce and other artful effects, which his generosity allowed him to admire’. The emperor also advised Farinelli, as the singer reported to Burney: ‘Those gigantic strides [leaps], those never-ending notes and passages … only surprise, and it is now time for you to please; … if you wish to reach the heart, you must take a more plain and simple road’. Earlier, Quantz had criticized his acting. Burney states how much Farinelli learnt from these early critiques, so that he ‘delighted as well as astonished every hearer’, but both criticisms followed Farinelli throughout his career. In London, after the initial wild enthusiasm, some dissatisfaction began to be voiced, and in May and June 1737 Farinelli cancelled several performances, excusing himself on grounds of ‘indisposition’. On 11 June, he sang a farewell aria of his own, expressing his gratitude to Britain. Given this sequence of events, it may be that his decision not to return was taken even before he left for Paris and well before he received the invitation from Spain. After leaving the public stage for the Spanish court, Farinelli wrote to Pepoli (16 February 1738) from Madrid, ‘I am now able to say with true peace – haec est requies mea’. However, it is clear that he continued to sing not just in chamber but also in private Spanish court opera.

Farinelli's prodigious vocal abilities, about which there can be no doubt, were coupled with deep musicianship. He composed and he played the keyboard and the viola d'amore. In addition to his London farewell, for which he wrote both text and music, he composed an aria for Ferdinand VI (1756), and he sent ‘flotillas’ of manuscripts to Metastasio. One packet, received after Metastasio's death in 1782 by the composer Marianne von Martínez, elicited an enthusiastic response; she wrote: ‘I have received much applause from many musical experts for the great naturalness and fancy that exists generally [in your keyboard works] and particularly in the first sonata in F and in the second in D, with the graceful rondo well constructed and then ornamented with pleasing variations’. Farinelli and Metastasio earlier exchanged settings of the aria ‘Son pastorello amante’; on receipt of Farinelli's version, Metastasio wrote (13 June 1750): ‘Your music to my canzonet is expressive, graceful, and the legitimate offspring of one arrived at supremacy in the art’ (Heartz, 1984).

Farinelli took pains to document his achievements. In 1753 he sent a manuscript to the Habsburg court in Vienna containing six arias, four of which are attributed to him. In the two others, ‘Quell'usignolo che innamorato’ from Giacomelli's Merope (1734) and ‘Son qual nave che agitata’ written by Riccardo Broschi in 1734 for insertion in Hasse's Artaserse, Farinelli marked in red his passaggi and cadenze; this is an important source for Farinelli's improvisatory skill (Haböck, 1923). Farinelli also documented his work in Spain as an artistic director with an illustrated manuscript of 1758 that details the concerts, operas and royal embarkations, with lists of all musicians and descriptions of the sets, fireworks and other preparations, as well as anecdotes of the court and autobiographical notes (Morales Borrero, 1972).

Farinelli's will and the inventory of his household goods (both excerpted in Cappelletto, 1995) provide further autobiographical details and extensive information on Farinelli's extraordinary collections of paintings, music and musical instruments. Queen Maria Barbara bequeathed him all her music books and manuscripts and three of her harpsichords. These include her 15 volumes of Domenico Scarlatti's sonatas, bound in red morocco with the combined arms of Spain and Portugal (Kirkpatrick, 1953). Scarlatti and Farinelli, both from Naples, had met in Rome in 1724–5 and were close collaborators in Spain; the Joseph Flipart engraving of 1752 of the Spanish court after an unfinished Amigoni painting seems to depict them standing together. Farinelli's reminiscences of Scarlatti to Burney in (1770) provide ‘most of the direct information about Scarlatti that has transmitted itself to our day’ (Kirkpatrick, 1953). Farinelli's instruments included a fortepiano made in Florence (1730), a Spanish harpsichord (from the queen's collection) with ‘more tone than any of the others’ (Burney), a transposing harpsichord with a movable keyboard (particularly useful for singers), a viola d'amore by Granatino, violins by Amati and Stradivarius, and a guitar inlaid with mother of pearl.

Farinelli was a legend even during his life. Fictionalized accounts began to appear in the 1740s in England (including in 1744 a comic opera by J.F. Lampe), flourished in the 19th century (Scribe wrote three fictionalized accounts in 1816, 1839 and 1843, the last set to music by Auber) and continue to this day (in the past 30 years three new novels have appeared: L. Goldman: The Castrato, New York, 1973; M. David: Farinelli: mémoires d’un castrat, Paris, 1994; F. Messmer: Der Venusmann, Berne, 1997), often rich in imagined political and sexual intrigue (as in the 1994 film Farinelli). Despite the mythologizing, all contemporary evidence points to Farinelli as a person of noble sentiment and character. As Burney wrote:

Of almost all other great singers, we hear of their intoxication by praise and prosperity, and of their caprice, insolence, and absurdities, at some time or other; but of Farinelli, superior to them all in talents, fame, and fortune, the records of folly among the spoilt children of Apollo, furnish not one disgraceful anecdote.



Arias: Son pastorello amante, for Orfeo, London, 1736 [frag., in portrait by C. Giaquinto], ed. in Heartz, 1990; Ossequioso ringraziamento per le cortesissime Grazie ricevute nella Britannica Gloriosa Nazione (Regal Britannia … Ah! che non sono le parole (Farinelli)), 1737, GB-Lbl, ed. in Haböck, 1923; La Partenza (canzonet, Metastasio), 1746 [depicted in portrait by J. Amigoni], ed. in Heartz, 1984; 4 arias, A-Wn: Invan ti chiamo … Al dolor che vo sfogando, 1737, Io sperai del porto in seno, Vuoi per sempre abbandonarmi, 1752, Ogni dì più molesto dunque … Non sperar, non lusingarti, 1751, ed. in Haböck, 1923; Che chiedi? Che brami? (Metastasio), ‘Aria per la Maestà di Ferdinando VI Re cattolico’, 1756, I-Bc, ed. in Haböck, 1923; other works alluded to in correspondence with Metastasio, Algarotti and Martinez (see Cappelletto, 1995)



Descripción del estado actual del Real Theatro del Buen Retiro de las funciones hechas en él desde el año de 1747, hasta el presente … Dispuesto por Dn. Carlos Broschi Farinelo Criado familiar de S.s M.s Año de 1758 (MS, E-Mp, Reale Collegio di Spagna, Bologna), excerpts, discussion and colour facs. in Morales Borrero, 1972

Correspondence: to A. Farnese, Duke of Parma, 1729 (I-PAas); to S. Pepoli, 1731–49 (I-Bas), ed. in Vitali and Boris, 2000; to G.B. Martini, 1759 (A-Wn); to B. Algarotti, 1764 (Wn); to A. Gatteschi, 1769 (copy in I-Bas); to P. Metastasio, 1780 (Bu), ed. in Candiani, 1992; to P. Metastasio, 1782, and M. Martinez, 1782 (Bu), ed. in Frati, 1913



P. Ghezzi: Farinello Napolitano famoso cantore di Soprano (caricature), 1724, New York, Janos Scholtz; P. Ghezzi: Il Farinelli (caricature), I-Rvat: A.M. Zanetti: Farinello in abito da viaggio (caricature), 1725, Vgc; A.M. Zanetti: Nel Catone in Utica nel 1729 (caricature), 1729, Vgc; A.M. Zanetti: Farinello in abito da gala (caricature), 1730, Vgc; G. Massi: Ritratto di Carlo Broschi detto Farinelli (etching), Bc; V. Franceschini: Ritratto di Carlo Broschi detto Farinelli (etching), Bc; M. Ricci: 6 caricatures in the album of consul Joseph Smith, 1729, GB-WRch; J. Goupy: Cuzzoni, Farinelli, Heidegger (after a caricature by M. Ricci), c1730, WRch, etching of same, Cfm; B. Nazari: Farinelli (portrait in oil), 1734, Lcm; J. Amigoni: Farinelli incoronato da Euterpe (portrait in oil), 1735, Bucharest, National Museum of Art, engraving of same by J. Wagner, 1735, I-Bc; Anon.: I Reali di Spagna conferiscono a Farinelli l'Ordine di Calatrava (2 watercolours), ?1750, Bc; J. Amigoni: Il cantante Farinelli e i suo amici (group portrait of Metastasio, Castellini, Farinelli, Amigoni), c1750–52, Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria; J. Amigoni: Ritratto di Carlo Broschi detto Farinelli, c1750–52, Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie; J. Flipart: Fernando VI, Maria Barbara, and the Spanish Court in 1752 (engraving after a lost Amigoni with the musicians Joseph de Herrando, Farinelli and Scarlatti depicted in a balcony overlooking the scene), 1752, Madrid, Calcografia Nacional; C. Giaquinto: Testa del Farinello (red crayon drawing), 1753–5, Molfetta, collezione Spadavecchia; C. Giaquinto: Ritratto del cantante Farinello (portrait with King Ferdinand VI, Queen Maria Barbara and a self-portrait of Giaquinto), c1755, I-Bc; Anon.: watercolour of Farinelli showing a volume of music to Fernando VI and Maria Barbara, 1758, in Farinelli's Descripción del estado actual del Real Theatro del Buen Retiro





C. Crudeli: In lode del signor Carlo Broschi detto Farinello, musico celebre (Florence, 1734); ed. B. Maier, Lirici del Settecento (Milan and Naples, 1959), 197–204

F.W. Marpurg: Historisch-kritische Beyträge zur Aufnahme der Musik, i (Berlin, 1754/R)

G. Sacchi: Vita del Cavaliere Don Carlo Broschi (Venice, 1784/R)

C. Burney: Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Abate Metastasio (London, 1796)

W. Coxe: Memoirs of the Kings of Spain of the House of Bourbon, 1700–1788 (London, 1815)

C. Ricci: Burney, Casanova e Farinelli in Bologna (Milan, 1890); ed. A. Frullini (Lucca, 1995)

R. Mitjana: ‘Carlos Broschi (Farinelli)’, Discantes y contrapuntos; estudios musicales (critica e historia) (Valencia, 1905), 139–58

L. Frati: ‘Metastasio e Farinelli’, RMI, xx (1913), 1–32

E. Cotarelo y Mori: Origenes y establecimiento de la opera en España hasta 1800 (Madrid, 1917)

L. Frati: ‘Farinello a Bologna’, La cultura musicale (1922), 91–8

F. Haböck: Die Gesangskunst der Kastraten (Vienna, 1923/R)

F. Haböck: Die Kastraten und ihre Gesangskunst (Stuttgart, 1927/R)

R. Lodge, ed.: The Private Correspondence of Sir Benjamin Keene (Cambridge, 1933)

R. Bouvier: Farinelli, le chanteur des rois (Paris, 1943)

N.A. Solar Quintes: ‘Nuevas aportaciones a la biografia de Carlos Broschi (Farinelli)’, AnM, iii (1948), 187–204

R. Kirkpatrick: Domenico Scarlatti (Princeton, NJ, 1953, 4/1983)

A.G. Bragaglia: Degli ‘Evirati Cantori’: Contributo alla storia del teatro (Florence, 1959)

A. Moroni: ‘Il celebre cantante Farinelli alla Corte di Parma’, Aurea Parma, xlvi (1962), 118–27

C. Morales Borrero: Fiestas reales en el reinado de Fernando VI (Madrid, 1972)

D. Nalbach: The King's Theatre, 1704–1867 (London, 1972)

R. Freeman: ‘Farinello and his Repertory’, Studies in Renaissance and Baroque Music in Honor of Arthur Mendel, ed. R.L. Marshall (Kassel and Hackensack, NJ, 1974), 301–30

D. Heartz: ‘Farinelli and Metastasio: Rival Twins of Public Favour’, EMc, xii (1984), 358–66

R. Celletti: ‘I cantanti a Roma nel XVIII secolo’, Le muse galanti: La musica a Roma nel Settecento (Rome, 1985), 101–7

J.A. Rinnander: One God, One Farinelli: Enlightenment Elites and the Containment of the Theatrical Impulse (diss., U. of California, San Diego, 1985)

E.R. and R. Peschel: ‘Medicine and Music: the Castrati in Opera’, OQ, iv/4 (1986–7), 21–38

J. Rosselli: ‘The Castrati as a Professional Group and a Social Phenomenon, 1550–1850’, AcM, lx (1988), 143–79

P. Barbier: Histoire des Castrats (Paris, 1989; Eng. trans., 1996, as The World of the Castrati)

F. Boris and G. Cammarota: ‘La collezione di Carlo Broschi detto Farinelli’, Atti e memorie (Accademia Clementina), xxvii (Bologna, 1990), 183–227 [with list of portraits]

A. Carreira: ‘El teatro de ópera en la Península Ibérica ca. 1750–1775: Nicolà Setaro’, De musica hispana et aliis: miscelánea en honor al Prof. Dr. José López-Calo, S.J. en su 65 cumpleaños, ed. E. Casares Rodicio and C. Villanueva (Santiago de Compostela, 1990), 27–118

D. Heartz: ‘Farinelli revisited’, EMc, xviii (1990), 430–43

C. Vitali: ‘Una fonte inedita per la biografia di Farinelli: il carteggio Pepoli presso l'Archivio di Stato di Bologna’, Atti e memorie (Accademia Clementina), xxvii (Bologna, 1990), 239–50

L. Lindgren: ‘Musicians and Librettists in the Correspondence of Gio. Giacomo Zamboni (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MSS Rawlinson Letters 116–138)’, RMARC, no.24 (1991), 1–194

C. Taylor: Italian Opera going in London 1700–1745 (diss., Syracuse U., 1991)

R. Candiani: ‘Sull'epistolario di Pietro Metastasio: Note e inediti’, Giornale storico della letteratura italiana, clxix/1 (1992), 49–64

T. McGeary: ‘“Warbling Eunuchs”: Opera, Gender, and Sexuality on the London Stage, 1705–1742’, Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Theatre Research, vii (1992), 1–22

C. Vitali: ‘Da “schiavottiello” a “fedele amico” – Lettere (1731–1749) di Carlo Broschi Farinelli al conte Sicinio Pepoli’, NRMI, xxvi (1992), 1–36

G. Bimberg: ‘Farinelli und die Oper im Spanien des 18. Jahrhunderts’, Die Entwicklung der Ouvertüren-Suite im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert: Blankenburg, Harz, 1993, 160–69

W.C. Holmes: Opera Observed: Views of a Florentine Impresario in the Early Eighteenth Century (Chicago, 1993)

P. Barbier: Farinelli: le castrat des lumières (Paris, 1994)

S. Mamy: Les grands castrats napolitains à Venise au XVIIIe siècle (Liège, 1994)

S. Cappelletto: La voce perduta: vita di Farinelli evirato cantore (Turin, 1995)

X. Cervantes: ‘The Universal entertainment of the Polite Part of the World’: l'opera italien et le public anglais, 1705–45 (diss., U. of Toulouse, 1995)

K. Bergeron: ‘The Castrato as History’, COJ, viii (1996), 167–84 [on the film Farinelli]

E.T. Harris: ‘Twentieth-Century Farinelli’, MQ, lxxxi (1997), 180–89 [on the film Farinelli]

C. Vitali: ‘Recensioni’, Il saggiatore musicale, iv (1997), 383–97

F. Boris: ‘Il Farinello: la villa perduta’, Il Carrobbio, xxiv (1998), 157–72

B.B. Fabbri and M. Armellini: Corrado Giaquinto: ritratto di Carlo Broschi detto Farinelli (Ferrara, 1998)

T. McGeary: ‘Farinelli in Madrid: Opera, Politics, and the War of Jenkins’ Ear’, MQ, lxxxii (1998), 383–421

M. Torrione, ed.: Crónica festiva de dos reinados en la ‘Gaceta de Madrid’ 1700–1759 (Paris, 1998)

L. Verdi: ‘La tomba del Farinelli alla Certosa di Bologna’, Il Carrobbio, xxiv (1998), 173–84

C. Vitali and F. Boris, ed.: Carlo Broschi Farinelli: Senza sentimento oscuro (Palermo, 2000)

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