From Academic Kids

Farinelli (January 24, 1705-July 15, 1782), whose real name was Carlo Broschi, was one of the most famous Italian soprano castrato singers of the 18th century.

He was born at Naples. He was castrated as a boy for medical reasons because of an accident he had with a horse that kicked him on the genitals. He gave himself the stage name Farinelli, after an Italian magistrate.


He soon acquired, under the instruction of Nicola Porpora, a voice of marvellous beauty, and became famous throughout southern Italy as il ragazzo (the boy). At the 1720 performance of Porpora's Angelica e Medoro, Farinelli sang in a public venue for the first time. In 1722 he made his first appearance at Rome in his master's Eumene, creating the greatest enthusiasm by surpassing a popular German trumpet player, for whom Porpora had written an obbligato to one of the boy's songs, in holding and swelling a note of prodigious length, purity and power, and in the variations, roulades and trills which he introduced into the air. In operas he often sang the leading woman role, e.g., Adelaide in Porpora's Adelaide.

In 1724 Farinelli appeared at Vienna, and at Venice in the following year, returning to Naples shortly afterwards. He sang at Milan in 1726, where Johann Joachim Quantz heard him and wrote of his singing:

"Farinelli had a penetrating, full, rich, bright and well-modulated soprano voice, with a range at that time from the A below middle C to the D three octaves above middle C. ... His intonation was pure, his trill beautiful, his breath control extraordinary and his throat very agile, so that he performed the widest intervals quickly and with the greatest ease and certainty. Passage work and all kinds of melismas were of no difficulty to him. In the invention of free ornamentation in adagio he was very fertile."

Farinelli sang at Bologna in 1727. It was there that he first met and acknowledged himself vanquished by the singer Antonio Bernacchi five years his senior, to whose instruction he was much indebted. With ever-increasing success and fame Farinelli appeared in nearly all the great cities of Italy; and returned a third time to Vienna in 1731.

He now modified his style, it is said on the advice of Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, from mere bravura of the Porpora school to one of pathos and simplicity. He visited London in 1734, arriving in time to lend his powerful support to the faction which in opposition to Handel had set up a rival opera with Porpora as composer and Senesino as principal singer. Not even Farinelli's aid could make the undertaking successful.

His first appearance at the Lincoln's Inn Fields theatre was in Artaserse, much of the music of which was by his brother, Riccardo Broschi. His success was instantaneous. Frederick, Prince of Wales and the court loaded him with favours and presents. Having spent three years in England, Farinelli set out for Spain, staying a few months on the way in France, where he sang before Louis XV. In Spain, where he had only meant to stay a few months, he ended by passing nearly twenty-five years. His voice, employed by the queen to cure King Philip V of his melancholy madness, acquired for him an influence with Philip which eventually gave him the power, if not the name, of prime minister. He was wise and modest enough to use it discreetly.

For ten years, night after night, he had to sing to the king the same songs. Shortly after the ascension of King Ferdinand VI Farinelli was appointed director of theaters in Madrid and Aranjuez, and most of the operas he put on had texts by Pietro Metastasio. He was knighted in 1750 and decorated with the cross of Calatrava. He utilized his power at court by persuading Ferdinand to establish an Italian opera. He also collaborated with Domenico Scarlatti, a fellow Neapolitan living in Spain. The musicologist Ralph Kirkpatrick acknowledges Farinelli's correspondence as providing "most of the direct information about Scarlatti that has transmitted itself to our day." After the accession of Charles III Farinelli retired with the fortune he had amassed to Bologna, where he spent the remainder of his days with Metastasio, dying a few months after him. His estate included gifts from royalty and valuable musical instruments, such as a Stradivarius violin.

Farinelli not only sang, but he also played keyboard instruments and the viola d'amore, and even occasionally composed, writing the text and music of a farewell to London aria, and an aria for Ferdinand VI, as well as keyboard sonatas.

In 1994 a movie, Farinelli Il Castrato was made about Farinelli's life, though of course, it takes some dramatic license with the history. For example, Farinelli's brother is given much importance and Porpora is de-emphasized, while Handel is made out to be a villain. Also, the movie offers a different explanation for how Carlo Broschi came to take the stage name Farinelli. The modern movie is, however, not the first dramatic work to take Farinelli's life as its source material. The composer Daniel Auber wrote an opera with a script by Eugène Scribe.

This entry was originally based on the entry in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.


  • 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
  • The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadiede:Farinelli



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