Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Movie Review: Farinelli

Ah the life of a rock star: the fame, life on the road, the women, and no balls?  Alarming perhaps; but it seems to be the revolving theme of Farinelli (1994), the story of the famous castrato*, known as the best soprano in history. 

The movie opens dramatically with a nude choir boy warning the future Farinelli to not "let them do this to you" and then leaping to his death in church.  Young Farinelli (Stefano Dionisi) is understandably traumatized and begs his father not to be castrated.  Fast forward and adult Farinelli is  pleasing crowds with his soprano voice, instantly making you wonder, what happened in-between?  Did he change his mind, why the change of heart?  Farinelli's singing talents win him fame across Europe so he is constantly on the road performing in ensembles that would make Prince Poppycock swoon.  Always at his side is Farinelli's elder brother, Riccardo (Enrico Lo Verso), a lackluster composer riding on the coattails of his brother's success.  The two brothers share everything, including the endless stream of groupies seeking to be Farinelli's bedfellows.  But it isn't long before Farinelli tires of his brother's manipulation and that's when things get extremely complicated.

Although slow in a couple of sceanes, I really enjoyed Farinelli.  I was fascinated by the relationship the Broschi brothers had with one another and happy that the subtle love story didn't take over the film.  As I mentioned before, the filmmakers wouldn't allow you to forget what Farinelli was lacking although Farinelli himself seemed to be at peace with the idea, a far cry from when he begged his father not to be castrated in the beginning of the film.  Despite that ever so slight flaw, Farinelli was a great movie: a great story, talented actors, and wonderful set design.  I would recommend this movie to both 18th century enthusiasts and music lovers.  Although those who are repelled by subtitles should be aware that this is a French film so there is a certain amount of reading required.  Perhaps my favorite aspect of the movie, though, was the ending which was both satisfying and sweet.

*Castrati were male soprano singers who were castrated before they hit puberty in order to preserve their sweet voices


  1. I've been meaning to watch this movie for some time, actually, but I think you've inspired me to actually go seek it out

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  3. Ah, Farinelli!

    Apparently one scene of it was shot in the lovely opera house in my home town (this one):

    We had a lot of events there with my group afterwards, but we weren't involved in the movie.

    I've never seen it, so thanks for that detailed review. I really want to see it now.

  4. How very cool!

    Yes, you should both check it out. I was able to rent it on Netflix although I was unlucky to get a very beat up DVD so watching was a bit challenging!

  5. I remember this movie. It was so sad that they did that to children all for money. And yes, the ending was certainly bittersweet but I like how Farinelli claimed his manhood by letting it go, if that makes sense.

    Oh never mind, I'm rambling. But it was a touching film for sure.

  6. I remember wondering how they were going to wrap the film up and I think "touching" is a very appropriate word for it. No pun intended, of course.

  7. Ah, I'd forgotten about that movie, and when I saw the title of this post, I thought, Wait, have I read about that person?! The image brought it back ;) Only saw a few scenes, perhaps half of the film, for a history class ("Men and Gender in Early Modern Europe"). I didn't see the ending, so I just remember being very disturbed by it. Also disturbing, but pretty cool is the 1904 recording of the "last castrato" (which is online here: http://www.archive.org/details/AlessandroMoreschi). Seeing and hearing the "real thing" whether in a well-made movie or in a historic recording seems to bring the past to life in a way that simply reading about it can't do!

  8. I once heard a rare recording of one of the last castratti. It was like a cat on heat...

    So disappointing...

    [btw: were any of those links I sent of any interest?]

  9. I have a guilty confession: they're still in my inbox! I let my inbox get the better of me again! But you always send me wonderful things so they haven't been forgotten. Many apologies!

  10. Not to worry, Darling! I was just checking if you got them.

    Thanks to your post I finally rented Farinelli and watch it. I was truly amazed - not so much with the almost incestuous brotherly relation - but with his relation with Mr. Handel.

    It was surprised with Händel's opinion about the castratti: that they were unnatural, artificial and an elaborate figure of virtuosity.

    I am not sure if what Händel says in the film was what he really thought about them or if it was just artistic licence.

    Some years ago I met an old lady that was one of Händel's family descendants. Of course, not in a direct line since the composer never married nor he had sons (as far as we know). The curious thing is that the lady had a hermaphrodite son. He looked like a man but but he had a very high pitched voice; and he used to sing those areas that were destined to the castratti...

    What would Handël think about that?