Carlo Farinelli

Carlo Broschi Farinelli was born January 24, 1705 at Naples and died July 15, 1782 at seventy eight years old.

Some say that Carlo Farinelli derived his sobriquet from the occupation of his father who was a miller or a seller of flour. Others say he was named after three brothers Farina. It is however more probably that he simply took the name of his uncle Farinelli, the composer.

Sacchi declares that he saw in Farinelli’s possession the letters of nobility which he was required to produce when admitted, by the favor of the Kind of Spain, into the orders of Calatrava and St. Iago.

It seems barely credible that noble parents would have destined their son to the musical stage, or consented to the peculiar preparation necessary to make him a soprano. But, this is explained by an old story about an accident that happened to Carlo while riding which rendered necessary the operation by which he retained his treble.

He soon left the care his father, who taught him the rudiments, to enter the school of Porpora, of whom he was the first and most distinguished pupil.

There was an falsehood in some statements that Farinelli made his debut at Naples in 1720 at the age of fifteen in Metastasio’s ‘Angelica e Medoro’ but Metastasio did not leave Rome until 1721 and ‘Angelicae Medoro’ was not written before 1722.

In 1722 Farinelli was already famous in southern Italy under the name of il ragazzo (the boy), accompanied Porpora to Rome, and made his first appearance there in ‘Eumene,’ composed by his master for the Teatro Aliberti.

There was a German trumpet player at that time in the capital, who excited the admiration of the Romans by his marvelous powers. For this artist Porpora wrote an obbligato part to a song, in which his pupil vied with the instrument in holding and swelling a note of extraordinary length, purity, and volume. Although the virtuoso performed this in a wonderful manner, Farinelli excelled him in the duration, brilliance, and gradual crescendo and diminuendo of the note, while he carried the enthusiasm of the audience to the highest pitch by the novelty and spontaneity of the shakes and difficult variations which he introduced into the air.

Having remained under the instruction of his master until 1724, Farinelli made his first journey to Vienna that year. A year later he sang for the first time at Venice in Albinoni’s ‘Didone abbandonata,’ the libretto by Metastasio and subsequently returned to Naples where he achieved a triumph in the Dramatic Serenade by Hasse, in which he sang with the celebrated cantatrice, Tesi.

In 1726 he appeared in Fr. Ciampi’s ‘Ciro’ at Milan and then made his second visit to Rome.

In 1727 he went to Bologna, where he was to meet the famous Bernacchi, the ‘King of Singers’ for the first time. Meeting this rival in a grand duo, Farinelli poured forth all the beauties of his voice and style without reserve, and executed a number of most difficult passages, which were rewarded with tumultuous applause.

Bernacchi replied in the same air, repeating every trill, roulade, or cadenza which had been sung by Farinelli.

The latter, owning his defeat, entreated his conqueror to give him some instruction, which Bernacchi consented to bestow.

After a second visit to Vienna in 1728, Farinelli went several times to Venic, Rome, Naples, Piacenza, and Parma, meeting and vanquishing such formidable rivals as Nicolini, Faustina, and Cuzzoni, and being everywhere loaded with riches and honors.

In 1731 he visited Vienna for the third time. It was at this point that he modified his style, from one of mere brilliance and bravura to one of pathos and simplicity. This change is said to have been suggested by the Emperor Charles VI. ‘You have,’ he said, ‘hitherto excited only astonishment and admiration, but you have never touched the heart; it would be easy to you to create emotion, if you would but be more simple and more expressive!’ Farinelli adopted this counsel and became the most pathetic as he was still the most brilliant of singers.

Returning once more to Italy, he revisited Venice, Rome, Ferrara, Lucca, and Turin.

In 1734 he made his first journey to England. Here he arrived at the moment when the opposition to Handel, supported by the nobles, had establish a rival Opera, with Porpora for composer, and Senesino, who had quarreled with Handel, for principal singer. The enterprise did not succeed and ended up with 19,000 pounds debt. At this juncture Porpora naturally thought of his student and Farinelli saved the house.

He made his first appearance at the Theater, Lincoln’s Inn, in ‘Artaserse,’ the music of which was chiefly by Riccardo Broschi, his brother, and Hasse. The most favorite aires were

  • ‘Pallido il sole,’ set by Hasse and sung by Senesino
  • ‘Per questo dolce amplesso,’ by Hasse sung by Farinelli
  • ‘Son qual nave,’ by Broschi sung by Farinelli

In the last, composed specially for him, the first note was taken with such delicacy, swelled by minute degrees to such an amazing volume, and afterwards diminished in the same manner to a mere point, that is was applauded for a full five minutes.

After this, he set off with such brilliance and rapidity of execution that it was difficult for the violins of those days to accompany him.

He also sang in ‘Onorio,’ ‘Polifemo,’ and other operas by Porpora.

In his first performance at Court he was accompanied by the Princess Royal, who insisted on his singing two of Handel’s songs at sight, printed in a different clef, and composed in a different style, from any to which he had ever been accustomed.

He also confirmed the truth of the story, that Senesino and himself meeting for the first time on the same stage, ‘Senesino had the part of a furious tyrant to represent, and Farinelli that of an unfortunate hero in chains; but, in the course of the first song, he so softened the obdurate heart of the enraged tyrant that Senesino, forgetting his stage character, ran to Farinelli and embraced him in his arms.

The Prince of Wales gave Frainelli a ‘fine wrought gold snuff box, richly set with diamonds and rubies, in which was enclosed a pair of diamond knee buckles, and also a purse of one hundred guineas.’

Carlo Farinelli’s salary was only 1500 pounds, yet during the three years 1734, 1735, and 1736, which he spent in London, his income was not less than 5000 pounds per annum.

On his return to Italy he built a very superb mansion.

Towards the end of 1736, Farinelli set out for Spain, staying a few months in France on the way; where, in spite of ignorance and prejudice against foreign singers which then distinguished the French, he achieved a great success.

Louis XV heard him in the Queen’s apartments, and applauded him to an extent which astonished the Court. The King gave him his portrait set in diamonds, and 500 luis d’or.

Though Farinelli intended only a short visit to Spain, he stayed there nearly 25 years.

He arrived in Madrid, as he had done in London at a critical moment. Philip V., a prey to melancholy depression, neglected the affairs of the State, and refused even to preside at the Council. The Queen, hearing of the arrival of Farinelli, determined to try the effect of his voice upon the King.

The Queen arranged a concert in the next room to that which the King occupied, and invited the singer to perform there a few tender and pathetic airs. The success of the plan was instantaneous and complete; Philip was first struck, then moved, and finally overcome with pleasure. He sent for Farinelli, thanked him with effusion, and bade him to name his reward.

Farinelli, duly prepared, answered that his best reward would be to see the monarch return to the society of his Court and to the cares of the State. Philip consented, allowed himself to be shaved for the first time for many weeks, and owed his cure to the powers of the great singer.

The Queen succeeded in persuading Farinelli to remain at a salary of 50,000 francs and Farinelli thus separated himself from the world of art forever.

During that ten years, until the death of Philip V., he sang four songs to the King every night without change of any kind. Two of these were the ‘Pallido il sole’ and ‘Per questo dolce amplesso’ of Hasse; and the third, a minuet on which he improvised variations.

It is not true that Farineli was appointed Prime Minister by Philip but under Ferdinand VI., the successor of Philip, he enjoyed the position of first favorite, superior to that of any prime minister. This king was subject to the same infirmity as his father, and was similarly cured by Farinelli, as Saul was by David.

Farinelli’s reward this time was the cross of Calatrava (1750), one of the highest orders in Spain. From this moment his power was unbounded, and exceeded that every obtained by any singer. Seeing the effect produced on the King by music, he easily persuaded him to establish an Italian opera at Buen-retiro, to which he invited some of the first artists of Italy. Farinelli was appointed manager. He was also employed frequently in political affairs, was consulted constantly by the minister La Ensehada, and was especially considered as the agent of the ministers of those European Courts which were opposed to the family treaty proposed by France.

In all his prosperity Farinelli ever showed the greatest prudence, modesty, and moderation; he made no enemies. He was a generous as he was prudent. A story is told of a tailor who brought him a handsome gala-costume, and refused any payment, but humbly begged to hear one song from him. After trying in vain to change his resolution, Farinelli good humoredly complied, and sang to the delighted tailor, not one, but several songs. He then insisted on paying the man nearly double the value of the clothes.

While still at Madrid he heard of the death of his former rival, teacher, and friend, Bernacchi. In a letter dated April 13, 1756, he speaks with deep regret of the loss of one ‘for whom he had always felt esteem and affection,’ and condoles with his correspondent, Padre Martini.

Shortly after the ascent of Charles III. to the throne (1759), Farinelli received orders to leave the kingdom, owing probably to Charles’s intention to sign the family pact with France and Naples, to which the singer had always been opposed.

On his return to Italy, Farinelli found none of his old friends. Some had died and some had moved out of the country.