Farinelli (1705 –1782) was the stage name of Carlo Maria Broschi, celebrated Italian castrato singer of the 18th century and one of the greatest singers in the history of opera.
Born into a well-to-do family of musicians, his illegal operation was the result of a decision made by his older brother (a conservatory student in Naples) after the death of their father. Carlo, who had shown promise as a boy singer, progressed quickly in his vocal studies, making a performance debut at 15 and adopting the stage name “Farinelli.”
Farinelli quickly became famous throughout Italy. He had the tessitura of a soprano with an extensive low range, and was adept at ornamentation and passagework
He visited Vienna several times, eventually performing for the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI. He spent several years in London, where he performed with the opera company that stood in rivalry to Handel’s company. In 1737 he visited Paris (performing for Louis XV) on his way to Spain, where he was named chamber musician to King Phillip V, and never again sang in public. His influence at the court grew even greater with the accession of Ferdinand VI; Farinelli would perform duets with the Queen, while the King provided accompaniment on harpsichord. (This queen’s harpsichord instructor was Domenico Scarlatti.) Farinelli was knighted by the king in 1750.
In 1759, Ferdinand was succeeded by Charles III, who was not a fan. Farinelli left Spain for retirement (on a generous pension) in Bologna in 1761, where he lived until his death in 1782. In 1994, he was the subject of the French film “Farinelli”, which took considerable license with his true story.