Farinelli (film)


Theatrical release poster
Directed by Gérard Corbiau
Produced by Véra Belmont
Written by Marcel Beaulieu
Andrée Corbiau
Gérard Corbiau
Starring Stefano Dionisi
Enrico Lo Verso
Elsa Zylberstein
Music by Johann Adolf Hasse (composer: additional music)
Nicola Porpora (composer: additional music)
Ewa Malas-Godlewska (singer)
Derek Lee Ragin (singer)
Cinematography Walther van den Ende
Edited by Joëlle Hache
Stéphan Films
Italian International Film
Alinea Films
Union Generale Cinematographique
France 2 Cinéma
Studio Image
Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics (Region 1 DVD)
Release dates
  • 7 December 1994 (1994-12-07) (France)
  • 16 March 1995 (1995-03-16) (Italy)
Running time
111 minutes
Country Italy
Language Italian
Budget $8.9 million
Box office $11.5 million[1]

Farinelli is a 1994 internationally co-produced biographical drama film directed by Gérard Corbiau and starring Stefano Dionisi, Enrico Lo Verso, Elsa Zylberstein and Jeroen Krabbé. It centers on the life and career of the 18th-century Italian opera singer Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli, considered the greatest castrato singer of all time; as well as his relationship with his brother, composer Riccardo Broschi.


The prologue begins with Carlo Broschi, the famous castrato "Farinelli", reminiscing about his childhood as a singer in the church choir. A newly-castrated boy runs in and warns Carlo to stop singing, warning that his voice will result in castration, before leaping to his death. Carlo is so traumatised by this that he is then unwilling to sing when told to by his voice teacher, Nicola Porpora later during his voice lessons. He runs off crying and asking why this the castrato had to die. Carlo's father runs after him, and after comforting him, makes him promise that he will never refuse his voice to his brother Riccardo ever again.

The film opens in Madrid, Spain, at the palace of King Philip V. Riccardo Broschi (Enrico Lo Verso) demands to see his younger brother, the Italian castrato Carlo Broschi (Stefano Dionisi)—better known by his nickname, "Farinelli". Carlo refuses.

The rest of the film is told in flashback. Eighteen years earlier, Carlo and Riccardo watched as an itinerant trumpet player humiliated a young castrato. Angered, Carlo humiliates the trumpeter in turn. The crowd gives Carlo the nickname "Farinelli". When Carlo attempts to have sex with a local woman, Riccardo interrupts, pushing Carlo aside and making love to the girl himself. Meanwhile, George Frideric Handel (Jeroen Krabbé) has heard Farinelli sing from his carriage. He asks Carlo to come to England and perform, but Riccardo demands to be included. Handel sneers at Riccardo as a hack, and humiliates Carlo as a freak, leaving Carlo despondent and Riccardo angry.

Several years pass, and Carlo is now famous. He even impresses the Comtesse Mauer (Marianne Basler), a beautiful and rich young woman more interested in books than opera. The brothers maintain their sexual accommodation: Carlo seduces the comtesse, but Riccardo consummates the sex act. Carlo receives a letter from Handel, who says he intends to hear Carlo sing in Dresden. Before arriving, Carlo suddenly falls ill with a fever. While he is ill, Riccardo tells him the story Carlo has always believed about how he became a castrato-- that he had been injured in a fall from a horse, making the castration surgery necessary to save his life. In Dresden, Handel meets with Carlo just before the curtain rises, and tells him the King of England wants him to sing. Unnerved by Handel's offer, Carlo faints on stage. A self-satisfied Handel leaves, leaving Carlo waiting for him in vain.

Carlo is soon thereafter contacted by the young Alexandra Hunter (Elsa Zylberstein), and asked to come to London. Handel's Covent Garden opera house is bankrupting the nearby Nobles Theatre, which is run by Carlo's old vocal teacher, Nicola Porpora (Omero Antonutti). Carlo and Riccardo journey to London. Carlo meets Margareth Hunter (Caroline Cellier), Alexandra's mother, and Benedict (Renaud du Peloux de Saint Romain), Alexandra's crippled younger brother. Carlo begins to fall in love with Alexandra, and dotes on Benedict. Carlo desperately wishes to impress Handel, and Alexandra steals some of Handel's music for Carlo to perform. Carlo realizes that Riccardo's music is vastly inferior to Handel's, and the relationship between the two brothers deteriorates. Searching the Nobles Theatre for his stolen music, Handel hears Riccardo composing. He confronts Riccardo, insinuating that the composer would be better off without "Farinelli". Beguiled by Handel, Riccardo reveals (in a flashback-within-a-flashback) that Carlo was a superb singer as a child. Carlo witnessed a young castrato leap to his death, however, and was deeply traumatized by this. To preserve Carlo's voice before it changed in puberty, Riccardo drugged Carlo, who was seriously ill at the time, and castrated him illegally.

That evening, Handel meets with Farinelli backstage. He reveals that he knows Carlo stole his music, and that he knows the secret of Carlo's castration. Instead of being overcome by doubt, Carlo sings Handel's music (the aria Lascia ch'io pianga [2]) so beautifully that Handel faints.

The flashback ends. The audience learns that Carlo fled from Riccardo with Alexandra, and has not sung in public since his triumph at the Nobles Theatre three years earlier. Carlo has never forgiven Riccardo for castrating him, but Alexandra urges Carlo to do so. Carlo does not do so, but does permit Riccardo to sleep in the horse stables. Carlo sings for King Philip during a solar eclipse. Riccardo realizes his obsession with Carlo has been driven by his own guilt, and decides to ends his pursuit of "Farinelli". Overwhelmed by the pain of his guilt and the broken relationship with his brother, Riccardo slashes his wrist in a suicide attempt as he listens to Carlo sing during the solar eclipse. After falling unconscious from blood loss, he is brought to the house Carlo and Alexandra share, where he recovers. Carlo, realizing his has "eclipsed" his brother, forgives Riccardo for castrating him. Together, the brothers make love to Alexandra.

Some months pass. Alexandra is now pregnant with Riccardo's child, which Carlo and Alexandra treat as their own. The film ends as Riccardo leaves Madrid to seek his fortune as a composer, taking comfort in the fact that in leaving Carlo with a child to father, he has given his brother back his "share of humanity."


Actor Role
Stefano Dionisi Carlo Maria Broschi
Enrico Lo Verso Riccardo Broschi
Elsa Zylberstein Alexandra
Jeroen Krabbé George Frideric Handel
Caroline Cellier Margaret Hunter
Renaud du Peloux de Saint Romain Benedict
Omero Antonutti Nicola Porpora
Marianne Basler Comtesse Mauer
Pier Paolo Capponi Broschi
Graham Valentine Prince de Galles
Jacques Boudet Philip V
Delphine Zentout Young admirer


Although Dionisi provided the speaking voice (originally in French), Farinelli's singing voice was provided by the Polish soprano, Ewa Malas-Godlewska and a countertenor, Derek Lee Ragin, who were recorded separately then digitally merged to recreate the sound of a castrato. Its musical director was the French harpsichordist and conductor Christophe Rousset. The musical recording was made at the concert hall, the Arsenal in Metz, with the orchestra Les Talens Lyriques.

The movie is not dubbed into English; it is spoken in French and Italian, with subtitles. This matches fairly well the actual situation at the time, when French was the lingua franca of Europe, much as English is throughout the world today, and most letters, commentaries, official documents and books were written in that language, even well beyond the borders of France. In many scenes, Riccardo Broschi speaks to his brother in Italian, while Carlo replies in French; also, the English court visiting the Covent Garden Theatre speaks in French to the actors and composers, and that also is fairly acceptable from an historical standpoint.

Controversy over historical depictions

The plot is completely fictional. Although based on real-life events, the film took dramatic license with the basic facts of Farinelli's life. The relationship between the Broschi brothers (including their sexual exploits), the rivalry with Handel, and Farinelli "rock star" fame are spurious. Riccardo Broschi had much less importance in Farinelli's career than is depicted in the film, while Porpora's influence (and that of other composers of the Neapolitan School) is de-emphasized. The movie also offers a different explanation for how Carlo came to take the stage name Farinelli than has been historically ascertained.

Although settings, scenery, costumes and props are historically accurate, the producers took many liberties with the physical appearances of the characters. According to some critics, the actors did not look like the Broschi brothers, and the actors were given modern hairstyles and retained modern mannerisms. Nicola Porpora's disheveled and scruffy appearance is historically inaccurate, and more appropriate for a commoner of the era than a wealthy and distinguished composer. Additionally, few actors are depicted wearing wigs, which was practically mandatory for the main characters (given their social status).


Farinelli was released in 1994 and won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in 1995. It was also nominated for an Academy Award in the same category.[3]

DVD release

The film was given an "R" rating by the MPAA due to depictions of adult themes and sexuality. The movie is available on a Region 1 DVD with a spoken track in French and Italian with a little English, and English and Spanish subtitles. A director's cut blu-ray edition was released in France, Italy, and South Korea, but all of them lack English subtitles. The Korean version also includes a DVD-Audio 2.0 disc.

See also


  1. http://www.jpbox-office.com/fichfilm.php?id=4269
  2. Haynes, Bruce, The End of Early Music, Oxford University Press US, 2007, p. 25. ISBN 0-19-518987-6
  3. "The 67th Academy Awards (1995) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 26 September 2015.

External links

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