Farinelli Poster

Farinelli (1994)

Biography | Music 
Rayting:   6.9/10 6385 votes
Country: France | Italy
Language: English

Farinelli, is the artistic name of Carlo Broschi, a young singer in Handel's time. He was castrated in his childhood in order to preserve his voice. During his life he becomes to be a very ...

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User Reviews

alsihler 23 June 2003

Farinelli is not nearly as awful as I feared it would be. It's similar in many ways to Amadeus. Like Amadeus, it has glorious music beautifully performed. Like Amadeus, it tells a good (if melodramatic) story. Like Amadeus, it has a marvelous period feel. Like Amadeus, the characters in this story have the names and occupations of real people, but their portrayal on the screen is not even caricature: a caricature necessarily starts with something recognizeable.

Farinelli was famous in history not merely for a phenomenal voice and outstanding musicianship and musical connoisseurship, but for poise, dignity, and perfect-pitch judgement of human character; he is portrayed throughout as a hysteric. Handel is shown as a pompous, bullying nervous wreck verging on the psychotic, quite at variance with all reliable accounts of his humor, sturdiness, practicality, and reputation for scrupulous probity toward his musicians and singers.

Handel could not have said, to Farinelli, during the latter's first sensational season with the Opera of the Nobility, that he would never write another opera, and not just because Handel was no faux-Freudian opera queen: Lady History inconveniently discloses that after that 1733-34 season Handel composed and presented Ariodante, Alcina, Atalanta, Giustino, Arminio, Berenice, Faramondo, Serse, and Imeneo; his last opera, Deidamia, went unperformed, but several in that list were significant successes, and some were revived more than once.

The two rival opera companies in London went down the drain more or less simultaneously, notwithstanding the enormous draw of Farinelli for the Nobility company, and notwithstanding the high quality of the music of its principal composers (Porpora, Hasse, undervalued today) and the stupendous quality of Handel's music (also undervalued); rather, the people with the money to afford the (by our standards) enormous ticket prices had simply lost interest.

One commentator here is skeptical about many "period" details. And rightly: for starters, that's not the way boys were castrated, but you don't need to know the truth. Relax, just enjoy the music and the costumes and the actors chewing the scenery.

peter07 25 June 2002

I know I'm being sort of anal by mentioning this, but this movie, as beautiful and enchanting as it is, has many inaccuracies.

Farinelli, in addition to his handsome features and heavenly voice, was also a very humble person and hardly displayed the raucous behavior of a "rock star" as depicted in the film.

Second, the singer was known as disinterested in sex, thus I have no idea why the sex scenes in the film were included. True, there WERE castrati who did engage in pleasures of the flesh, but Farinelli was NOT one of them, or at least there are no historical records suggesting so.

All that aside, this movie was a lavishly done production and a must-see!

Angeneer 13 June 2001

I think some long periods of Farinelli's life are left out. The film is too focused on his love life, making it definitely a female movie. There were a lot of other aspects to explore. We also get to see the obligatory scenes of audiences being mesmerized by opera, as if they were some island natives and not opera house regulars. Nevertheless, being a high budget movie, it has great costumes and beautiful scenery. Most of all you get the chance to explore the divine music of Haendel.

harry-76 1 June 2001

Famed 18th century (castrato) soprano Ferinelli invites a serious biographical study. This 17-18th c. period was, until recent times, skirted over by musicologists and music history teachers.

The result of this omission has been an unsuspecting awareness of the extent to which male performers dominated all forms of period theater, including opera, oratorio, cantata, ballet, and stage plays. "Ferinneli" had an opportunity to provide substantive information in filling this void.

Unfortunately, what resulted is just another Ken Russell-type production (a la "The Music Lovers," "Lisztomania," "Mahler," etc.). In fact, were Andre Corbiau's name not credited as director of "Ferinelli," one would swear this was a Russell composer biopic.

All Russell trademarks are there: excessive closeups of actors in dramatic distress, swirling activity to cover up script weaknesses, and disjointed highlights instead of sequence continuity.

Director-coscriptor Corbiau has Stefano Dionisi as Ferinneli forever falling down and collapsing both on and offstage for no apparent reason, and using the old device of having him hesitate to sing on cue before a full house to superficially create suspense and anxiety.

In fact, Corbiau, like Russell, is more intent on affecting than expressing: manipulating the viewer than sincerely sharing. As a result, one is held a arm's length of emotional participation throughout.

While no contemporary production can create a truly authentic period setting, there are questions which arise here: George Frederick Handel, one of the world's most prolific and fine composers, is reduced to that of a mere rival theatrical impressario; and Farinelli is forever acting oddly--claiming vocal loss, serious indisposition, and tripping out on opium. Indeed, at times this seems more like a baroque version of sex-drugs-and-rock-'n'roll.

On the brighter side, the staging of the operatic scenes are wonderfully on-target, having been obviously well-researched and meticulously designed. The combination real-and-computer-created vocal work is fascinating in its etherial timbre and in its negotiation of Handelean melismas, embellishments and assorted ornamentation. Likewise, the baroque pit orchestra and period opera house decor is strikingly detailed.

What a pity "Farinelli" fails in its main opportunity: to convey a simple, heart-felt story of one of history's most celebrated singers.

srpremontre 1 April 2005

This remarkable film remains one of my favourites. The story line at first left me wondering why the director had chosen to make the film in the first place. Luscious scenery, beautiful costumes, sets, extravagant, but historically accurate stagings for the opera scenes, great language and dialogue - but why make a film about an all but forgotten singer from almost three centuries ago? Nothing in the film seemed to give a clue as to why anyone would go to all the bother of reconstructing a marvelous voice so painstakingly, and choose one of the great performers of our time to oversee the performances of the music. Repeated viewings did not seem to throw any light on the vexing question that, despite all the lushness and splendour I was still missing some point to the whole exercise. It was only on the third or fourth viewing that I noticed in the opening credits a small remark - in French - "to the memory of my daughter . . "name"". Suddenly the whole thing made sense. This marvelous and true story of the castrato is, perhaps, the directors attempt to describe his impotence in the face of the loss of his beloved child. Viewed in this light the ending of the film and the sequences in London between Farinelli and Benedict finally begin to have a poignancy and a sadness that is truly stunningly and sensitively achieved whilst adding to the story line. I love this film and cannot possibly recommend it enough. Any lover of Early Music should revel in it, but it has been lifted out of the ordinary and into the universal and sublime by that one small realization. Superlatives cannot do it justice.

EUyeshima 4 March 2006

Something seems strangely amiss with what could have been a fascinating historical glimpse into the world of the castrati (castrated male opera singers) in 18th-century Europe. This 1994 Belgian film is an opulent production full of stunning costumes and set decorations, but director Gerard Corbiau is far more focused on the co-dependency between two real-life brothers, Carlo Broschi, the swoon-worthy castrato known to the world as Farinelli, and his marginally talented composer brother Riccardo. Although there are glimpses of the castration that occurred when Carlo was ten, the narrative deals very little with the psychological anguish of this act, instead showing extravagantly vainglorious scenes of Farinelli's impact on audiences at the time. It's as if the story structure of the Baroque operas written at that time took over the sensibility of the screenplay and trivialized the human complexities into exaggerated melodrama.

Despite a valiant effort by Stefano Dionisi in the title role, Farinelli is portrayed as a moody, self-centered egotist rather than a misunderstood artist. Compounding the problem is the fact that his masculine speaking voice is at odds with his ethereal singing voice (obviously a creative decision so as not to alienate the general audience from the character's plight). Moreover, the computerized melding of countertenor Derek Lee Ragin and soprano Ewa Mallas Godlewska into Farinelli's voice simply does not sync up well with Dionisi's lip and throat movements. In other words, you simply don't believe it's Dionisi's voice coming out of him. When the film finally takes flight in the last third of the film, it's because the focus has shifted to the competitive, intense relationship between Farinelli and the great composer of the age, Handel. Jeroen Krabbe - familiar to American audiences for his nasty turn as Barbra Streisand's condescending husband in "The Prince of Tides" - plays Handel with such passionate fury that I wish the film was more about his character. This sequence climaxes with the film's musical highlight, a trio of wonderful, truly classic arias from Handel's "Rinaldo".

Unfortunately, the remaining musical performances are not nearly as absorbing and rather repetitive. The film again flails toward the end when we are given a rather silly scene involving a solar eclipse and gratuitous nudity with a ménage a trois among Farinelli, Riccardo and Alexandra, the woman who is - quite literally - between them. The remaining performances are fine with Enrico LoVerso conveying his Salieri-like inferiority with appropriate fervor, Elsa Zylberstein beguiling as Alexandra and Caroline Cellier doing a fine Jeanne Moreau impersonation as the jaded Margareth Hunter. Overall it's still a relatively disappointing movie saved by Handel's musical genius. Except for a few trailers, there are no extras with the DVD. For those interested in the world of the castrati in more penetrating detail, I suggest reading Anne Rice's 1982 novel, "Cry to Heaven", and the "Rinaldo" arias are better served by countertenor David Daniels and mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli on their 2002 cast recording conducted by Christopher Hogwood.

Anonymous-2 18 November 1999

'Farinelli' is a film well worth seeing for its memorable visual imagery and its unique soundtrack. Mid-film scenes set against the decadence of 17th-century European court life make for charming costumes and sets. Contrasting visuals of rural Italy provide their own pastoral allure that is no less charming. Moreover, the film rises admirably to the daunting technical and artistic task of reproducing the tone of a castrato voice, considering that the musical world has not seen or heard a castrato singer for more than a century.

'Ah,' you say, 'sounds gorgeous...but what's it about?' Enter Carlo and Riccardo Broschi, Italian brothers who share musical aspirations: Riccardo composes, and Carlo sings what he writes. Carlo is a gifted castrato, but Riccardo is a mediocre composer at best. In time, Carlo becomes the renowned Farinelli while Riccardo struggles with his lack of talent/recognition as well as the troublesome fact that Carlo is his meal ticket.

The simple story line masks rich potential (think 'Amadeus'), but 'Farinelli' is hampered by shallow character development and its inexplicable tendency to substitute all-too-frequent sex scenes for emotional power. Without the full realization of the characters or the ramifications of the plot, the film struggles to keep a viewer engaged, at least in my own case. The beautiful pageantry of 'Farinelli' fails to compensate for its hollow dramatic core.

In short? Not bad, but a better music movie is 'Amadeus'(among others), and a better movie with beautiful Italian visuals is 'A Room With A View' (among others).

emuir-1 25 December 2008

The sets and costumes are magnificent and give a 21st century viewer a glimpse of what life must have been like for the fortunate wealthy in the days of the baroque composers, but the story is confusing and there was far too much gratuitous sex. It was as if the filmmakers did not think that the beautiful music and sumptuous settings could carry the film. I don't know if something was lost in the subtitling, or whether too much film was left on he cutting room floor, but I was baffled by a number of the characters. Who was Benjamin and why did he wear a body brace? Who were Alexandra and Margareth? The characters simply seemed to be a device to move the story along to the bizarre and unnecessary sex scenes.

My biggest problem was with the poor lip synching, which was so obvious that it distracted and spoiled the flow of the film. It was not just that the facial mannerisms did not match the voice, but that the volume actually dropped to the extent that the voice seemed to be coming from off stage. Nowhere was this worse than the trumpet scene at the beginning. The castrati had very powerful voices, but Farinelli's voice sounds like a far-off squeak. Synching has been done very successfully in the past, most notably by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Ava Gardner is Show Boat, and most famously by Edmund Purdom in the Student Prince, so it should not be beyond the capability of film makers 40 or more years later. I felt that the film would have been more convincing if Farinelli had been played by a soprano doing her own singing, and had concentrated more on the relationship with the brother who was riding on Farinelli's coat tails. How often have we seen a partnership where one half is nothing without the other, and knows it.

As for the comparison with the decadent rock star life style, that is how the castrati stars allegedly lived in the hedonistic 18th-century. I am not sure either that the castrati strutted around the stage like drag queens as they were supposed to be playing the women's parts as women. Given Ken Russell’s record of appallingly bad taste portrayals of musicians, it is surprising that he never attempted this one. It was right up his street.

Opera lovers would be better served by listening to recordings of Handels operas.

UK-3 14 January 1999

This film was great. Even if the singing looked a little fake at times, and there was a bit too much sex than was really necessary, but a great film, with beautiful music. I thought more emphasis would have been put upon the anguish and degradation Farinelli might have felt, and more stress on the love/hate relationship the public had with the castrati, but definitely a film worth seeing.

geir-ole 27 May 2000

Visually and sound-wise this is a beautiful film that can be recommended. The flash-backs when Ricardo looks back on childhood are good, showing the tight links between the two brothers. But, one is waiting through the whole film for the continuation of the early scene where Carlo (Farinelli) does not try to prevent the soldiers from taking Ricardo away by force. There is too much focus on the brothers' conquests and maybe too little on the singing. But the songs that we hear are beautiful and when one knows the amount of work that has been put into the reconstruction of Farinelli's unique voice (covering one octave more than any singer alive today) one should probably not complain.

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