Biography of Castratti Singer Carlo Broshi Farinelli Part 1

About the famous castratti singer Carlo Broshi Farinelli, history and biography of the man with the voice of a boy.


Carlo Broschi Farinelli (1705-1782)

"One God and one Farinelli!" a woman in London exclaimed after hearing the young Italian perform in an opera by Niccolo Porpora.

God-given but man-manipulated was the voice which made Farinelli the most celebrated singer of his time. He was born Carlo Broschi, son of Salvatore, on Jan. 25, 1705, in Naples, Italy. While he was still a child, his voice had a special light and airy quality which held the promise of fame and fortune. It also was evident that this promise would evaporate with the onset of puberty.

However, that was not a problem, for Carlo Broschi belonged to the age of the castrati, when he, along with thousands of other young males, could be legally castrated. This barbarous practice, originally used on potentially dangerous farm animals, was first inflicted on male singers in Europe during the 16th century and flourished during the 17th and 18th centuries.

How else, the decadent and powerful wealthy elite undoubtedly reasoned, could the pleasurable prepubescent vocal range of a male singer be preserved? Twinges of conscience over tampering with human sexuality could be absolved by placing the blame in the marble lap of the Vatican. After all, castration had the tacit if indirect approval of the Roman Catholic Church inasmuch as the Church forbade women to sing in holy services.

As the body of a youthful castrato grew--often becoming fat and flabby--phenomenal things could happen to the vocal apparatus. The voice did not crack, or drop, or lose its flexibility. Instead, because of enlarged resonance spaces and increased lung power, a boy's high voice in a man's body could be trained to perform extraordinary feats in the area of soprano and contralto runs, pitch variations, and flashy figurations. Also, it had enough volume to rock the rafters of Europe's great theaters and transport audiences into raptures of ecstasy. No microphones were needed.

Carlo Broschi, known as "Il Ragazzo" ("the lad"), lived up to, and went beyond, the wildest expectations of his sponsors. It is claimed that he could reach and hold clearly, and without wavering, seven to eight notes nonexistent in other voices and could sustain any one note for six minutes. Additionally, his stage presence was superb.

Until he was 19 years of age, he studied with Porpora, a reputable voice teacher as well as a composer of operas. Then, taking Farinelli as his stage name, he performed for the next three years in Rome, Naples, Milan, Bologna, and Vienna.

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