Farinelli, was the stage name of Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi, celebrated Italian castrato singer of the 18th century and one of the greatest singers in the history of opera. Broschi was born into a family of musicians. Unlike many castrati, who came from poor families, Farinelli was well-to-do, and was related to minor nobility on both sides of the family. Carlo had showed talent as a boy singer. Salvatore (his father) died unexpectedly in 1717 and it seems likely that the consequent loss of economic security for the whole family provoked the decision, presumably taken by Riccardo (his older brother), for Carlo to transition. At the age of 15 he made his debut. Farinelli quickly became famous throughout Italy. In 1722, he first sang in Rome in Porpora’s Eumene and Flavio Anicio Olibrio, as well as taking the female lead in Sofonisba.
All these appearances were greeted with huge public enthusiasm and an almost legendary story arose. In 1724, Farinelli made his first appearance in Vienna and he spent the following season in Naples. In 1726, he also visited Parma and Milan, where Johann Joachim Quantz heard him and commented: “Farinelli had a penetrating, full, rich, bright and well-modulated soprano voice, with a range at that time from the A below middle C to the D two octaves above middle C. … His intonation was pure, his trill beautiful, his breath control extraordinary and his throat very agile, so that he performed the widest intervals quickly and with the greatest ease and certainty. Passagework and all kinds of melismas were of no difficulty to him. In the invention of free ornamentation in adagio he was very fertile.” Quantz is certainly accurate in describing Farinelli as a soprano, however, the singer also possessed an extraordinarily extensive low range where a tenor would be more “at home”.
Farinelli sang at Bologna in 1727, where he met the famous castrato Antonio Bernacchi, who gave him instruction in grazie sopraffine (“ultra-refined graces”). In 1728, Farinelli performed another concert before the Emperor in Vienna. During this period he could really do no wrong - loaded with riches and honours. In 1731, Farinelli visited Vienna for a third time. There he was received by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI, on whose advice he modified his style, singing more simply and emotionally. After further seasons in Italy, and another visit to Vienna, during which he sang in oratorios in the Imperial chapel, Farinelli came to London in 1734. Farinelli joined the Opera of the Nobility and made it financially solvent. He first appeared in Artaserse, Senesino had the part of a furious tyrant, and Farinelli that of an unfortunate hero in chains; but in the course of the first air, the captive so softened the heart of the tyrant, that Senesino, forgetting his stage-character, ran to Farinelli and embraced him.
Though Farinelli’s was still under contract in London, he received a summons to visit the Spanish court. Farinelli stopped at Paris on his way to Madrid, singing at Versailles to King Louis XV, who gave him his portrait set in diamonds. Arriving in Spain about a month later. The Queen believed that Farinelli’s voice might be able to cure the severe depression of her husband, King Philip V. On 25 August 1737, Farinelli was named chamber musician to the king, and criado familiar, or servant to the royal family. He never sang again in public. Farinelli became a royal favourite and very influential at court. In 1738 he arranged for an entire Italian opera company to visit Madrid. On the accession of Philip’s son, Ferdinand VI, Farinelli’s influence became even greater. The relationship between singer and monarchs was personally close. He also was officially received into the ranks of the nobility, being made a Knight of the Order of Calatrava in 1750, an honour of which he was enormously proud. He retired to Bologna, where in 1732 he had acquired a property and citizenship.