I couldn’t have imagined that a play about a castrato and a depressed Spanish King would have so many jokes in it, be such fun. Add twinkling candle-light with Handel arias drifting through, and you experience the therapeutic magic of those heady summers in Madrid.
Farinelli had been singing in Covent Garden when he was summoned by the queen to sing at the court of King Philippe V in Spain. However, the King (suffering from extreme polarity) had sunk into one of his crises of depression and had taken to his bed. But…as the clear tones of Farinelli’s voice rose into the summer air, they penetrated to the bedroom where the afflicted Philippe lay. The divine voice immediately resuscitated the king, who snapped out of his depression and eventually returned to his duties. Astonished by the therapeutic effect of Farinelli’s music, the king and queen demanded he remain with them and sing for them every day, which he did.
I’d heard great reviews of the play but went to see it as Mark Rylance was starring as the King who’d taken to his bed and talked to his goldfish. The dialogue soon dived into the dodgy area of a castrato — can he do it? What’s going on down there? The King was gripped with sadness that Farinelli’s (along with so many other young Italian boys of the time) balls were cut off at the age of ten, but was amused to discover that he could still ‘do it’.
The Vatican imported its first falsetto singers from Spain. It was considered preferable to have castrated boys singing high parts, since girls and women were banned in the Vatican choir. We understand no men were hurt during the making of this show.
In the Duke of York’s theatre the combination of music, dreams and humour made for a magical, mesmerising evening. Covent Garden was a throng with people and the view of them from the circle verandah was sublime.
A typical Handel aria: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7wTKQnopiE
(you have to wait for the commercial to finish)