Cecilia Bartoli's new album celebrates the life and career of the most famous opera singer of the eighteenth century: the castrato Farinelli. This Decca disc marks three decades of Bartoli's collaboration with the label, the first being Rossini Arias which was released in August 1989. Over sixty CDs later comes Farinelli which will be issued on 8 November 2019. In those thirty years, Bartoli has sold over 12 million discs which makes her today's best-selling classical artist.
The new album includes arias by Farinelli's older brother Riccardo Broschi, and his teacher and mentor Nicola Porpora. It also features a new recording of ‘Alto Giove' from Porpora's Polifemo. Bartoli returns to sing with Il Giardino Armonico and its conductor Giovanni Antonini. They first collaborated on the Vivaldi Album, and again on Sacrificium, her first castrati album from 2009 – both albums won her the Grammy for Best Classical Vocal Performance.
The release blurb states:
This new album focuses on the baroque audiences' love of anti-realism and the fetishisation of “hermaphroditic” voices during this period, and this celebration of gender fluidity and its associated power dynamics has been brought to the fore for 21st-century audiences by Bartoli for this new release.
In an interview prior to a Sacrificium concert in 2010, Bartoli said,
The castrati were the pop stars of their age. They had superhuman singing abilities, fame and glamour but it was the mystery surrounding their ambiguous sexuality which made people go mad.
What we should not forget is that while the music written especially for them is wonderful, it was bought at the price of a great human sacrifice. For several centuries, 4000 boys a year were castrated in Italy and only very few became stars. It's comparable to our bulimic models – today's victims of frivolous fashion. Or the modern talent shows where mega-stars are created in five minutes and then dropped like hot potatoes. It really is a very modern theme.
Farinelli was born Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi in 1705 in Andria (in what is now Puglia, then part of the Kingdom of Naples) and died in Bologna in 1782. He was the most celebrated Italian castrato singer, his adopted name probably deriving from the surname of his benefactors, the brothers Farina.
When he appeared in London, one titled lady was so carried away that, from a theatre box, she famously exclaimed: “One God, one Farinelli!” and was immortalised in Plate II of Hogarth's “A Rake's Progress”.
- ‘Nell'attendere mio bene' from Polifemo by Porpora
- ‘Vaghi amori, grazie amate' from La festa d'imeneo by Porpora
- ‘Morte col fiero aspetto' from Marc'Antonio e Cleopatra by Hasse
- ‘Lontan… Lusingato dalla speme' from Polifemo by Porpora
- ‘Chi non sente al mio dolore' from La Merope by Broschi
- ‘Come nave in ria tempesta' from Semiramide regina dell'Assiria by Porpora
- ‘Mancare o Dio mi sento' from Adriano in Siria by Giacomelli
- ‘Si, traditor tu sei' from La Merope by Broschi
- ‘Questi al cor finora ignoti' from La morte d'Abel by Caldara
- ‘Signor la tua Speranza… A Dio trono, impero a Dio' from Marc'Antonio e Cleopatra by Hasse
- ‘Alto Giove' from Polifemo by Porpora
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
The blurb is very odd, attempting to make the Past relevant to our own Age. As I have read, the castrato voice was very distinctly not an “hermaphroditic” sound–I would think that neither countertenor nor mezzo voice of today–even if technologically blended would create the sound of a true and legendary castrato. As for “gender fluidity” that is a concept that has only arisen–in the U. S. A. at least–in the past twelve months. I have read that castrati were very capable of sexually expressing themselves with female partners. I’m not sure what “gender fluidity” has to do with Farinelli, specifically. I’m surprised that Ms. Bartoli would allow a comment like this to be connected to her serious work in this music.
I wondered too about “baroque audiences’ love of the fetishisation of “hermaphroditic” voices”… really? I think that in this field there are lots of good voices to be heard, whereas finding casts for Verdi and Puccini is becoming ever more difficult.
I was wondering too about the “baroque audiences’ love of the fetishisation of “hermaphroditic” voices”… really? Isn’t it just that there is much good music with many excellent singers capable of doing it justice, whereas casting a Verdi or Puccini opera is becoming evermore difficult.
As for the “gender fluidity” remark, I don’t think–though I am not an expert in this music–that Farinelli ever sang as a female character. As wikipedia points out, he was unusually tall which would suit male characters best. Farinelli also preferred roles that demonstrated his beautiful middle to high range–not the highest notes that he could sing. I don’t really see what “gender fluidity” has to do with the roles represented on this CD. I could be mistaken though.