Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi was born in 1705 and was related to minor royalty on both sides of his family. By the time he was 20, he was widely recognized as one of the greatest singers of his time. You may know him by his stage name, Farinelli.
You may also know that he was a castrato. Even then the surgical procedure was illegal, and when Carlo was twelve, his father died suddenly, leaving the family in dire financial straits. This may have led to young Carlo becoming the main breadwinner, and because he was already a magnificent singer, the decision was made to keep his high voice. The operation was done under the cover story that it was necessitated by an equestrian accident.
He was singing prima donna roles in Rome by the time he was 17, and traveled around Italy and to London to perform. In 1737, he was invited to Madrid. The Spanish royal family thought Farinelli’s beautiful singing might be a successful treatment for depression in King Philip V. He sang several arias each evening for the king until the latter’s death in 1746. And although Farinelli never performed again, the king’s successor Ferdinand VI retained Farinelli to manage the royal theaters in Madrid and at the palace in Aranjuez.
Thus Farinelli became an impresario. Not only did he bring music from throughout Europe to the Spanish court (especially music from his homeland), he made use of apparently unlimited royal funds. Among other over-the-top extravagances, he arranged the redirection of the Tagus River at Aranjuez so the royal family could have their own “water music,” à la Handel on the Thames in London.
The selections on our CD Pick this week are representative of music from around Europe that Farinelli brought to Spain, curated by Maestro Pablo Heras-Casado. The performances by Concerto of Cologne include works by Niccolò Jommelli, Johann Adolf Hasse, Farinelli’s mentor Nicola Porpora, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (a Fandango Symphony!), and others. There are also selections from Spanish zarzuelas, including some world premiere recordings. Tune in this week for music enjoyed in Spain because of history’s greatest castrato.