He soon acquired, under the instruction of Nicola Porpora, a voice of marvellous beauty, and became famous throughout southern Italy as il ragazzo (the boy). In 1722 he made his first appearance at Rome in his master's Eumene, creating the greatest enthusiasm by surpassing a popular German trumpet player, for whom Porpora had written an obligato to one of the boy's songs, in holding and swelling a note of prodigious length, purity and power, and in the variations, roulades and trills which he introduced into the air.
In 1724 he appeared at Vienna, and at Venice in the following year, returning to Naples shortly afterwards. He sang at Milan in 1726, and at Bologna in 1727, where he first met and acknowledged himself vanquished by the singer Antonio Bernacchi (b. 1700), to whose instruction he was much indebted. With ever-increasing success and fame Farinelli appeared in nearly all the great cities of Italy; and returned a third time to Vienna in 1731.
He now modified his style, it is said on the advice of Charles VI, from mere bravura of the Porpora school to one of pathos and simplicity. He visited London in 1734, arriving in time to lend his powerful support to the faction which in opposition to Handel had set up a rival opera with Porpora as composer and Senesino as principal singer. But not even his aid could make the undertaking successful.
His first appearance at the Lincoln's Inn Fields theatre was in Artaserse, much of the music of which was by his brother, Riccardo Broschi. His success was instantaneous, and the prince of Wales and the court loaded him with favours and presents. Having spent three years in England, Farinelli set out for Spain, staying a few months on the way in France, where he sang before Louis XV. In Spain, where he had only meant to stay a few months, he ended by passing nearly twenty five years. His voice, employed by the queen to cure Philip V of his melancholy madness, acquired for him an influence with that prince which gave him eventually the power, if not the name, of prime minister. This power he was wise and modest enough to use discreetly.
For ten years, night after night, he had to sing to the king the same six songs, and never anything else. Under Ferdinand VI he held a similar position, and was decorated (1750) with the cross of Calatrava. He utilized his ascendancy over this king by persuading him to establish an Italian opera. After the accession of Charles III Farinelli retired with the fortune he had amassed to Bologna, and spent the remainder of his days there in melancholy splendour, dying on July 15 1782.
His voice was of large compass, possessing seven or eight notes more than those of ordinary singers, and was sonorous, equal and clear; he also possessed a great knowledge of music.
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
In 1994 a movie, Farinelli Il Castrato was made about Farinelli's life.