Despite its Golden Globe award, Farinelli seemed to come and go without a lot of notice in the United States just a few years ago. Perhaps the subject matter, centering on an 18th century castrato, and the world of opera in which the story takes place, was not in accord with popular American tastes. American critics were none too kind either. That’s a shame, because this turns out to be a sexy, beautifully made film in the long tradition of historical costume dramas. It also has an intelligent screenplay which juggles several major themes skillfully without losing narrative momentum.
Based on the true story of Carlo Broschi, Farinelli was a hugely successful singer in the opera houses of Europe, hailed for the beauty of his voice and his fine musicianship. Closely tied with his brother, Ricardo, a hack composer and conductor, their destinies are intertwined as they work together, touring the continent, sharing their women. Ricardo becomes the Salieri to Handel’s Mozart. Handel, the composer of great gifts, needs Farinelli to draw the crowds to his operas in London, but abrasively defeats his own purpose. "The King wants to add you to his collection," he tactlessly announces to Carlo.
There are appealing minor characters, too, such as the young boy, congenitally deformed, who champions Farinelli’s cause, perhaps unconsciously understanding their shared positions of physical debility. There are some wonderful operatic singing passages, which, if not perfectly synchronized, are nonetheless quite beautiful to hear. Add stunning sets and costuming and CV will not quibble over some occasionally muddy motivation and plotting. Farinelli is great fun and sufficiently thoughtful and complex to give food for continuing thought.