Between History and Fiction
Carlo Broschi (1705–1782), frequently called by his stage name Farinelli, was one of the most celebrated castrato singers. Farinelli has stimulated not only scholarly research but also artistic works, ranging from The Queen of Spain; or, Farinelli in Madrid (1744), a comic opera composed by Farinelli’s contemporary John Frederick Lampe, to Claire van Kampen’s twenty-first-century play with music, Farinelli and the King (2015). This chapter considers Gérard Corbiau’s 1994 film, Farinelli, Il Castrato, which popularized this “first international operatic star” (as Thomas McGeary called him) among the twentieth- and twenty-first-century public.
In the medical domain, castrati’s sexual capability still remains uncertain, and as Roger Freitas illuminated, in the eighteenth century a one-sex model endowed castrati with sexual attraction and erotic power. Corbiaru’s film seemingly shows efforts to redeem Farinelli’s altered, nonmasculine body by endowing his voice with a “phallic” power. However, I will argue that Corbiau’s film reveals the heterosexual and patriarchal culture’s anxiety about castrati’s nonreproductive sex(uality), privileging procreation even over artistic creation, and in so doing it promotes the heterosexual status quo.