chapter  11
The castrato as history
WithKatherine Bergeron
Pages 18

One of the final scenes of Farinelli, Il Castrato, dir. Gerard Corbiau (Sony Pictures Classics, 1994), shows a solar eclipse witnessed, eighteenth-century style, by members of the court of Philip V of Spain around 1740. Restless spectators squint through pieces of tinted glass prepared in the smoke of a small fire. It is a precious visual detail, a jot of history in this sumptuously though often inaccurately detailed film that offsets the melodrama to follow. Without warning, a wind, helped along by corny, time-lapse photography, ushers in a sea of Goya-like clouds. A murmur passes through the entourage; eerie blackness falls on the court.