Gerard Corbiau. FR / Belgium / IT 1995 - 116 min.
Son qual nave ch'agitata (Air de Arbace, De l'opéra Artaserse de J.A.Hasse);
Se al labbro mio non credi (Instrumental - Arrangement Christophe Rousset);
Ombra fedele anch'io (Air de Dario, De l'opéra Idaspe)
Georg Friedrich Händel, De l'opera Rinaldo (»Lascia ch'io pianga«, Air de Almirena, »Cara sposa«, Air de Rinaldo; »Rinaldo«, Ouverture)
Johann-Adolf Hasse, Artaserse (Ouverture)
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, Salve Regina
Nicola Porpora, Alto Giove (Air d'Acio, De l'opéra Polifemo; Instrumental - Arrangement Christophe Rousset)
After becoming the most celebrated singer of the 18th Century, Farinelli has decided to stay on at the court of King Philip V of Spain in Madrid and to sing exclusively for the King. Three years have passed since Farinelli put a halt to his dazzling career (his extraordinary castrato voice paired with his androgynous and striking beauty had brought him immeasurable and unparalled fame and glory). It has also been three years since he has left his brother Riccardo, hitherto his partner throughout his career, and fled from him in secrecy with his lover Alexandra.
Naples, in a square full of happy and noisy onlookers. A contest sets the young Carlo Broschi against a virtuoso trumpet player. With extraordinary ease, the young castrato cleverly avoids all the traps and treats an unsuspecting audience to his exquisite voice. The crowd starts to chant his name ... Farinelli! Farinelli!
Castrated at the age of ten, Farinelli knows that his pure and perfect voice is his primary asset. It has become his only reason for living.
Riccardo, his elder brother by eight years, marvels at his brother's talent. His magical voice soon became Riccardo's preferred instrument: Riccardo composes, Farinelli interprets.
On the day that Farinelli performs in Naples a legend is born, the legend of 'Farinelli', which is soon to spread throughout Italy. It is also on this day that Handel, then the official composer of the court of England, hears Farinelli for the first time. Their meeting is to turn into a nightmare that haunts Farinelli for many years to come.
Handel proposes that Farinelli follow him to London, but he excludes Riccardo. Since Riccardo's success as a composer is built purely on the popularity of his brother's singing voice, Riccardo wrecks the proposed deal which Handel makes his brother. The meeting between Handel and Farinelli ends in mutual humiliation.
Years pass. Farinelli is now thirty years old and the two brothers are famous. No one can explain the magic of Farinelli's voice capable of delighting princes, enchanting men and making women faint. Some say he has supernatural powers. The salons of the rich and famous are crammed for his recitals. Women and men alike adore him. Farinelli is desired by everyone.
During their travels, according to a brotherly pact which they established as young men, the two brothers share their conquests. Farinelli first seduces the women, then invites Riccardo to take over and "plant the seed." Farinelli receives a letter from Handel, the first correspondence since their first meeting many years before, informing him he intends to hear him sing in Dresden. Riccardo initially says they will change their tour schedule, however Farinelli convinces him they should go.
As Farinelli stands back-stage, just before he is about to perform, Handel comes to talk to him. On this occasion he has been sent by the King of England who wishes Farinelli to perform in his opera theatre in London. That evening, tempted and confused by Handel's proposition, Farinelli is dumb, he is unable to utter a sound. He stands on stage in front of a full house in embarassing silence, before collapsing and fainting.
Having retired to his dressing room after the abortive performance, Farinelli waits all night in vain for Handel to come and see him, which he never does. Instead, on waking, Farinelli finds a beautiful, young woman at his bedside - Alexandra Leyris.
Alexandra begs him to follow her to London to help save the Nobles Theatre from ruin. Audiences are flagging due to the popularity and prestige of its main competitor - the opera theatre of Covent Garden owned by the English Royal Family and run by Handel. She also points out that the Nobles Theatre is currently run by Porpora, Farinelli's old teacher. Farinelli and Riccardo decide to go to London.
On arriving in London, Farinelli meets Margaret Hunter, principal patron of the Nobles Theatre. Simultaneously Alexandra, her young niece, begins to fall madly in love with Farinelli.
The rivalry between the Opera Theatre of Covent Garden and the Nobles Theatre has become increasingly fierce. Handel's critics at the Nobles Theatre are resolutely against him. Curiously, however, Farinelli defends the composer to his critics. In fact, the passionate way in which he pleads Handel's case provokes scandalous rumors about him. Only the young Alexandra fiercely takes Handel's side, going to the extreme extent of stealing Handel's latest musical scores for Farinelli.
At this time, Farinelli declares to his brother that he has always had doubts about the quality of his compositions. The relationship between the two brothers deteriorates rapidly. Meanwhile Handel, who is as proud as Farinelli, refuses to make his peace with Farinelli, despite genuine attempts by the young singer to do so.
Farinelli therefore decides to sing Handel's latest work, which Alexandra has stolen for him, on Porpora's stage. Deeply hurt by what he perceives as his brother's betrayal, Riccardo leaves Farinelli and the Nobles Theatre.
Farinelli's desire to confront Handel obsesses him. He thinks of little other than the challenge which Handel offered him many years earlier in Naples when he scorned Farinelli. This time, Farinelli is determined to win. What is the point of the acknowledgement of the world if the most important composer of the century holds him in contempt?
Farinelli rehearses with feverish impatience and, as in the past, it is Porpora who takes the rehearsals. Porpora and Margaret are both excited and frightened of the scandal they are bound to cause when they perform Handel's work in their theatre.
Meanwhile, Handel, tries to steal his music back from Farinelli. Whilst searching his home, he hears someone playing music in the attic. He follows the sound and finds Riccardo. Handel realizes that since Riccardo has been abandoned by Farinelli, he could probably be persuaded to tell him intimate secrets about his young brother. Riccardo is easily won over by Handel's mock sympathy and he tells him the truth behind his most sacred secret.
The evening of the premiere of Handel's latest work at the Nobles Theatre, Handel goes to see Farinelli backstage in the interval. He challenges Farinelli to sing the music which he stole from him without fault and, hoping to distract and upset him, he tells him the secret of his castration.
Surprisingly, Farinelli remains composed. He manages to control his despair and sing Handel's work. Never has his voice reached such summits of passion and perfection. Handel, faints, swept up and overcome by the wave of emotion caused by the extraordinary and unprecedented combination of his beautiful music with Farinelli's voice. Neither of the two theatres survived this colossal confrontation.
Farinelli never sings on the stage again...
Three years have passed. Farinelli has found peace in his self-imposed exile with Alexandra. However, the unexpected arrival of his brother, Riccardo, at the court of King Philip V of Spain, brings back his old pain.
Farinelli cannot forget ...
He can not excuse ...
But the love of Alexandra gives him the strength to forgive.
So once again, for one final time, Farinelli sets up the brotherly ritual of sharing the act of making love. As in the past, once Farinelli has made love, Riccardo «plants the seed».
Several months later, Riccardo leaves the Palace, leaving his brother their final and their ultimate collaboration: the child Alexandra carries.
(Source: official site, sony picture classics 1995)