Farinelli - Career in Europe

Career in Europe

In 1724, Farinelli made his first appearance in Vienna, at the invitation of Pio di Savoia, director of the Imperial Theatre. He spent the following season in Naples. In 1726, he also visited Parma and Milan, where Johann Joachim Quantz heard him and commented: "Farinelli had a penetrating, full, rich, bright and well-modulated soprano voice, with a range at that time from the A below middle C to the D two octaves above middle C. ... His intonation was pure, his trill beautiful, his breath control extraordinary and his throat very agile, so that he performed the widest intervals quickly and with the greatest ease and certainty. Passagework and all kinds of melismas were of no difficulty to him. In the invention of free ornamentation in adagio he was very fertile." Quantz is certainly accurate in describing Farinelli as a soprano, since arias in his repertoire contained the highest notes customarily employed by that voice during his lifetime: "Fremano l'onde" in Pietro Torri's opera Nicomede (1728) and "Troverai se a me ti fidi" in Niccolò Conforto's La Pesca (1737) both contain sustained C6. However, the singer also possessed an extraordinarily extensive low range: "Navigante che non spera" in Leonardo Vinci's opera Il Medo (1728) takes him into what might well be described as the alien territory of C3, where a tenor would be more "at home".

Farinelli sang at Bologna in 1727, where he met the famous castrato Antonio Bernacchi, twenty years his senior. In a duet in Orlandini's Antigona, Farinelli showed off all the beauties of his voice and refinements of his style, executing a number of passages of great virtuosity, which were rewarded with tumultuous applause. Undaunted, Bernacchi repeated every trill, roulade, and cadenza of his young rival, but performing all of them even more exquisitely, and adding variations of his own. Farinelli, admitting defeat, entreated Bernacchi to give him instruction in grazie sopraffine ("ultra-refined graces"); Bernacchi agreed.

In 1728, as well as performing in Torri's Nicomede at the Munich court, Farinelli performed another concert before the Emperor in Vienna. In 1729, during the Carnival season in Venice, he sang in two works by Metastasio: as Arbace in Metastasio's Catone in Utica (music by Leonardo Leo) and Mirteo in Semiramide Riconosciuta (music by Porpora). During this period he could really do no wrong - loaded with riches and honours, he was so famous and so formidable as a performer that his rival and friend, the castrato Gioacchino Conti ("Gizziello") is said to have fainted away from sheer despondency on hearing him sing. George Frideric Handel was also keen to engage Farinelli for his company in London, and while in Venice in January 1730, tried unsuccessfully to meet him.

In 1731, Farinelli visited Vienna for a third time. There he was received by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles VI, on whose advice, according to the singer's first biographer, Giovenale Sacchi, he modified his style, singing more simply and emotionally. After further seasons in Italy, and another visit to Vienna, during which he sang in oratorios in the Imperial chapel, Farinelli came to London in 1734.

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