Heavenly Voices: The Legacy of Farinelli

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COMPOSERS: Gino Pennacchi; Alessandro Scillitani
LABELS: Arthaus Musik
ALBUM TITLE: Heavenly Voices: The Legacy of Farinelli
WORKS: Works by Farinelli
PERFORMER: David Daniels; Andreas Scholl; Daniel Behle; Max Emanuel Cencic; Philippe Jaroussky et al (narrators)


The androgynous voices and lurid biographies of the celebrated 18th-century castratos have inspired an array of films, broadcasts and books in recent years. This latest, a documentary titled Heavenly Voices, considers the legacy of Farinelli and his rivals through the reflections and anecdotes of musicians and musicologists, historians, speech therapists and voice psychoanalysts, interwoven with musical clips featuring some of today’s fêted countertenors – the voice that most nearly approximates the lost sound-world of the castrato.

Singers Max Emanuel Cencic and Philippe Jaroussky lead a series of contributions that shed light on the enduring allure of a voice that combined the monstrous with the angelic, masculine with feminine, power with delicacy and youth with maturity. There are moments of insight and some entertaining anecdotes, notably those of singer-songwriter and flamboyant thespian Ernesto Tomasini, but the documentary lacks a strong editorial angle: the focus is vague and at times the structure meanders. More troubling is the camerawork in the interviews: unflattering close-ups result in cropped heads and distorted features, and the lighting is hard and unforgiving.

Heavenly Voices may not be the most polished piece of documentary making, but it nonetheless offers an engaging glimpse into the world of castratos past and countertenors present.


Kate Bolton