The Italian Almanac


Italian News - July 13

The famed Italian Baroque 'castrato' singer Farinelli has been dug up again so experts can try to find out what made these vanished virtuosi so special. Scientists from Bologna's Farinelli Centre and the universities of Bologna, Pisa, Florence and York - including renowned bio-engineer David Howard - began looking at the first parts of Farinelli on Wednesday. So far jaw bones, bits of his skull and badly decayed parts of his lower limbs have come up from the Bologna grave.

As well as trying to figure out the sound castrati could have made - the only known recording reportedly sounds like "Pavarotti on helium" - the teams will be trying to see whether castrati had normal bodies or grew out of proportion, becoming over-tall and developing abnormally large chests and breasts.

The only known painting of Carlo Broschi aka Farinelli (1705-1782) shows him as a handsome if somewhat plump figure, more virile than camp. But some suspect Farinelli commissioned the portrait to show him not as he really was but as he wished to be.

As for his remarkable singing voice - able to scale more than three and a half octaves, some evidence of the physical machinery that produced it "should come from the softer parts of the mouth, if they're still there," said Bologna University's Maria Giovanna Belcastro. "But even if they have been destroyed, we should be able to get some idea of what made castrati tick from the size of the chest cavity. That should have been preserved".

Called "the divine Farinelli" by contemporaries, Broschi became famous throughout Europe, and travelled extensively, from his home town Naples to London. The project aims to put together a post-mortem identikit of the legendary singer over the next year.