Sound Of Cinema: The Early Music Show - Farinelli - The Movie

Saturday 21 September

1.00pm-2.00pm

BBC RADIO 3

As part of the BBC’s Sound Of Cinema season, Catherine Bott looks at the soundtrack of the film Farinelli - a biopic of the great 18th-century castrato and his colourful relationships with women, his older brother and with the composers Handel and Porpora.

The vocal range of the castrato could be as much as three and a half octaves, so when Belgian film director Gerard Corbiau decided to turn Farinelli's colourful life into a full-length biopic, he charged music director Christopher Rousset with coming up with a way to create as near to the castrato sound as he could.

The solution was to combine the voices of Polish soprano Ewa Mallas-Godlewska and American countertenor Derek Lee Ragin, so that Derek would sing the lower passages and Ewa the highest. During the precision editing, the voices of the two singers were relayed, from the lowest notes to the highest, in order to cover the tessitura and also demonstrate the castrato's virtuosity. The resulting tape included nearly 3,000 editing points. It was then necessary to 'homogenise' the two singers' timbres in order to give Farinelli his own voice, both new and, at the same time, respectful of the original voices.

The film soundtrack includes performances by the 'combined' voices with Christophe Rousset's own ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques, in glorious music by Handel, Porpora, Hasse, Pergolesi and Farinelli's own older brother (and protagonist of the film), Riccardo Broschi.

BBC’s Sound of Cinema season is dedicated to exploring the composers, songs and film scores that form the soundtrack to the big screen. The season started on 12 September on BBC Four, accompanied by three weeks of programming on BBC Radio 3. Further programmes take place on BBC Radio 6 Music, Radios 1 & 1xtra, Radio 2 and the Asian network.

Presenter/ Catherine Bott, Producer/ Les Pratt for the BBC

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