|Iestyn Davies, Mark Rylance, Huss Garbiya, and Melody Grove. Photo: Joan Marcus
Farinelli and the King
By Claire Van Kampen
Directed by John Dove
Through March 25
What do a mad king and a falsetto opera singer have in common? Quite a lot it turns out, in the Shakespeare’s Globe production of Farinelli and the King starring Mark Rylance.
The debut play by Claire Van Kampen is based on the true story of the relationship between King Philippe V of Spain (Rylance) and castrato Farinelli (portrayed by actor Sam Crane of TV's "The Crown" and countertenor Iestyn Davies). Queen Isabella (Melody Grove) thinks Farinelli's voice, which has captured the hearts of all who hear it, might just be the cure for the king's insomnia, brought on in part by the political pressures of his crown, but perhaps more so by his encroaching madness. The two might come from very different backgrounds, but being thrust into the pubic light and not being able to pursue the lives they might otherwise have desired uncovers a bond between the men that might just save the king. It might cost Farinelli everything, though.
The production is performed by candlelight on a set designed by Jonathan Fensom that extends the palace walls and decor out into the house of the Belasco. Actors in costume (but not in character) interact with theatergoers prior to the show. Audience members sit on stage during the production, where actors stroll while playing baroque instruments.The two-hour-30-minute run time seems long. It did, however, provide detailed information I did not have about the sexual abilities of men who have been castrated. My understanding of biblical eunuchs has been enhanced following post-show discussions.
Director John Dove's vision for having singer Davies step in for actor Crane is rather distracting to the action. Arias, arranged by Van Kampen, include "Ho Perso il Caro Ben" (Handel, from Parnasso in Festa), "Alto Giove" (Porpora, from Polifemo), "Fra Tempeste Funeste a Quest'alma" (Handel, from Rodelinda), "Venti, Turbini Prestate" (Handel, from Rinaldo), "Cara Sposa" (Handel, from Rinaldo) and "Lascia Ch'io Pianga" (Handel, from Rinaldo), among others. The Handel arias first were sung by the real-life Farinelli in the 1730s. Truth be told, I'd rather hear a soprano sing them.
Farinelli and the King originally premiered in London. The testosterone-heavy cast features Huss Garbiya as Doctor José Cervi, Lucas Hall as Jethro, Colin Hurley as John Rich and Edward Peel as De La Cuadra. Award-winning countertenors James Hall and Eric Jurenas perform at select performances.
Farinelli and the King wraps up its limited run at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th st., NYC, March 25. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $32 - $157: farinelliandthekingbroadway.com.
Lighting design, Paul Russell; Hair and Wig Design, Campbell Young Associates.
-- Sexual dialogue