ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Farinelli and the King Misses the High Notes

Updated on December 26, 2017
Mark Nimar profile image

Mark Nimar is a singer, actor, and writer living in NYC. He holds Bachelor's and Master's Degrees from the New School.

I walked into the Belasco Theatre Saturday night with high hopes. I was there to see Farinelli and the King, a new play starring Mark Rylance, and directed by the venerable stage director John Dove. And my high hopes weren't unfounded: in addition to its star power, Shakespeare's Globe in London is presenting this Broadway production, and my own mother has been raving about the apparently giant talent of Mark Rylance for years (before this show I had never seen Mr. Rylance on stage, or on screen). The show is about the castrato (a castrated male singer) Farinelli (played by Sam Crane), the most famous opera singer of his day, and how his singing voice helped heal Phillipe V, the disturbed King of Spain (played by Rylance). This fusion of opera, theatre, European royalty, and Broadway royalty excited me, and had me enter the theatre with great curiosity.

And the first impression did not disappoint. Before the show starts, you enter the theatre, and the curtain is up. On stage, chandeliers with glowing candles illuminate a vast, Baroque set complete with dark wood and opulent gold ornaments. Audience members are seated right on stage, and in balconies placed high above the audience. An excellent Baroque ensemble sits above the players in elegant wigs and sumptuous period costumes, strumming away on fine wooden instruments. The set designer Jonathan Fensom, and lighting designer Paul Russell transport you to an elegant, European palace with their designs, and they deserve every award in New York for their work.

The play itself did not impress me as much. The problem lies with Mark Rylance's portrayal of the king. Rylance turns in a rather flat interpretation of Phillipe V; he plays the king without charm, warmth, or any redeeming qualities. Instead of facing his illness with humor and bravery, Rylance just seems irritated, and self-centered. This lack of likability is a big problem for the play, because the play's central conflict is about the king trying to get better through the healing power of music. If the audience doesn't care about the character, we are not invested in his struggle: the play thus loses the audience's attention.

Rylance's lack of likability affects the story in other ways. For instance, there is no love or warmth between Rylance and his wife, Queen Isabella (played by Melody Grove); they are not believable as a couple. This lack of believability becomes a problem when Queen Isabella goes to England twice to convince Farinelli to come to Madrid to sing for the King. Because the couple doesn't seem in love, I have a hard time believing that Queen Isabella would so much as walk down the street to help out her ailing husband, so it is preposterous that she goes all the way to England (on a boat, no less) to help cure him. Although issues in their marriage are exposed in the second act, it is hard to believe two married people have absolutely no affection for one another.

John Dove's poor direction also hurts the play. A lot of the play's humor, and witty lines fall flat, because John Dove fails to embrace the script's broad comedy, and the eccentric, large personalities of its characters. Instead of embracing the script's campiness, Dove directs the actors to deliver what should be witty banter in a drab, normal sort of way. For crying out loud, the actors are in wigs and colorful period costume; it is not the time to be subtle. The pacing of the dialogue is also too slow, and the script loses much of its sparkle and bite as a result.

The play also suffers from the bizarre directorial choice of having an onstage singer sing for the actor playing Farinelli. This choice does work nicely in a couple of scenes: it captures Farinelli's feeling of separation between his onstage persona and his true self. But in the majority of the scenes, the choice feels awkward. It is uncomfortable to watch a random person in a matching costume sing for the actor playing Farinelli. Lip-syncing is one thing, but imagine watching Britney Spears perform as someone else standing right next to her sang for her. It was weird.

Sam Crane's acting, however, almost makes this odd directorial choice forgivable. He turns in a fine performance as the castrato Farinelli, capturing character's pain, and isolation with his deep, sensitive blue eyes. Crane has a quiet power in the role of Farinelli; he does not chew scenery, but rather lets the audience in with his openness, and sensitive nature. Crane has some of the show's finest moments. Throughout the show, Farinelli talks about the fear, pain, and isolation that come with fame and success. He tells stories about fruit being thrown at him on stage, and how he feels completely removed from the great talent that he possesses. Farinelli's moments of vulnerability are the real highlights of the show, and Crane delivers Claire Van Kampen's touching words with a lovely tenderness.

Some of the other performances were not as strong. Melody Grave is miscast as Queen Isabella. She completely lacks the presence and noble bearing of a European Queen. She also lacks the fire, and chutzpah of an Italian woman living in a Spanish palace. One feels that the production team could have found a better Isabella. But I hesitate to blame the actors of this show too much. Although the script had its moments, I found some major errors with it. For instance, the show’s central conflict is resolved too quickly. There is too little struggle; the King is mostly healed after the first time he hears Farinelli. The thrill of plays/movies like Farinelli involving transformation (i.e. My Fair Lady, The King’s Speech) is in watching the transformation’s process. It is fun to watch Eliza Doolittle start her studies with Henry Higgins, fail at speaking the Queen’s English, and then have a resounding success towards the end of the first act. Because of the main conflict’s quick resolution, we see no such process between the singer and the King. A second conflict is introduced in the second act, but it is only mentioned briefly and feels like a last-minute addition.

The playwright also could have played up the campiness of the show’s period. Bigger and more exciting scenarios, stakes, and details about the characters would have benefited the show. John Dove’s direction did not help the script, but some more fireworks in the writing might have improved the story. Nowadays, it seems that playwrights and directors alike are afraid of doing theatre that is seen as over the top, or melodramatic. Being “subtle,” or “understated” is what’s now in vogue. While I do enjoy subtlety in plays, it does not work when applied to every genre, show, or character, and Farinelli is a classic example of this perpetual problem I am often seeing in the American Theatre.

I wanted this show to be so much better than it was. It has the makings of a great production, but ultimately fails to deliver. I would be curious to see if the show would improve with a different cast, a different director, or even a script revision. Shows can sometimes improve drastically if just one or two elements are changed. And there is hope: lots of shows’ premieres, and even first few productions are not successful the first time around. The Seagull by Anton Chekov had a disastrous first premiere. And it took the opera La Bohème a couple different productions to earn the popularity that it enjoys today. Maybe in future productions, Farinelli and the King will surprise us.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Amelia Marie33 

      2 years ago

      When a new play will come from

      Fairnelli and king


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)