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  • Writer's pictureladiesvoices

*Farinelli and the King,* 3/14/18

Richard and I saw *Farinelli and the King* on 3/14/18, a play by Claire van Kampen brought over from London. It's a dramatization of the true story of Philippe V, King of Spain, hiring Italian castrato Farinelli to be his personal court singer. Farinelli was a huge star in London, moved to Spain, sang for the king every day, and never sang in public again.

We'd heard wildly varying reports on the play. One set of friends said the play was not very good, but the actor playing Farinelli was wonderful. Another said maybe the play isn't a great work of literature, but it holds the stage, and the music is extraordinary. Another said the play wasn't very good but the performances were worth seeing, and the production was very beautiful. Richard and I got cheap tickets and decided to find out for ourselves.

It turns out everyone was right. The common thread in everything we heard was that the play was not very good, and indeed, it was a steaming helping of Stink-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat. Really bad. The playwright threw down the gauntlet right at the start with a head-scratching scene between the king and a goldfish. It got a little better after that.

The music was indeed fantastic. It was all Handel, with counter tenor James Hall singing the role of Farinelli, with a cracker jack seven-piece ensemble supporting him. Hall was wonderful, his voice was luscious, his technique was impressive, and he gave a lovely performance. He alternates in the role with Iestyn Davies, a singer I'd heard twice and not really liked, so I was pleased that I got to hear the other guy.

Sam Crane shared the role of Farinelli with Hall - - basically Crane acted the role and Hall sang it. Sometimes they were onstage at the same time, but more often it was either one or the other. This split of the role was the most interesting element in the play. Crane gave a graceful, affecting performance.

Melody Grove played Queen Isabella. Hers was in many ways my favorite performance - - she was stylish and understated, she embodied the queen's dilemma but didn't make a big deal out of it.

The star of the show (and its reason for existing) was Mark Rylance as the king. I was skeptical about him. Richard and I saw him in *La Bête* in 2010, he was fantastic in that, he had such a divine way with the language. But the other times we've seen him he's been annoying. He often falls back on a "low affect" setting, which works pretty well in the movies (see *Bridge of Spies* and *Dunkirk* - - actually, skip *Dunkirk*) but doesn't deliver on the stage. He thought he'd liven it up with a Woody Allen-esque stutter, which only served to annoy me further. He didn't quite make me cringe, but he was headed in that direction.

One of the highlights of the show was Hall's performance of "Cara sposa" from *Rinaldo.* He sang it with an aching tenderness, but here's the flip side - - a performance by Ewa Podleś that's overflowing with rugged drama:

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