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The Singer Who Healed the King

The story of Farinelli was the subject of a 1994 film which only lightly touched on his two decades in Spain. He was there to minister to Phillipe V, whose grandfather was Louis XIV and arranged a marriage alliance that would make Phillipe the Spanish king.

"And this poor man was absolutely unsuited to that job," van Kampen says. "He really had a brilliant mind for maths and science and he kind of wanted to be an academic. But he had a very, very severe bipolar disorder. And he found life terribly painful and difficult."

With no other medical options, the queen tries a kind of baroque music therapy. She travels to England to ask Farinelli, an operatic superstar, to sing for the king.

"We know historically that the singing of Farinelli had a huge impact on this king and enabled him to return to his functioning self," Rylance says. "But we don't really know why or how. We also don't know why Farinelli decided to give up his whole career — in my understanding a career equivalent to Michael Jackson's in terms of fame and fortune and adoration. And he gave it all up really at the height of it, to stay and sing for this king."

Farinelli was a castrato — a singer castrated as a child to create an unnaturally high voice. The practice was barbaric — many died from the operation, and many who survived committed suicide. It was outlawed in the 19th century.

"Farinelli is a divided person — he's divided from parts of himself, physically," she says. "But psychologically, I feel he's very divided between this person that has been forced to go on and artificially create a persona of this great opera star, but inside he's simply Carlo Broschi — that's his name."