Farinelli - 1

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy bernardgordillo.com

He died a lonely old man.  He was seventy-seven years old.

His first grave was in the cemetery of the Capuchin monastery of Santa Croce in Bologna, Italy.  He was interred wearing the mantle of the Order of Calatrava.

Santa Croce Cemetery itself is unruly:  too much of everything, and messy.  Monuments stand here, there and everywhere, as do floor slabs.  And fifty percent of them are memorials for dead people who aren’t buried there.  The vast church, flat and gray, like something from a Hollywood set, surveys the hodgepodge before it.  Begun in 1294, consecration of the church took place in 1433.  The biographer, Giorgio Vasari, added to the clutter when, in 1565, he was hired to revamp the interior of the church.  He whitewashed the frescoed walls, then erected ugly altars.

Wrecked further by cannon balls, the pounding hooves of sweaty horses, and the tramping of thousands of soldiers during the Napoleonic wars, Santa Croce cemetery descended into total chaos.  So his body was moved to its second grave.  His niece, Maria Carlotta Pisani, transferred him to the cemetery of La Certosa in Bologna.  Forty years later, she was interred beside him.

La Certosa is a more organized cemetery, as odd as that may sound.  It is the permanent resting-place of many people, few of whom are famous.  In three words, it has ‘little social eclat.’  Even in death people are snobs. 

The petite chapel sits quaintly, its inner walls inlaid with various murals, including, disgracefully, one of the head of St. Peter sitting on a tombstone.  It’s like something out of a bad horror movie.  The statuary, though, is tastefully pious and ethereal. 

If the dead man could complain, I am certain he would.  For I suspect he much preferred the crowded jumble of Santa Croce.

But it was not to be.  Even La Certosa could not hold him.  He could not rest in peace.  For he was too famous, too freakishly unique.  Profanation occurred on July 12, 2006.  The grave was opened, the bones removed.  Due to a phenomenon called ‘stacking,’ the bones were in poor condition.  What was left, his jawbone, his teeth, portions of his skull, and most of his major bones, were scheduled to be examined by an anthropologist, a paleoanthropologist and an engineer.

They forgot an apologist.  Someone needed to beg his pardon for such a violation.

These experts were attempting to determine – from the bones – his lifestyle, his habits, his diseases, if any, and his general physical make-up.

So far they had determined that he was unusually tall, and that the major bones were long and sturdy.

Why this intense interest?  Because the dead man was Farinelli, one of the most famous Italian sopranos that ever lived.  His real name was Carlo Broschi.

He was castrato, which means he was castrated before puberty to save his small vocal chords.  The salvation of his voice for music.Farinelli was castrated when he was 10 years old.  Because of castration, as his body matured, his bone-joints did not close and harden normally.  As a result, his legs and arm bones continued to grow, making him tall and long-armed.  His ribs also expanded beyond the normal, giving him a tremendous barrel-chest and uncanny breath-control.