Entertainment » Theatre

Farinelli and The King

by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Jan 8, 2018
Mark Rylance in "Farinelli and the King."
Mark Rylance in "Farinelli and the King."  

Often what passes for holiday fare has a lackluster quality as if the mothballs were shaken off and some bits of tinsel applied to give it the luster of newly fallen snow, however "Farinelli and the King" is truly a wonderful show full of magic and dashes of wisdom.

The beyond marvelous Mark Rylance, who is a three-time Tony winner and an Olivier and Oscar winner, leads the cast in a work that began in London in 2015 at Shakespeare's Globe. The work was written by Claire van Kampen, who should well be able to pen work that exhorts Mr. Rylance to his very best, as the two are married.

The very beautiful production, designed by Jonathan Fensom and transformed by the light of hundreds of candles, evokes the spirit of Baroque times. As the work opens Rylance, as King Philippe V of Spain, is plagued by insomnia and lies awake in his chamber fishing in a goldfish bowl and talking to the fish about the philosophy of going round and round and getting nowhere. Anything to divert himself from his fear that he is not up to the task of being King and that the world is whirling dangerously close to war around him. The Queen, played charmingly by Melody Grove, is desperate for a cure. She hears of Farinelli, who is a castrato with a voice so divine it has the power to ensorcelled all who hear it. In a great twist, Farinelli is double cast. He is well acted by Sam Crane and given voice by the glorious the countertenor Iestyn Davies, most recently seen at the Met in " The Exterminating Angel."

Philippe is astonished when Farinelli sings and begs him to stay. Here the plot thickens with agonies and ecstasies sung and acted as we watch Farinelli, one of the greatest celebrities of his time, decide between a life of solitude over fame and fortune in the opera houses of Europe.

The work is directed by John Dove and it seamlessly incorporates a Baroque orchestra on stage, dripping candles, Mark Rylance's flights of fancy and humor and the interchange of actors who alternate between a sung or acted persona. The music is authentic Handel arias performed by Farinelli in the 1730's, played live on Baroque instruments.

All of this misty beauty and glorious tones transport us for a time from our own very fractious "king," who questions everyone as we question his sanity and hope that he can keep us from war.

"Farinelli And The King" continues through Sunday, March 25 at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street. For more information, visit the show's website.


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