The performer known as Farinelli, born Carlo Broschi (and played in this film by Stefano Dionisi), was famous in the 18th century as the world's greatest castrato, a male singer whose testicles were removed in childhood so that he would retain the high, clear voice of a child while gaining the control and power of an adult vocalist. A strikingly gifted singer with a range of more than three octaves, Farinelli was given little choice but to sacrifice his manhood in exchange for his art, and as his career was founded on the surgery that would dramatically restrict his off-stage life, his art was in turn hemmed in by his family.
Carlo's father declared early on that he should only sing the songs of his brother Riccardo (Enrico LoVerso), and while Farinelli's fame gives Riccardo's career a needed boost, the mediocrity of Riccardo's compositions holds Farinelli back.
When the singer is given the opportunity to work with the great composer Handel (Jeroen Krabbe), his brother's jealously and Farinelli's own poorly chosen career alliances stand in his way.
The brothers' often contentious partnership also extends to the bedroom; while Farinelli's performances set women on fire, he's physically incapable of satisfying them sexually, so he provides the foreplay in a bizarre game of seduction and then turns his conquests over to his brother.
Farinelli il Castrato received a Golden Globe award as Best Foreign Language Film of 1994 and an Academy Award nomination in the same category.