“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” So wrote 17th-century playwright William Congreve. With that in mind, simply bundle up your cares and woes and head to the Belasco Theatre where the new play “Farinelli and the King” will show you just how right Congreve got it. Of course, having the generation-defining talent of Mark Rylance on stage to conjure the tormented king helps make that central premise entirely plausible.
Debut playwright, but distinguished composer Claire van Kampen has wrought a story of salvation through music set at the court of Philippe V of Spain just a few decades after Congreve penned his maxim. Inspired by both actual and imagined events, the play covers the arrival of acclaimed castrato singer Farinelli into the royal circle. The long-suffering Queen Isabella has recruited him in the hopes that his divine voice will bring her husband relief from the tortures of intermittent madness.