Here are several responses by the individual who originally brought up the Farinelli Exercise. I will insert my responses.


It was a very good explanation. I just don’t agree with the statement that castrati didn’t have a “sui generis” physique. There are good reasons to believe their physique was beyond normal for the time, because of the secretion of growing hormones. Also, the iconography somehow shows it. Their stature and rib cage, it is said, were much developed. They could be described even as giants, reaching 1,90-2 meters, something incredible at a time when most men were 1,60-1,70 tall. There was, some years ago, online, an interesting article on the medical aspects of castration for singing. A doctor explained all the stuff that made castrati physically superior to the singers at that time. Also, of course, the special emphasys on breath exercises at the conservatoires, as you mentioned certainly helped. But let’s remember that in Venice women were taught singing consistently too. And in Naples, men not castrated (mostly orphans) were also musically educated by the same teachers.
We can only compare castrati with women. The other voice categories were not settled then, except the bass, and if flexibility and coloratura were expected from men, certainly not to at the same degree of a female voice. Only after opera buffa and Rossini the coloratura tenor (leggiero) became a reality, singing above the staff in falsetto.
If you wish to know in which magazine the article was published, I’ll send you to Hortus Musicus website. The name of the article, in italian, is: “La fabbrica degli angeli”. It is divided in two parts.
About your teacher having passed to you these tips about the Farinelli exercise from Calve, I would like to understand better. Did she read it in Calve’s “Memoires -Sous le ciel…” or she actually had lessons with Calve? I wonder how old is your teacher, ’cause Calve died in 1942. I didn’t read her memoirs, but from a source, an incredibly well-researched and old book on singing in portuguese, I learned she had lessons with Mustafa, indeed a famous castrato at Sistine Chapel.
It was a very good contribution. And reinforces the view that silent exercises are a must to learn the basics, the foundation. I do not believe that a singer like Cecilia Bartoli can sing all those fireworks in her discs and concerts without a thorough practice of breathing exercises.

Thank you for your response. First let me point out again that this was a guest contribution, not from me. So I can’t answer your reply directly because I did not write the post about the exercise. I agree that much of what we have available about the Castrati tells us that they were larger than average because of the hormonal difference. But Bea (the author) did not dispute that fact. She said that castration did not increase their ability to sing long phrases or give them huge voices. I would agree as well, these things are more an issue of function and skill. But I would guess that their physique may have given them a better starting point for singing. 
Rereading the post, one doubt arises: when exhaling the chest (solar plexus, fontanella) collapses, doesn’t it? And the air is all expelled, isn’t it? Otherwise, it would be almost impossible to do that, I think. The solar plexus would be locked and the choking sensation unavoidable.
In my case, I noticed that the greatest difficulty is inhaling slowly after the third set (8 counts) and also exhaling fast the rest of the air available…how hard it is! Very hard! It is much more simple extending the exhalation…
I don’t know if I take too much air at the first set and it creates a snowball effect and I can’t take the half breaths after because I’m engulfed…
Whatever…I’ll try to solve it.

It is important to clarify what is being referred to here. The chest and the solar plexus are different parts of the body. The objective is to exhale without collapsing the chest. The lower abdomen is what we want to come in as we exhale. It is as if we are emptying the lungs from the bottom up. It is only when you stop the breath by pushing down do you get a choking sensation. I’m not sure where you got the idea to exhale the breath as fast as possible. This exercise is all about learning to breath slowly. And also, the idea is to take a comfortable breath slower, not take more breath as the counting increases. I find it is helpful to remind yourself to take less than you think you should.
One other question: When you talk about immediately inhaling after one set, you are considering the suspension that one always feel between the exhalation and the breath renewal as counting, don’t you?
Furthermore, it is very important for others who are reading the blog have it clear that the lips ought to be parted and not holding back the pressure, as well as the throat.
I used to practice an exercise similar to this holding back with the lips and the throat. IT IS DETRIMENTAL. VERY DANGEROUS. And a very common mistake.

Yes, I found that part to be the most challenging. I guess that is what practice is for, to train the body to acclimate to the challenge. Your warning is a good one. That is not the purpose of this exercise. There is another exercise that can be done that resists with the lips, but there should never be resistance with the throat. 
I proposed this exercise to 3 friends of mine, singers. Guess what? Only one of them could follow it without interrupting between sets, but could only do it to the 4th set. He is a swimmer from childhood. And all of them have more than 4 years of singing. An ultimate proof to me that today’s vocal pedagogy don’t treat the breathing issue accordingly.
It is almost impossible for someone who has not built stamina from isolated exercises on dosing the exhalation to attempt the Farinelli exercise.
I myself could only reach the third set, with great difficulty, and I suspect I did it only because I’ve been practicising silent breath exercises for 2 years every day.

To wrap up this discussion on breathing exercises I would like to add my own thoughts on the topic. I feel that these kinds of exercises can be very helpful for the development of coordination for singing. But I would add the caveat that they are not the end-all-be-all. What I mean is doing breathing exercises has less to do with good singing than most tend to believe. That is just my personal feeling. The reason I feel that way is from my observation that too many people believe singing is all about the breath and learning how to use the breath. In a way this is true, but not in the way we tend to believe it is. The breath is not the tone. So the projection of the breath does not improve the projection of the tone. Getting the breath out more does not free the tone. Doing things with the breath does not necessarily improve the singing. Long phrases are not an issue of having more breath in reserve to keep it “flowing”. So often I hear the remedy for a problem is “more breath” when in fact it should be LESS breath, but balanced with the larynx. It is easy to assume that the flow of breath coincides with the flow of tone. A well functioning voice sounds like a continuous flow of tone. This leads us to the belief that the way to accomplish that result is to have a continuous flow of breath. The relationship tends to be something like this: the listener observes or hears a flow of tone. Then they change from being the observer to the doer. They don’t feel a flow of tone but they can feel a flow of breath, so that becomes the focus. This then becomes the roadblock that this line of thinking can never overcome. The reason is because these are opposing concepts. The flow of tone is a result of a perfect balance between the breath and the larynx. The flow of breath destroys that perfect balance. They can’t both exist at the same time. The important part of this exercise, in my opinion, is not so much the slow release, but the holding of the breath with the breathing system and not the throat. This is the part that really transfers to the act of singing. The slow release is not quite the same because we don’t relax and exhale when we sing. We should be resisting the collapsing of the breathing and keeping a steady, continuous compression. The breath is not let out as much as gently squeezed out. Another challenge in this situation is the fact that you don’t feel the larynx when it is functioning correctly. You can feel it with Irregular vibration, but not with Regular vibration. This is where the occasional use of the vocal fry can be helpful. This Irregular vibration can give us the sensation of where the vocal folds are in our awareness. We can use this awareness of location to improve the balance with the breath. The only purpose the breath has is to transfer energy to the vibration of the vocal folds. Nothing else. If it is trying to be the sound by projecting beyond the larynx it will create a problem. Any breath that goes past the larynx as breath is wasted. Only the puffs of air that are a natural part of vibration go past the larynx. This is like exhaust from a car engine. And like the sound that the exhaust from a car makes the exhaust from the voice makes the tone when amplified in the resonator of the pharynx.

Please keep writing with your comments, everyone. Thanks.