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URBANA —The Celebration Company at the Station Theatre opens its 48th season with a baroque flourish.

“Farinelli and the King” by Claire Van Kampen opens at 7:30 tonight.

Director Tania Arazi Coambs said the 18th-century conflicts depicted in the play will resonate with a contemporary audience.

“The choice between personal versus societal, well-being versus responsibility, and self versus community is universal and relevant to human nature,” Coambs said.

In the court of King Philippe V of Spain, there is the true story of an encounter between Philippe and the celebrated castrato Carlo Broschi, known around the world as “Farinelli.”

When Philippe appears unfit to rule his kingdom, his long-suffering wife, Isabella Farnese, the queen of Spain, seeks help from Farinelli. Her hope is that his beautiful music will have the power to restore her husband’s sanity.

Male soprano James Hevel makes his Station Theatre debut as Farinelli.

Hevel, who recently earned a master’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Illinois, said he relates to many aspects of Farinelli’s experience, including his struggles with his identity and development as an artist.

Hevel said “the role of Farinelli, on its surface, seems unrelatable. He was castrated as a young boy and became a famous opera singer by the age of 15 and all this took place in the early 1700s.

“But if you look at the obstacles he overcomes, his motivations, his passion, Farinelli is a person all the same. He desires love, purpose and contentment, which is something I have focused on as I portray him.”

The music is of the period.

“Musically, we want to stay true to the Baroque period, using a harpsichord as the accompanying instrument,” Hevel said. “I have approached this music with my voice, and my sound, but with his stature and intention. I find it fascinating that the queen looked to Farinelli to help her ailing husband, in what became an early attempt at music therapy.”

The production also features Aaron Miller as King Philippe V and Cara Maurizi as Queen Isabella. Rounding out the cast are Station veterans Rodney Woodworth and Devid Heckman, along with newcomers Dewayne Coambs, Todd Knabusch and Jimmy Ladd.

Pianist Chia-Ying Chan provides accompaniment for the musical sequences in the production.

“Farinelli and the King” premiered in 2015 at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, and the 2018 Broadway production was nominated for five Tony Awards, including best play.


Paul Wood is a reporter at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@pvawood).