Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

Brilliant Records

George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759) - Faramondo
Faramondo – D’Anna Fortunato (mezzo-soprano)
Clotilde – Julianne Baird (soprano)
Gernando – Drew Minter (counter-tenor)
Rosimonda – Jennifer Lane (mezzo-soprano)
Adolfo – Mary Ellen Callahan (soprano)
Gustavo – Peter Castaldi (bass)
Childrico – Lorie Gratis (mezzo-soprano)
Teobaldo – Mark Singer (bass)
Brewer Chamber Orchestra/Rudolph Palmer
Recorded 1996, licensed from Vox Classics
BRILLIANT 99777-21/23 [3CDs: 63.48+49.29+56.57]

 

Handel’s operas were frequently written for some of the finest singers available. ‘Faramondo’ was produced in 1738 at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket after the collapse of the rival Opera of the Nobility. This means that, unlike some of his Covent Garden operas which were produced whilst his rivals performed at the King’s Theatre, ‘Faramondo’ was written for a superb cast which included the bass Antonio Montagnana sang the role of King Gustavo and the castrato Carestini (making his London debut) in the title role. Writing for such fine singers means that Handel takes for granted the ability to sing virtuoso passages. In fact, singers would have expected to be able to display their talents in the requisite number of arias. These arias were crafted (or fine tuned) once the cast was known, so that they take advantage of the best points of a singer’s voice. King Gustavo’s arias takes good advantage of Montagnana’s amazing range and all the singers would have expected the divisions to lie in the best part of their voices. Signora Antonia Merighi was a contralto profondo who sang eight or nine roles for Handel, leaving us with a legacy of parts with coloratura in what can be a difficult part of the average female voice. And this is one of the eternal problems of casting Handel operas. Finding singers who are not only up to the demands of the part, but for whom the part lies in a good part of their voice. With a complete absence of castrati, a remarkable lack of low contralti and the presence of counter tenors, a voice type Handel used sparingly in the operas, it is not surprising that casting the operas nowadays is difficult. But a singer must be able to do more than just sing the part. Handel’s arias are not just vocal concerti, they illuminate aspects of the character and a singer must be able to use the virtuoso passages to help create character. So when listening to any performance, we are constantly monitoring how the singers match against the ‘ideal’ performance. Whereas in Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’ we may have heard what comes close to an ideal performance, in a Handel opera we may never have the chance, not even on record. This recording of Handel’s ‘Faramondo’ is currently the only one available, so we must be grateful to Vox (who originally issued the recording in the late 1990s) and to Brilliant. Whether the cast is ideal is not entirely the question, it is more the way that they cope that will matter.

Handel wrote his next opera, ‘Serse’ for the same cast and ‘Faramondo’ can be regarded as the first of his final group of operas. Handel’s final three operas (‘Serse’, ‘Imeneo’ and ‘Deidamia’) are all notable for a rather lighter feel. Whilst none of them is strictly comic, one can feel that Handel was taking a rather sardonic view of the whole opera seria genre. After all this was the period when he was writing some of his greatest drama in oratorio, for example ‘Saul’ was written the same year as ‘Serse’.

The plot of ‘Faramondo’ is a little convoluted, turning on a series of relationships both loving and warlike. Faramondo is at war with Gustavo and has already killed one of Gustavo’s sons. Gustavo’s surviving son, Adolfo, is in love with Faramondo’s sister, Clotilde. Gustavo’s daughter, Rosimonda, is loved by and in love with Faramondo. Gustavo and his children have sworn to avenge Gustavo’s son killed by Faramondo. Both Gustavo and Gernando (initially an ally of Faramondo’s) are in love with Clotilde. The drama plays out the character’s conflicts between love and duty. Handel takes the drama totally seriously. In fact the opera seems in many ways to hark back to earlier days when he produced such serious works as ‘Radamisto’. But, ‘Faramondo’ is linked to the later operas by its shortness (the libretto was heavily cut before Handel set it) and a lighter feeling in many of the numbers. Much of the love music is particularly fine.

In the Montagnana role of Gustavo, Peter Castaldi is reasonably efficient, with a tendency to smudge his passage work and some rather approximate high notes. Castaldi does not seem to have the capacity to give us a measure of the full range of Montagnana’s voice and I think some of the lower notes are transposed up. The title role is sung by D’Anna Fortunato. Here her voice does not seem a good fit with Carestini’s; she does not seem to find the tessitura of the role very comfortable. The top can sound a little squeezed and the low notes effortful. She uses rather more vibrato than I found comfortable.

As Clothilde, Julianne Baird has an affecting voice, with a delightful trill. But her control in the fioriture is not always ideal and she sometimes sings under the note. Drew Minter as Gernando is singing the role written for Signora Antonia Merighi’s low contralto. He over uses his chest voice for the low notes and rather snatches at the top notes. Though apt to be untidy, he is a stylish singer.

Jennifer Lane, singing Rosimonda, has a very dark voice, I felt she could convincingly sung Gernando. Not the most technically assured singer on the disc, she is nevertheless a stylish one. As Adolfo, Mary Elen Callahan is more than adequate. The small role of Childerico, sung by Lorie Gratis, was written for William Savage. He had been a boy treble, singing in Oberto in ‘Alcina’ and Handel would write the title role of ‘Imeneo’ for him when his voice had settled in a light bass. Here he has a part written for him to sing in the soprano register (either still as a treble, or more likely as a counter-tenor).

The opera is performed with some cuts, which is strange given that the total running time comes in at under 3 hours. And even stranger, Acts II and III are prefixed by movements from the Concerto Grosso Opus 6. Handel was in the habit of using Concerto Grossi in the oratorios, but not in the operas. And both of the acts have their own sinfonias anyway.

This is by no means a perfect recording. But the Brewer Chamber Orchestra play stylishly and Rudolph Palmer’s tempi are crisp and well chosen. Despite their technical limitations, the cast believe in the opera and use Handel’s wonderful vocal lines to create character, making us believe in the opera as baroque music-drama; just as it should be.

What is needed is a modern recording with a star cast. Rather than re-recording ‘Ariodante’, ‘Alcina’ or ‘Rinaldo’ could not someone give is a new ‘Faramondo.’ Until then, we must be grateful to this recording which does its duty pretty well.

Robert Hugill

 



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