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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Faramondo - opera in three acts (1738) HMV 39 [171:08]
Libretto after Apostolo Zeno’s “Faramondo”
Max Emanuel Cencic – Faramondo, King of the Franks (counter-tenor); Sophie Karthäuser – Clotilde, his sister (soprano); Marina di Liso – Rosimonda, Gustavo’s daughter (mezzo); In-Sung Sim – Gustavo, King of the Cimbrians (bass); Philippe Jaroussky – Adolfo, Gustavo’s son (counter-tenor); Xaxier Sabata – Gernando, King of the Swabians (counter-tenor); Fulvio Bettini – Teobaldo, Gustavo’s captain (baritone); Terry Wey – Childerico, Rosimonda’s confidant and brother (counter-tenor)
Coro della Radio Svizzera, Lugano and I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis
rec. Radio Svizzera di lingua italiana, Lugano, Auditorio Stelio Molo, 19-24 October 2008
Booklet notes in English, German, French; includes photographs of the artists but no biographies; original libretto in Italian with English translation
VIRGIN CLASSICS 2166112 [3 CDs: 65.59 + 48.52 + 51.17]


Experience Classicsonline

is not one of Handel’s best known operas though it is one of the latter, composed just before the more famous Serse. It was first performed on 3 January 1738 at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket in London; there were a total of eight performances and it was never revived. The first modern production took place in Halle, Germany, in 1976. Faramondo was Handel’s only libretto by Zeno but it was cut to such a degree that, even today, it is rendered a little incomprehensible.

The plot is based on the story of Pharamond, a mythological King of France, in the 5th Century AD. The opera begins with Gustavo, King of the Cimbrians, taking an oath to avenge the death of his young son Sveno at the hands of Faramondo, King of the Franks. Teobaldo, Gustavo’s captain, brings in Clotilde, Faramondo’s sister, who has been taken captive. She should be killed, as Faramondo’s relative, but Gustavo is taken by a sudden passion for her and orders her release. In the meantime, Gustavo’s surviving son, Adolfo, who is in love with Clotilde, promises to defend her brother rather than kill him, as he has sworn to do, and so prove his devotion to her. In the meantime, Rosimonda, Gustavo’s daughter, is under attack from Faramondo’s soldiers and is then opportunely saved by Faramondo himself. Predictably, they fall in love, which is not only against their political and family loyalties but, for Faramondo, it brings an additional problem: He is now a rival of his ally, Gernando, King of the Swabians, who is also in love with Rosimonda, and swears to win her heart and get rid of his former friend. This is all very complicated! There are then two unsuccessful attempts on Faramondo’s life: the second time he is protected by Rosimonda herself who sends him to her apartment. But this would all be too straightforward! So, enter Teobaldo, Gustavo’s captain, who tries to gain admittance to Rosimonda’s rooms because he wants to avenge Sveno, who, as it turned out, was really his son and not Gustavo’s. Faramondo eventually rescues Gustavo from defeat at the hands of Gernando and Teobaldo, who became allies, and generously offers his own life to end the fighting. Adolfo tries to intervene in Faramondo’s favour but his father is obviously displeased and imprisons him; however he is also impressed with Faramondo’s attitude. He feels though that he cannot go back on his oath and must avenge the death of his son Sveno. Gustavo is about to kill Faramondo when he is interrupted by a letter from Teobaldo, which reveals the truth: he confesses that he exchanged Gustavo’s son for his own, at birth, so that Sveno could inherit the throne. It turns out that Childerico, believed to be Teobaldo’s son, is actually Gustavo’s. Confusing? Well, yes but everything will soon end in perfect, clear harmony. So, the young man that was killed was Sveno who was in reality Teobaldo’s child. Therefore, Faramondo has never committed a crime against Gustavo’s family. All’s well that ends well! The opera closes with a happy ending. Adolfo and Clotilde remain together, Gustavo realises his mistake and Rosimonda is united with Faramondo, who then praises the victory of generosity over hatred.

Once one gets over the complications of the plot, there is actually some interesting music, several really good arias and a couple of rather pretty duets. If one thinks about other operas by Handel, Faramondo compares unfavourably through a lack of fluidity in the musical and dramatic narratives. There are some wonderful moments: all of Adolfo’s arias in general and in particular in Act I, Scene 4, Chi ben ama, beautifully sung by Philippe Jaroussky in his inimitable, luminous tone and high flights of coloratura. Then there is Rosimonda’s aria in Act II, Scene 2, Sì, l’intendesti, sì, fabulously executed by Marina di Liso and a perfect vehicle for her colourful mezzo and amazing range. Finally I should mention all the arias for Faramondo, especially his final aria with chorus, Virtù, che rende, wonderfully performed by Max Emanuel Cencic, perhaps the greatest revelation in this recording, with an unusually rich, melodic tone for a counter-tenor. Two other moments of great beauty are undoubtedly the duets of Faramondo and Rosimonda, at the end of Act II, Vado e vivo con la speranza; and of Clotilde and Adolfo in Act III, Scene 2, Caro, cara, tu m’accendi. Each is supremely sung by Cencic and de Liso, and Jaroussky and Karthäuser respectively.

The outstanding performances in this recording are to my mind those by Cencic, in the title role; Jaroussky as Adolfo and de Liso as Rosimonda. The role of Faramondo was originally written for the famous castrato Cafarelli - whose real name was Gaetano Majorano and like the celebrated Farinelli was a student of Nicola Porpora. His voice is said to have been similar to that of a mezzo-soprano with a high tessitura and an extensive range, which is more or less how one could describe Cencic’s voice. It fits the role perfectly. He eloquently displays his range and virtuosity. Adolfo was originally written for a soprano but Jaroussky’s crystal-clear, crisp, high and pure counter-tenor vividly brings the young prince to life, expressively depicting his passions and conflicts. Rosimonda was composed for an alto; de Liso’s mezzo possesses some wonderfully dark tones in the lower range and these enable her to sing the role in a very effective manner. Her voice is not only beautiful but also unusual, ranging from a low contralto to very warm and easy high notes.

The other singers are all very good and deliver solid performances, notably Sophie Karthäuser as Clotilde and Xaxier Sabata as Gernando. I reserve special mention for In-Sung Sim as Gustavo, with his pleasing, grave bass. As is often the case, in operas of the Baroque Period, in Faramondo there is also an excess of high voices: four counter-tenors, one soprano and one mezzo. Counter-tenors were not known in Handel’s time, so the composer wrote the title role for a castrato, Clotilde and Adolfo for sopranos, Rosimonda and Gernando for altos and Childerico for a treble. Invariably, nowadays, counter-tenors take the leading roles for the castrati and sometimes the male roles that were written for women’s voices. This is fine in itself but what occasionally happens, particularly on a CD, is that if one is not following the libretto closely and is not familiar with Italian, one is left wondering who is who and if it is a male or a female character singing during a particular moment in the disc. This happens many times in this recording with the exception of the performances by Cencic, Jaroussky and de Liso because they have very distinctive voices. At some stage, I felt tired of listening to so many “feminine” voices and found myself longing for a clear and sensual tenor sound. The bass of Sim, as Gustavo, and the baritone of Bettini as Teobaldo offer some “relief” but their roles are too grave and deep, making a contrast that is often excessively heavy.

I Barocchisti and the Coro della Radio Svizzera under the excellent direction of Diego Fasolis deliver a remarkably well-judged and restrained interpretation of this opera by Handel. They perform in an understated yet expressive manner, enhancing every bar of Handel’s music, effectively carrying the soloists’ voices but never overwhelming them or forgetting the composer’s dramatic intention. It is only the second time that I have heard I Barocchisti and they did not disappointment me; on the contrary they far exceeded my expectations. It was the first time that I have listened to the Coro della Radio Svizzera and I am happy to write that they were a pleasing revelation.

Finally, all there is left for me to say is that this 3-CD set is really an excellent, solid recording of one of Handel’s least known operas, with some wonderful singing and effective performances. It is presented in an elegant, stylish package, displaying a beautiful photograph of a forest in the Autumn by Italian photographer Maurizio Blasetti. All in all, a very satisfying and welcome addition to the collection of Handel’s opera recordings.

Margarida Mota-Bull


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