Quirky Brilliance: Handel's 'Faramondo'

From the Lausanne Opera

THE HIT SINGLE

At the end of Act One, Faramondo decides to ditch his bodyguards and visit Rosimonda unarmed, knowing it might get him killed, in the daredevil aria "Sebben lusinga ..." — "I indulge a false hope." In Lausanne, it's sung by countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic.

"Sebben mi lusinga"

4 min 34 sec
 

The B Side

In Act Two, Gernando agrees to Gustavo's price of Faramondo's head, in exchange for Rosimonda. When Rosimonda (mezzo-soprano Marina de Liso) finds out, she tells Gernando he'll need to give up his own head, as well, in the furious aria "Si, l'intendesti, si." Roughly translated, it means "Yeah, buster, you heard me right!"

I Barocchisti

The Lausanne production of Faramondo features the virtuosic period ensemble, I Barocchisti. hide caption

itoggle caption

It might seem a bit strange to be mentioning Faramondo, an obscure, 1738 opera by Handel, in the same sentence as Verdi's familiar blockbuster Il Trovatore, from 1853. But these two, quite different operas also have two key elements in common: confounding plotlines and transcendent music.

There's a widely-held notion that the stories in operas are so complicated and incoherent that only true devotees can really understand them. Opera lovers often counter that stereotype by calling it a simple case of unfamiliarity. Anyone can understand opera, they say, if only they'd give it a chance.

But as with many stereotypes, this one has a grain of truth to it. Il Trovatore opens with a lengthy monologue explaining its intricate back story — all the stuff that happened before the main story even begins — because without that back story, none of the subsequent action makes much sense. The same is true of Handel's opera.

As with Trovatore, the plot of Faramondo also depends on knowledge aforethought. You have to know what happened before the story starts to have any chance of understanding what happens later on. The two operas also have weirdly similar back stories: Both plotlines hinge on a long-ago, and highly unlikely switcheroo of now-deceased children.

But then there's the music. There are plenty of operas that leave listeners humming a tune when they're over. With these two, the question is, which tune? Verdi scarcely turned a note wrong in Trovatore, and Handel's score for Faramondo has so much great music, ranging from catchy melodies to profound lyricism, that it's tempting to overlook the story altogether.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents Faramondo in a performance from the Lausanne Opera, featuring a stellar cast showing off in a cascade of Handel's most explosive — and expressive — arias. Also on hand is the virtuosic, period ensemble I Barrochisti, led by conductor Diego Fasolis.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive

The Story of 'Faramondo'

Mezzo-soprano Marina de Liso

Marina de Liso sings the role of Rosimunda, who's not sure whether to marry Faramondo, or murder him. Bruno Ginammi hide caption

itoggle caption Bruno Ginammi
Countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic

Countertenor Max Emanuel sings the opera's title role, taken in its 1738 premiere by the superstar castrato Cafarelli. hide caption

itoggle caption

WHO'S WHO?

  • Max Emanuel Cencic ..... Faramondo
  • Marina de Liso ......... Rosimonda
  • Sophie Karthauser ..... Clotilde
  • In-sung Sinn ........... Gustavo
  • Philippe Jaroussky ..... Adolfo
  • Fulvio Bettini .......... Teobaldo
  • Johann Ebert ......... Childerico
  • Xavier Sabata Corominas ..... Gernando
  • I Barrochisti and Italian-Swiss Radio Chorus
  • Diego Fasolis, conductor

Faramondo is a legendary King of the Franks, and as his story demonstrates, he's a very benevolent sort of guy. Faramondo's lifelong rival is Gustavo, the leader of a tribe called the Cimbrians. The lead female characters are Clotilde, Faramondo's sister, and Gustavo's daughter Rosimonda.

As ACT ONE begins, we learn that Gustavo's son Sveno was killed in battle by Faramondo, and Gustavo has sworn a holy oath to see Faramondo dead. To achieve this, Gustavo offers his daughter Rosimonda as the reward for any man who brings him Faramondo's severed head.

Gustavo also has a trump card: He has captured Faramondo's sister Clotilde. At first, Gustavo plans to have her executed. Then he gets a look at her, and decides that he'd rather marry her instead.

But here comes the first of many complications. Gustavo has a living son, Adolfo. And like his father, Adolfo has fallen for Clotilde — so much so that he's promised her that he'll defy Gustavo and protect her brother, Faramondo.

Another problem involves Faramondo's love life. He's head-over-heels for Gustavo's daughter Rosimonda, who's being held in her palace by Faramondo's invading army. As it happens, she kind of likes Faramondo as well. But Rosimonda has sworn the same oath as her father: She wants Faramondo dead for killing her brother, Sveno.

Enter Gernando, leader of the Swabians. He's one of Faramondo's closest allies — but not for long, because Gernando is also in love with Rosimonda. He knows about Faramondo's feelings for her, but Gernando feels that his loyalty to Faramondo has earned him the first shot at winning Rosimonda over. Gernando even goes so far as to tell Rosimonda that he has killed Faramondo on her behalf.

Rosimonda is actually relieved when Faramondo shows up alive and well. Faramondo even offers Rosimonda her freedom, provided that she'll marry him. She refuses. Despite her feelings, she has sworn an oath to see Faramondo separated from his head.

Meanwhile, back at the Cimbrian camp, her father Gustavo is making his play for Faramondo's sister, Clotilde — and she turns him down cold. When the Cimbrian commander Teobaldo brings news that Faramondo is approaching their camp, alone and unarmed, Gustavo orders an ambush.

But there's a hitch. Remember Gustavo's son Adolfo? He promised Clotilde that he'd protect Faramondo, so Adolfo heads off his father's ambush. Faramondo's soldiers then join up with Adolfo's men, leaving Gustavo in a tough spot. But, characteristically, the good-natured Faramondo offers both Gustavo and Rosimonda their freedom — still hoping to marry Rosimonda. Gustavo rejects the offer, and exiles Adolfo for his betrayal.

Still, as the first act ends, Faramondo is determined to win Rosimonda's heart. He sends his army away, and decides to approach her again, alone, to profess his love — knowing that might get him killed.

As ACT TWO gets underway, Faramondo's ally Gernando has decided to switch sides. Like Faramondo, he still wants to marry Rosimonda. So he approaches Gustavo to see if they can't work together to defeat Faramondo. Gustavo makes his standard offer: Bring me Faramondo's head, and you can have Rosimonda in reward.

Gernando agrees, but then unwisely discusses this deal with Rosimonda. She's horrified, and suggests that Gernando should sacrifice his own head as well. Despite her vow to destroy Faramondo, Rosimonda is obviously falling for him.

That works out well for Faramondo, who soon puts his life on the line by coming to visit Rosimonda. He offers to die at Rosimonda's feet rather than live without her. She wavers, but then remembers her oath to see him dead. Still, when her Teobaldo shows up, ready to do the deed, Rosimonda orders him to stop. She then orders Teobaldo's son, Childerico, to take Faramondo away and keep him safe. Clotilde heads off to see Gustavo, and beg for lenience.

Adolfo, Gustavo's exiled son, shows up once more. He's still in love with Clotilde, but he's also looking to his father for mercy. Gustavo promptly has him locked up. Then, when Clotilde shows up asking Gustavo to free both Adolfo and Faramondo, Gustavo suggests a deal. He says Faramondo must die. But Gustavo also says that if Clotilde will marry him, he'll free Adolfo. Clotilde declares that if that's her only choice, he can go ahead and execute Faramondo — and Adolfo, Gustavo's own son.

For now, Faramondo is still safe, under Rosimonda's protection. She has Childerico bring Faramondo out from hiding, and gives him his sword. Because Faramondo came to her of his own accord, she says, and wasn't captured in battle, it wouldn't be right to kill him. Instead, she lets Faramondo go.

So, as ACT THREEbegins, Faramondo is free — but he still has problems. His former ally Gernando first joined forces with Gustavo, hoping to win Rosimonda's hand. That didn't work, so now Gernando conspires with Gustavo's commander, Teobaldo. They can work together, he says. With Teobaldo looking the other way, Gernando's men will seize Gustavo, and abduct Rosimonda.

Meanwhile, Faramondo receives a message from Gustavo, warning Faramondo that the only way to save himself is to surrender to Gustavo. Faramondo, cooperative as always, agrees to come to Gustavo's camp. But he does have a scheme of his own in the works.

Gustavo has released his son, Adolfo, who now reports that Gernando's men have captured Rosimonda. Gustavo orders Adolfo to take his men and bring her back. But when they leave, Gernando's soldiers sweep in and take Gustavo prisoner. Gustavo is about to be put in chains when Faramondo arrives with his army, and drives Gernando's off.

Faramondo is in full armor — with his visor down so nobody recognizes him. He releases Gustavo and returns his sword. At first, Gustavo is grateful. Then Faramondo raises his visor, and Gustavo is horrified to see that he's been rescued by a man he has sworn to kill.

Gustavo is gracious enough to thank Faramondo, and renounce his hatred for him. And Faramondo has done Gustavo another favor, by having his men free the captured Rosimonda. Still, Gustavo says, an oath is an oath, and Faramondo must die. Hearing that, Rosimonda finally admits her love for Faramondo, and offers to die with him.

In an amphitheater near his camp, Gustavo prays for the strength to fulfill his sworn duty. Faramondo has come to the chopping block, with Rosimonda to follow. But as Gustavo raises his sword to behead Faramondo, a messenger rushes in with a letter from Teobaldo.

In the letter, Teobaldo reveals a long concealed truth about Sveno, Gustavo's son who was killed by Faramondo. It turns out that Sveno wasn't really Gustavo's son at all. He was Teobaldo's boy. When Sveno was an infant, Teobaldo wanted him to grow up as an heir to Gustavo's throne, so he secretly swapped kids. It seems that Childerico, the young man Teobaldo brought up as his own, is actually the son of Gustavo.

Well, as they say, that changes everything. If the unfortunate Sveno wasn't really Gustavo's son, then the oath of vengeance is null and void. So when Rosimonda shows up for her execution, expecting Faramondo to be dead, she finds him alive and well. Gustavo has forgiven them both, and everyone praises the virtues of generosity. Whew.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.