With Faramondo we visit a more or less fictional moment from the history of Franks (Faramondo et Co.), Cimbrians (Gustavo’s people) and Swabians (Gernando’s baddies).
Before we start, I’ll direct you to Leander‘s elaborate writeup (with pictures!). You should also know that we saw the second cast (as customary, RCM fields two different teams on alternative days).
Faramondo King of the Franks: Kamilla Dunstan
Clotilde his sister: Amy Manford
Gustavo King of the Cimbrians: Julien Van Mellaerts
Rosimonda his daughter: Ashlyn Tymms
Adolfo his older son: Louise Fuller
Gernando King of the Swabians: Tom Scott-Cowell
Teobaldo Cimbrian general: Timothy Edlin
Childerico the real Sveno, Gustavo’s younger son: Eleanor Sanderson-Nash
Conductor: Laurence Cummings | London Handel Orchestra
I learned from Leander that Serse and Faramondo were written about the same time in late winter 1737. Faramondo was first performed on 3 January 1738. We can admire his work ethic and (maybe) forgive him for choosing a very shaggy (albeit popular at the time) libretto, a true smorgasboard of Baroque cliches as follows:
- star crossed lovers
- duty/love anxiety
- angsty arias about ships mercilessly tossed about by waves and winds
- honourable enemies/noble savages in this production
- backstabbers ahoy
- lecherous but kind hearted king/vacillating person in power
- babies swapped at birth
pleasure confusion, Handel used a revised version of the original Zeno libretto that had about half of the recits removed. Case in point: 2/3 in, this chap Childerico shows up and acts like he’d been there all along but I can assure you he hadn’t. There is a very good reason (by this revised libretto’s standards) he was shoe-horned in. If we check wiki we learn he was originally sung by boy wonder and Handel protege William Savage, the kid who (during his boy soprano period) sang Oberto in Alcina. He sang alto when his voice broke (here) and finally went on to create a few bass roles for Handel. Makes you think of an all rounder football player with Handel as a shrewed coach 😉
Also upon checking wiki we learn that aside from the “dad” figure, the customary bass and the title role which went to Cafarelli, the other men and women were sung by women, with a mezzo (Rosimonda) and contralto (Gernando1) thrown in. The nice variation of female voices is one of the strengths of this opera.
Then come the downsides.
The music is pleasant enough though it never gets as memorable as Serse or other Handel operas we know and love. The libretto… everybody wants Gustavo’s position, but Gernando also wants his daughter, who doesn’t want him. Faramondo and Rosimonda like each other a lot but duty/honour comes first for the both of them. Teobaldo secretly wants Gustavo’s throne and had also swapped the babies around (Childerico and Sveno).
The whole thing goes pear-shaped when Sveno (raised by an unsuspecting Gustavo as his son) is killed by… somebody, with Faramondo taking the blame for it. Gustavo has another son called Adolfo, who is of course in love with Faramondo’s sister Clotilde (they’re a very Annio-Servilia type couple). He uses his father’s love for him to stop him every time (about every 15min) Gustavo wants to kill Faramondo/his kin. Things get more complicated as Gustavo has the hots for Clotilde and justifies pursuing his son’s gf by such gems as “I’m the king, you’re my underling so you have to relinquish her to me”.
Somehow the voice of reason in all this is Clotilde, who has some choice arias (at least 2 about being tossed by waves and winds) and perhaps because of this develops a driking problem in this production and seems totally nonplussed by the very cynical ending (the hitherto noble Faramondo, friend to all, casually hacks all the baddies during his last aria (and with the help of Rosimondo, who hands him several weapons).
Likewise, the star of the show was Manford as Clotilde, who showed excellent command of coloratura, very fine Handel style and an ideal voice for this repertoire. If she likes it she should definitely pursue it. I would love to see her as Morgana, she has the comic timing and tone for that role. Her scenes were the most exciting, not just because her direction was the most logical and detailed but also because of her very promising dramatic chops. Her moves did come off as a bit studied – but enthusiastically so – yet you could see a natural actress developing, who stayed in character even when she wasn’t at the centre of the action. By the end she had the audience in stitches.
Dunstan (you may remember her as Ariodante from last year) once again cut a fine figure as the hero and put on a solid vocal performance, with some fine projection and elaborate fioriture, though I admit I prefer her sensitive Ariodante.
Ashlyn Tymms’s lounge singer Rosimonda was one of this production’s better ideas. Much as I enjoy updated productions, sometimes, when very specific historical moments as involved it’s not esay to get into the vision. The lounge singer heroine isn’t an original take but it has time and again proved at least efficient (especially if one enjoys ’40s noir). Dramatically Tymms was also one of the better performers in a production where Personnenregie was erratic at best.
On the one hand we had Clotilde and Rosimonda’s clearly developed personas, on the other we had a pretty loosely designed Faramondo, charicature baddies and unclear Gustavo (is he just an upright chap succumbing to temptation in regards to Clotilde or is he creepy?) with bonus dramatically
useless cheesy hanger-ons who pretty much clogged the stage when their bosses’ arias were being sung.
Anyway, Rosimonda is the kind of strong Baroque woman angstily2 bound by duty with “heavy hearted” arias that need a fuller voice, hence the mezzo designation. For whatever reason Tymms sounded to me like a dramatic soprano in the making but maybe she’s a Stephanie Blythe type of mezzo.
Gernando, sung by Scott-Cowell (last year’s Polinesso), was, Leander and I guessed, a schemer messed up on drugs (he sniffs glue/helium during his revenge aria, which is kind of odd but hey3). Once again Scott-Cowell was plagued by a
silly unidimesional directorial choice, so it’s hard to gauge his dramatic skills. I thought his singing was fine, a clear improvement over last year.
London Handel Orchestra under Cummings generally did a commendable job accomodating the students’ speeds.
Given it was a very pleasant day and also because it was my first time at RCM since I moved, I actually gave myself plenty of time to get there. No Lamborghini sightings, but I realised it’s not the Scientology Church across the street from The Science Museum but the Mormon Church. So now you know. Also: at (my) leisure pace, the walk from the South Ken tube station to Britten Hall is 10min long.
- Though I thought the inclusion a countertenor Gernando worked well. Perhaps a countertenor with a better defined bottom (hey! not that one) might’ve worked even better. ↩
- It’s not tragic if it ends well. ↩
- If we’re going for aggressivity-inducing drugs, wouldn’t meth be the immediate choice? Or is this too American? ↩
Opera Settecento returned in top form with Handel’s 1730 pasticcio of arias from Vinci, Leo, Hasse, Orlandini and other Northern Italians with ethnically ambiguous names. Team London appreciated this year’s choice very much indeed.
Artenice: Marie Lys
Ormisda: John-Colyn Gyeantey
Arsace: Maria Ostroukhova
Erismeno: Nicholas Mogg
Palmira: Ciara Hendrick
Cosroe: Tom Verney
Musical Director: Leo Duarte | Opera Settecento
Tuesday was a lovely, warm day here in London so it was a pleasure to wander a bit in the Oxford Circus area, which is somewhere I go to often but only because it’s (also) the general neighbourhood of Wigmore Hall. Otherwise it’s a tourist Mecca – always crowded and 90% of the sights are clothes shops. The buildings are nice though, probably from Handel’s time.
Suffice to say I got there early and Leander (read her take on Ormisda here) and I pored over the libretto for clarification and a bit of chuckle at the 18th century translation (ruby lips, fine brows etc.). We noticed with some trepidation it was by the ubiquitous Apostolo Zeno, the very same poet who penned that jumble sale of plotlines called Faramondo (as well as many other equally questionable early 18th century libretti). We also tried to work out the storm arias judging by title.
So what is Ormisda about? I initially thought Ormisda was a woman, not having made the Ormuzd (and Ahriman) connection. It transpired he was the dad figure. Oh. His two sons are Cosroe and Arsace and his wife is Palmira. I clearly need to brush up on Persian history.
So, you wonder, why is that woman Artenice listed first? Well, it’s because Handel put this together for his star soprano Anna Maria Strada del Pó. Artenice is an Armenian (I think) princess, due to marry whoever of Ormisda’s sons will take the throne. Palmira, as queens are often wont to do, is scheming to get her son Arsace as heir, although Cosroe is the first born.
As can be seen from the Moon, Artenice and Arsace will fall madly in love, regardless of right of way. She will sing many arias whilst he, as the second uommo, will sing only 3 (I don’t know if any were cut) but these three are as effective as Cherubino’s two in Le nozze.
Cosroe, as primo uomo sung by Senestino, also sings a lot of arias, but, as one familiar with Verney can glean, they are soulful ones that march on gentle sentiment. He does have a storm one later on but it’s not on the same level of drama (though I seem to remember the coloratura as very difficult) as Arsace’s. Then again, he does manage to get the throne, so he doesn’t have that much to be upset about. Generally speaking his performance was fine, with yours truly having an interesting perspective on his (very smooth) coloratura production from sitting right above him in the gallery.
Interestingly, consumate 18th century actress/contralto Antonia Merighi sang Palmira and baddie Gernando in Faramondo (as well as Amastre in Serse). Hendrick had a nice even tone but you could be fooled trying to figure out who was the scheming queen between the two women singing women. She was nice all around. I could’ve done with a bit of storming around on stage/general pissed off queen strut.
Lys as Artenice was one of the highlights of the evening. Her voice has the light tone and sparkling quality that works best with Baroque soprano roles. She’s in possession of a very coloratura and endurance, as she and Verney had the most arias. Her Artenice put some feistiness into her acting, so it wasn’t all just lovey-dovey with lovebird Arsace.
Which brings us to the secondo uommo, here sung by Ostroukhova, the woman who has made me love Cecca notte. Team London were waiting to hear some proper Baroque flights of angst and we were not disappointed. Arsace’s three arias go from irked to furious to energetic. Cooking with gas! Some may remember that Ostroukhova has a dark yet sonorous mezzo voice that seems specifically made for this kind of material. She tailored her phrasing for palpable drama and I’m pretty sure nobody was in doubt Arsace was very conflicted throughout. She also put a very fine effort into varying her fioriture for the repeats. Leander and I thought Ann Hallenberg would approve of this performance 🙂 Last but not least, Team London appreciated her 18th century pirate look 😉 We were in Handel’s parish church, after all.
What of Ormisda? Here he’s very much a nice chap who tries to calm down different sections within his household. His arias rely a lot on long held notes – as far as I remember, or perhaps this was indeed Gyeantey’s strength? He has a smooth tenor voice which I for one could really see in later Italian repertoire (Nemorino?). Mogg’s Erismeno was there for one reason or another (one needs a bass, eh?) and from his one aria I could glean a beautiful bass tone and very clear diction.
Opera Settecento and Leo Duarte put on another of their enthusiastic performances1. From my perch behind the singers I could hear them especially well, with the rhythm section, oboes (beautiful interventions) and the harpsichord in the first half and the string section in the second (a bit of seat swapping happened). Some of the arias had very nice melodic lines (and the bass aria (?) had a rather interesting rhythm), lovely carried by the orchestra, who, as usual, sounds very tight and up to date Baroque.
Thank you to all involved, it made for a wonderful evening of Baroque music in a Baroque environment.
ps: I noticed with relief that St George’s has updated the toilet situation as much as the premises allow.
- To the point someone broke a string before the intermission. ↩
London Handel Festival 2017, our usual chance to see rising local singers, looks shorter and will begin later this year, stretching between 20 March and 24 April. General booking starts on 31 January.
- The RCM students are doing a staged Faramondo on 20/21/23/25 March
- Opera Settecento continues the pasticcio journey with Ormisda on 28 March
- London Handel Orchestra under Laurence Cummings brings out Bach’s St Matthew Passion (hopefully with period oboe) on 14 April at 14:30
- Oratorio-wise, there’s an all star Joseph and His Brethren on 24 April
- Handel could spin some nice duets and this year we have opera,innit? favourite Emilie Renard and 2015 Bucharest Poppea Louise Adler work some magic with La Nuova Musica on 20 April
Come for Handel (and contemporaries), stay for pub grub 😉 I mean, sparkling conversation.